Should Artists Be Releasing Singles Instead of Albums or EPs?

Releasing Singles Instead of Albums and EPs.

Many of you are hearing that you should only be releasing singles instead of albums, and you’re a little confused, maybe even disappointed? Like, Hey, when can I release an album? Your favorite artists release albums, why shouldn’t you?

You can! – and I’ve got a different take on this. In this article I’ll tell you when you should be releasing singles vs albums vs EPs. I’ll also give you a bunch of music promotion tips, and mistakes to avoid.

Singles are for finding new fans, Albums are for nurturing existing fans.

First of all, remember this. Singles are for finding new fans, Albums are for nurturing existing fans.

Now I am a big believer that new artists should be releasing mostly singles instead of albums. Your newest single, or most popular single are great for finding new fans. With each single release you’re trying to leave the biggest footprint possible.

Albums vs Singles.

With an album you can explore a concept, set some branding rituals, and have a sales event that sort of memorializes this moment with your core fans and lock them in for life.

If you’re successful branding yourself with imagery, social media, TikTok, and are just really out there and present, maybe we don’t need an album to become a lifelong fan. We just like you, and you show up for us. It’s more about your personal brand than albums.

But for artists who are into the album format, I think albums are a way to express your brand and build lifelong fans.

When you take a singles only approach, you might get in the habit of just trying to write hits to perfect your songwriting or fit into a style or format. This can stifle your creativity and prevent you from taking risks, like you might on an album. So, you should eventually work towards releasing an EP or album.

Is It Better to Release Singles Before Albums?

Is it better to release singles before albums?  Yes, I think new artists should focus on releasing singles instead of albums. It’s much easier to get potential fans to listen to one or two songs than 30 to 60 minutes of music. 

A small band releasing a new album is not as newsworthy as established artists. So it’s difficult to get influencers talking about an album from a relatively unknown artist. But I still don’t think that alone is a reason to not make albums. But there is some fan psychology at play, where nobody else is talking about this band. They’re like “Should I care yet?”

Generally new artists should be using a singles approach for a while. And being new is a good thing. A lot of people are rooting for new, and it can open doors. But let’s be strategic in our release strategy, and not base it on what our favorite artists are doing.

Think about stacking up your singles one by one, a snowball effect, or staircase. I use a Track Development Plan strategy, Download here.

Each time you put out a new song, you can remarket to the people that listened to your last one. This increases your listening time for each user. (a good thing for your algorithm).  And you can always package your singles into an album or EP later.

How To Decide If You Should Release an Album?

Ask yourself these questions before deciding on an album release.

  • Have you established your sound / style?
  • Have you developed your branding and identity?
  • Do you have a single track that has streamed 150,000?

Singles Release Strategy.

For most of you, a steady stream of singles is going to be what I recommend. But don’t be releasing singles every week, or even every 2 weeks is too much. 

I’m not into this firehouse spray and pray strategy.  Here is why you shouldn’t release singles every week or two.

You can’t do Release Radar on Spotify.

Why would you want to miss out on that? You have to get your pitch in a week in advance, and you can only pitch one song at a time. So you can’t pitch your single for the following week, technically you’re 6 days and 23 hours till release day, so you’ve missed the deadline. 

You Might Kill the Momentum of Your Last Song Release.

As soon as the algorithm grabs hold of your track, who knows, maybe it’s gonna take your song for a wild ride up? But as soon as your new track drops a week later, boom!, you’ve made the algorithm sort of hit pause on your other new song for a second. That can kill your momentum in the algorithm.

But also…. Music is not the complete picture. Images and video play a huge role in how music is discovered and consumed now. What about video content? You want to have some kind of video and a promotion plan behind it. And that takes extra time. 

Collaborations and Featured Vocals on Your Songs.

Your singles should also have features from other artists from time to time. We learned the true value of collaborations during the pandemic, when touring disappeared. Featured vocals became the way to tour virtually with other artists. 

Another thing… songs take a while to sink in and work their magic on us. We have to hear them a few times. We might have to be prodded by our friends, or hear it several times before the song really sinks in.

So how many singles should you release before an album? Is it better to 

6/8 EP Release Strategy.

I was talking with a music lawyer friend, Eric German. A really smart guy, and one of the few lawyers that is still out there going to shows and having meaningful conversations with the artists. He really cares about their business strategy. 

We had very similar thoughts on release strategy, but I really liked his 6 / 8 strategy. He framed it in the context of artists trying to get signed by labels, publishers, or expand their team.

You would release 6 releases over an 8 month period, Which is sort of an EP every year. It’s cost effective, and gives you four months of the year to write, record, and prepare for the 8 month onslaught of promotion. 

When you release a “drip” of singles before an EP like this it is called a “waterfall” strategy. You are releasing a steady stream of singles that leads to the waterfall (or album).

Is Getting Signed One of Your Goals?

So after a few times using this strategy, hopefully something might catch fire, and you get signed. If you do get signed, great hopefully that means you’re on your way to breaking through to a larger audience. But there is no guarantee of commercial success after signing to a label or publisher. 

If you don’t get signed, you make improvements and adjustments over the next 4 months and you try again.

What often happens is an artist signs too early, they put out those singles and EPs with the label and they’re giving up 50 to 80 percent of their rights. And if it doesn’t go well, then you’re in this record deal, and an uncomfortable situation the next time you want to release a song or album with that label. So at least in a self releasing scenario, you own your rights 100%.

Break an Album into Two EP’s.

I’ve noticed many of you releasing an album’s worth of material in a year, as 2 EPs. And sometimes it’s spread over 18 months. I think it’s a great strategy. 

Release 4 singles in a row over 4 months and drop a 6 song EP. Then take a break to record, then start another 6 song EP over 4 months. After both are out, you could combine them to form an album and add a few bonus tracks, acoustic versions, or remixes.

Eight months can be a really long grind if you’re a solo artist or only have a few people on your team. So this option allows you to separate your promotional and creative process. Chances are if you are wearing yourself out – you’re wearing out your fans too!

release two music eps strategy singles vs albums

How Many Singles Should You Release and Album?

Once you have established a fan base by releasing singles using one of these waterfall strategies, it’s time to consider an album. Before deciding to release an album you should also have your branding firmly established and a marketing plan that includes launch partners for every single and the album.

I wouldn’t go full blast 100% with every single song. Unless you can afford a video, advertising, influencer campaigns for every song, I would divide your singles up into A & B campaigns. 

I mean even major companies like Apple, Honda, or Nike aren’t running 10 to 12 major campaigns a year, and neither should you. So choose your best songs wisely, and perhaps focus on 4 or 5 big ones a year.

Again, grab that track development plan, because it shows you what to do for each of these big A campaigns.

Release Double Singles.

Some of you brand new artists may be saying, Todd I want to get more music out quicker. I don’t want people to check me out, hear 1 or 2 songs, and then leave. I’d tell you to be patient.

But if you want to get more songs out there in a shorter time frame, release double singles. This strategy was the industry standard 70 years ago (with the vinyl single). And it’s interesting to think how relevant it is today. Lead with your best one, call it the A side, and then a seconds song you are not putting a full marketing push into (like a deep cut, or alternative version of the song), call it the B side.

How Much Should You Spend to Promote a Single?

If you found this information helpful you should watch and read this vlog How Much Should You Spend to Promote a Single?

Discuss.

So do you think new artists should be releasing singles instead of albums? What do you prefer singles vs albums vs EPs? What mix of formats are you considering?  Leave some comments or questions below.

Comments on Should Artists Be Releasing Singles Instead of Albums or EPs?

  1. Ronnie Reyes says:

    Great advice here. Do you have an opinion on playing live as a new band to gain a following. It seems like live music fans enjoy the shows more when they are familiar with the music. But if you are only releasing singles, let’s say 6 tracks, your taking about 6 months or so before you can play live to audience who may know the material.

    1. admin says:

      Hey Ronnie,
      Thanks for your comment here. I was just having a similar conversation with a band. 6 tracks is the perfect amount of songs to start playing out live. Even if you just did 4 or 5 songs as an opener. If you play the type of music that you eventually will play in front of an audience, you need to get out and play shows and work on your performance and the branding/image that you’re looking to put out there.

      “It seems like live music fans enjoy the shows more when they are familiar with the music.” While I understand it, I’d disagree with this. I discovered some of my favorite bands while seeing them live (before hearing the recordings). On the other hand, I’ve been disappointed going to see bands I loved on tape, but they put on a poor performance live.

      When you’re recording your tracks in the studio (especially in the vocal booth) envision yourself performing live and make sure we can feel that in the studio recording. Live shows give you an opportunity to connect with people and blow them away, and it’s much easier to make a fan at a live performance than any other promotional strategy.
      Take it as a challenge (in the rehearsal space) that you’re going to win over the people at the venue who have never heard of you.

      Spread it around within a 100 mile radius of your hometown. Don’t overplay your home market. Work it out and understand that a great live show is important. Of course do it safely and responsibly in light of the Coronavirus.

      For those reading that don’t intend to play concerts, I’m not knocking that. We live in a world where you can produce music at home and find a global audience. For example: production music for film, tv, advertising, or mood music for meditation, sleeping. Dance music, background music (in-store), or video game soundtracks. But to really endear a fanbase to you, nothing beats putting your audience in a chokehold with a powerful live show.

      Go do it Ronnie!

      Todd

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