Digital technology has changed almost every aspect of my musical life. I produce, market, distribute, watch videos and listen to music on my computer or via the Internet. In the past 20 years, advances in music production and recording have increased exponentially, streamlining the production process to the point where high-quality recordings can be produced in smaller project and home studios. Another result of music industry “techonomics”? Almost anyone with a computer and a few production programs can make a track and put it online: The amount of music available to consumers is daunting.
The music download age has given the control of the playlist directly to music fans themselves. They are listening to music in a way that reminds me of the early days of the music business, when music sales were all about the single. Not ‘the single'' that leads to an album, the single that was released as a 45. That single was the goal itself.
Rewind 15 years. The age of downloading digital music was beginning to unfold, but it was nothing compared to the sale of the physical CD. Most major label records were still being cut in professional studios and the consumer was hungry for great albums such as Nirvana''s “Nevermind.” The single or EP was used to entice new audiences into purchasing the full-length album and to service radio stations that helped break new acts, and market to a larger listening audience. You watched videos on MTV or VH1 and bands'' websites were just starting to become the center for all information related to that artist. If you were shopping a demo, it meant that you were looking to do a full-length album. The demo consisted of three to five songs, which were just a taste of what you planned on delivering to an audience.
Come back to 2011: the age of mass broadband, blogging and “stay at home” beat makers. Technology has turned music production into an egalitarian society, allowing small labels to get some attention and establish a following. Simultaneously, this democratization of music has contributed to a diminished consumer appetite for the LP. Listeners are creating their own playlists and podcasts, and digesting music at a much different pace. Understanding this shift in consumption is vital to the survival of a modern record producer.
Most bands or artists do a fair amount of marketing through social media. On the web, we get instant access to feedback and are able to see how music and art are trending. But all too often I come across acts that are so concerned with releasing a full-length album that they forget the ultimate goal of social marketing in the first place: Social media is the best source of real-time feedback. Facebook, Twitter, Ping, etc. help create a dialog with fans, humanizing the consumption/promotion process. Fans appreciate the opportunity to interact with a favorite band, get involved via remixes, contests, or just plain old blogging.
The math is simple. Making a full-length record requires a good amount of time. Most artists take 20 years to make their first record and then need to follow up with an LP every two to four years. But the average fan is consuming at such a high rate that a band can make itself obsolete before ever releasing its first album.
As a producer, I''m pushing more and more artists to focus on the single and to think of the EP as the album. I encourage creating music in small batches, such as two or three songs at a time, then releasing and promoting those tunes. Tour against those songs, get back into the studio and repeat that process over and over until the social media, record release, and live show attendance circle creates a positive feedback loop.
In the time it takes to complete a seriously good full-length album, an artist could easily release two solid, three-song EPs, or a number of singles with remixes that help reach and audience that may never have heard your band. A great single release will get good blog coverage, is ripe for a low budget video, and perfect for the podcaster. If it''s a flop, then no worries; on to single number two without breaking the bank and losing too much time. Conversely, if you release a full-length album and it flops, well, you wasted all that time without any fan feedback, which would have let you know that people weren''t feeling your tunes in the first place.
Yes, making music is an art, but we need to be pragmatic about the business end. Just because you can make an album doesn''t mean anyone wants to listen to it. This of course is fine if you are making an ambient album to play to your daughter while she sleeps, or that noise core record to torture your parents. But for most musicians, we want to reach as many fans as possible. Unless there''s already a huge fan base waiting for the next release, it''s a bit naive to think your album is gong to get listened to by anyone new, unless you''ve been planting seeds. Go slow and steady (or really fast and steady) through each successive single, remix, EP, tour, podcast, radio show and interview. You''ll get the feedback you that tells you when— and if—it''s time to make that full-length masterpiece that''s been brewing ever since you stole The Who''s Tommy from your father…or maybe even your grandfather.