Your Take: Singles and Albums

Karlie Justus Marlowe | May 1st, 2009

In the comments section of Wednesday’s News Roundup, Brody and artist Miss Leslie discussed the new(ish) trend of music labels preemptively testing artists’ singles before dedicating time and money to releasing (or even recording) entire albums:

Miss Leslie: Hey Brody – out of curiosity – what’s ya’ll’s take on the way things are going with music releases? Word is that more and more labels are doing this – “testing the waters” with a single before recording/releasing a CD – Personally, I’ve received more and more encouragement to release singles rather than CDs. I’m thinking lately that I’ll do a combination of the 2.
Brody: I haven’t really formulated an opinion on it either way, but it’s been a trend that’s been occurring for a while. Major label newcomers like Ashley Monroe, Sarah Buxton and Jypsi have all had their albums shelved, or digital EPs released, after one or two singles failed to make a dent on the charts. And really, it’s not just newcomers. Jo Dee Messina recorded an album back in 2007 that continues to be pushed back, which she talked about in her interview with Jim back in December. It’s a frustrating trend for both the fans and the artists, but it looks like one that’s here to stay. If singles fail, the best that can be hoped for is a digital release.

How would you answer Miss Leslie’s question: What do you think about music labels “testing the waters” with a single before providing access to an artist’s entire album? How do you think independent and/or major label artists should release new material to gain the most exposure and best connect with fans?

When iTunes first gained popularity, some artists like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Garth Brooks, Radiohead and Kid Rock held back their music–among other reasons–because of the site’s piecemeal approach to music sales; some artists argued it diminished the artistic vision of completed albums, while fans were now able to collect the songs they wanted while skipping over unwanted songs on the album.

Do you agree? Do you like to only purchase individual songs you really like, minus any album filler, or do you enjoy the experience of an album from start to finish?

  1. Vicki
    May 2, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Honestly, it’s common sense with the economy these days. Everyone is thinking more reality. I know as a person living single, I have to constantly think of my monthly budget-the absolute bills of the month, the future bills coming up, needs of the house etc. Buying a CD is a luxury these days and it better be good. Usually, I put them on my Christmas list. I admit, I buy more singles on I-tunes this year than ever before. If the single is good, then I take a peak listen to the album cuts and then budget to see if I can buy.

  2. Baron Lane
    May 2, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Culture by committee leads to mediocrity. The greatest country albums ever made – Red Headed Stranger, Honky Tonk Heroes, Kristofferson – would have never been made if a single was to determine their fate. Though listening to most of the pop-country that’s been coming out of Nashville for the past thirty years I wouldn’t mind if a few more were shelved.

    The really great and impassioned artists will have the sense to bypass this taste test nonsense and take their work to the web and small labels.

  3. Chris D.
    May 2, 2009 at 9:27 am

    I don’t like it, but I can see how the labels want to try and save money. It follows the whole trend of labels/radio/etc. not wanting to take risks, which is what’s really hurting the music quality right now in my opinion.

    I usually only buy CDs unless it’s an artist I don’t usually like or stuff like that. I really love the experience of entire albums, so that’s probably why I buy so many of them.

  4. Razor X
    May 2, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Releasing a few singles before committing to a full album is nothing new. Lorrie Morgan released singles on various labels for about a decade before releasing a full album. Patty Loveless signed a singles deal with MCA in 1985 and didn’t release her first album until 1987. Randy Travis was originally signed to a singles deal with Warner Bros., which led to an album rather quickly when “1982″ became a hit. The only thing new about the approach nowadays is that the singles are released digitally rather than in physical form. But the digital-only releases suggest that the label isn’t yet fully behind their artist.

    As for the argument that allowing individual tracks to be downloaded diminishes the artistic vision of completed albums, that argument has never held any water with me. Take nearly any artist that’s been around for a long time, and it’s almost impossible to find their old albums anywhere. Instead there is hit compilation after hit compilation after hit compilation. Garth Brooks is one of the biggest offenders in that respect. How many hit compilations has he released now with one, maybe two new tracks to entice people to buy them, even though they probably have all the other songs multiple times already? How is it that these compilations aren’t diminishing the artistic vision of the albums from which they came, but allowing fans to download the one or two tracks that they don’t have would? This is just greed, pure and simple. Garth doesn’t want to have to share the profits with Apple or the other digital retailers.

  5. stormy
    May 2, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I usually buy most ablums without hearing music off of them, but I usually buy from artists I know I like.

  6. Razor X
    May 2, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    I usually buy most ablums without hearing music off of them, but I usually buy from artists I know I like.

    So do I. I usually download entire albums, but there some artists that I don’t like enough to buy their whole album, so I’ll download individual songs that I do like. In the days before digital downloading, I wouldn’t have bought anything from artists like this, so they’re actually getting more money from me than they would have otherwise. That’s something that tends to get overlooked in the “downloading individual tracks is ruining the music industry” debate.

  7. Vicki
    May 2, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    <>

    SO TRUE! I know some of the downloads I do for singles, I wouldn’t have done in the past if it was just the album.

  8. Baron Lane
    May 2, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    As for the argument that allowing individual tracks to be downloaded diminishes the artistic vision of completed albums, that argument has never held any water with me.

    I agree, and unless you’ve produced the Wall or Dark Side of the Moon this is not a compelling point for disallowing singles for download. I mean what were 45s?

  9. Paul W Dennis
    May 2, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    So what you are saying is that there is no such thing as a concept album in country music?

    Truth is, Razor X, you are largely, but not completely correct. It is not necessary for an album to be a concept album for there to be an advantageous sequencing of tunes on an album. Or a disadvantageous sequencing – Allison Krauss please take note

  10. idlewildsouth
    May 2, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I really enjoy having a physical, tangible product in my hand. It feels like I actually have something to show for my money. So, I prefer to buy albums over singles. However, I rarely buy anything that has been put out by the bigger labels, save for what I consider to be the ones that I feel like are going to satisfy me and my tastes. The fact of the matter is, there are only a handful of artists that we can trust to put out a solid album, and without having that promise, people arent going to be buying albums. And besides all of that, people these days want it right now, so digital is going to win out.

    As far as Garth is concerned, I dont think it even has to do with not wanting to give Apple a cut. Money isnt a point anymore for him, its all about status. Its the same reason he ‘retired’ but is almost as active as before. Eaxh of his box sets may contain 6 cds. So, when one boxed set is sold, thats 7 units moved. Its not about money made, but total albums sold.

  11. Razor X
    May 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    It is not necessary for an album to be a concept album for there to be an advantageous sequencing of tunes on an album.

    I agree. But the truth is, for as long as CDs have been on the market, it’s been possible for the listener to change the sequence by simply using the shuffle feature. The point I was really trying to make is that it’s a disingenuous argument to say that allowing individual tracks to be downloaded destroys the artist’s work, when those same tracks are available on multiple hits compilations.

  12. stormy
    May 2, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Then there is the whole other side of the arguement–take someone like Ryan Adams who is hugely prodigious as a writer and singer. Is it not just as adventageous for someone like him to relase one or two tracks a week as opposed to one or two albums a year?

  13. Razor X
    May 2, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Then there is the whole other side of the arguement–take someone like Ryan Adams who is hugely prodigious as a writer and singer. Is it not just as adventageous for someone like him to relase one or two tracks a week as opposed to one or two albums a year?

    I’d love to see more artists do things like that. I usually burn everything I download to a CD, and for some reason I’ve never been much into mix CDs. I hate when I don’t have enough songs by an artist to fill up an entire disc, so I usually end up with a bunch of “orphan” tracks in my iTunes until I get enough by the artist to put on a CD.

  14. J.R. Journey
    May 2, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    There seems to be an ‘old school’ answer to most of these, and I seem to be of that mind every time. I much prefer to listen to a complete album, even if I don’t always care for all the songs. It gives you a lot better perspective of the artist as a person than just a couple singles.

    But like Razor said this is really nothing new: labels have been doing this for years. It’s just another way to see a return with a minimum investment. I don’t blame them.

  15. bll
    May 2, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Everyone seems to moan and shite on Garth for not being digital, but I rather agree with him. The record studios pick the singles, based on what they feel will do well at radio. I listen to a large variety of music, and in terms of sequencing, Garth is a master; imo only the Cheiftains are better at keeping an emotional balance in the involvement of the music. Had I only picked The Dance, FLIP, ect i.e. the radio releases, I would have missed Wolves, Ireland, Fit for a King, Please Operator, Night Rider’s Lament (great yodel) and countless other songs that are bloody good but not released to radio. Even Red Strokes (which did well in the UK) made a mark in America, despite being a European ‘only’ release.

    If it’s an artist I like, I’ll get the cd so I can judge the music that radio is likely to ignore, but is fantastic. Several by Trisha Yearwood come to mind including I Don’t Paint Myself into Corners Anymore.

  16. Josh
    May 3, 2009 at 10:17 am

    I agree with the majority of people’s sentiment on this matter, but I’m going for BLL’s dedication to the true art of artist’s collection. I think I’ve fallen wayside for iTune’s test-and-drive singles, but the idea of the complete album picture/story seems more…humane and authentic in a sense of an artist’s portrait. Well said BLL…

  17. merlefan46
    May 3, 2009 at 10:39 am

    I’ve gotten to like buying the downloads for the space reason. I belong to emusic where I can get 75 tracks a month for only 20 bucks which averages out to about 6 or more cds a month.

  18. J.R. Journey
    May 3, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Despite what wikipedia says, ‘The Red Strokes’ wasn’t a European only release. It may have started that way, but Garth did a lot to promote that song in the U.S. too. I remember Garth singing the song on The Tonight Show back in the mid 90s and the video being played heavily on CMT.

    But I do totally agree with Garth about not releasing his albums to be picked over. He’s sold them repackaged for so many years now (and a lot of times at bargain prices) that every Garth fan (and country fan for that matter) should own his albums by now anyway IMO.

  19. merlefan46
    May 3, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I wonder why they had to destroy all those baby grand pianos to make the video. I think the total was 7. IMO that was a shameful act.

  20. Saving Country Music
    May 3, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    If you ask me this is all just another way record labels are doing artists wrong. Yes, the have a right to try to make as much money off an artist as possible, but they also have obligations, including legal obligations, to release artists’ music in somewhat of a timely manner. A great example of this was when Hank Williams III (David) took on Curb Records (Goliath)for release of the album Straight to Hell and won in court.

    If you ask me, the new debate emerging is whether artists will even pursue labels to publish their music at all. Since recording and publishing is now very accessible to artists, there is no need for label support from artists who are willing to sacrifice some dough for control of their music. Anybody can record a song or album now and get it on iTunes. Amazon, CD Baby, etc. The only thing a label can offer artists is retail store distribution, and those places like Circuit City are going out of business. OR promotion, which most labels charge back to the artists anyway.

    If labels keep messing around with releasing music, I think you will see this trend of publishing “unpublished” music more and more, and you might even see it from a bigger name, like Tim McGraw, who has also publicly came out criticizing his label for not releasing his music.

    Record label greed is pushing away new artists, old artists, and at the same time eroding their own relevancy.

  21. solongsowrong
    May 3, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Personal, I prefer albums. If I like an artist, I like to hear their entire body of work, not just a few songs that someone else deems should be hits. I like to make my own decisions as to what songs I like best, according to my own tastes. I also tend to prefer the Roots artists, and the smaller, Independent labels, who to me, seem to put a lot more effort into their song selections, since they’re not under pressure like the Pop artists to release their work as often, to keep as much cash flow moving as possible.

    Even though the question asked here seems simple enough, it really isn’t a black and white question with an answer that will fill the needs of all involved. Having worked for a major label for a number of years, I know what their main concern is, and it’s not the music itself, or how to sell it. It’s all about the money they can make from that music. They will go whatever route will bring them the most money, with the least expense to them. Until they change their tactics, and make music for the right reasons to keep everyone happy, it doesn’t matter what they do, sales will continue to drop for them.

    The smart route to go, is for everyone concerned to realize everyone has their own tastes and preferences, and sell accordingly. The increasing requests and sales of vinyl albums, for instance, proves that point. Alienate anyone, and you run the risk of losing their business.

    As I travel the net and look at what different artists are doing to sell their music, I’m amazed at what I see sometimes, and am convinced that the majors are going down, no matter what plan they come up with. Only a certain amount of people are REALLY into music, but the majors try to sell to everyone. The way they go about doing that, is finally taking its toll.

  22. J.R. Journey
    May 3, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    ” Only a certain amount of people are REALLY into music, but the majors try to sell to everyone. The way they go about doing that, is finally taking its toll.”

    That’s an excellent point. The mass marketing of music (or any artform for that matter) almost always kills the spirit of the work in my opinion. Likewise, appealing to the lowest common denominator almost always means a diluted product.

  23. bll
    May 4, 2009 at 11:12 am

    ” wonder why they had to destroy all those baby grand pianos to make the video. I think the total was 7. IMO that was a shameful act.”

    Merlefan- Garth actually donated the pianos to charities who then auctioned them to raise money. The pianos played just fine but had some red paint on them.

  24. Corbin
    May 28, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    The CMT countdown of videos I believe lists that the pianos were destroyed,I think, though it’s possible Garth donated additional pianos or unbroken ones?

  25. Lucas
    June 25, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I’d hate to see where guys like Garth and Toby would be if we relied on focus groups and test demographics.

  26. Stormy
    June 25, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Lucas: What makes you think Toby doesn’t rely on focus groups to deside what to release or whether or not he supports the war in Iraq and certain presidents?

  27. Lucas
    June 25, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Let me rephrase that.

    I’d hate to see where guys like Garth and Toby would be if their labels that originally signed them relied on focus groups to tell them if they’d sell or not.

  28. Dave Wollenberg
    July 21, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    I believe that an artist’s new album should be released exactly when the 1st single goes to radio. Otherwise, the folks’ll have no idea what album it’s on Peace.

  29. Mayor Jobob
    August 7, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    Will we ever hear Rodney Atkins first album? “God Only Knows” and “In a Heartbeat” are great songs!

  30. Hanford
    August 31, 2009 at 10:46 am

    If albums are good, then people will buy albums. The sad part is, is that most artist or bands these days only have one or two songs that are satisfying to the ear.

  31. Littleboot
    September 11, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    Before the album was the 45. I’d rather have a collection of all the single “hits” rather than filecabinets full of fillers. Those same record companies are the ones that ruined the album by stuffing them with fillers. Music fans caught on a long time ago. Albums are great for CD sales at shows. Make all your signature songs digital singles… Samples of your best work. A touring band can almost always sell CDs at shows, I think shelving an album altogether is senseless if it’s already been recorded. Albums aren’t dead yet.

  32. Mojo Bone
    October 25, 2009 at 2:05 am

    My take is that the industry is as healthy as it’s ever been. In the recent past, there has maybe been too much emphasis on albums and not enough on singles, and if the pendulum keeps moving, it’s probably a good thing. For too long a time, albums were a way for a label and artist to make more money than they deserved.

    Take your standard-issue greatest hits package, for instance-don’t they always leave off something you’d want and include a couple things you could have done without? I love the album format, and sequencing a great album, or even a great album side requires artistry that goes way beyond the three minute pop song, but who has time to listen to that much music in a single sitting, these days?

    “I don’t like it, but I can see how the labels want to try and save money. It follows the whole trend of labels/radio/etc. not wanting to take risks, which is what’s really hurting the music quality right now in my opinion.”

    The flip side of that is that artists no longer need labels to validate their artistic vision; they can take their art straight to the audience, risking only the amount of time and money needed to produce (and reproduce) a digital file. In my opinion, this can only help great songs reach a larger audience, and that’s good for everybody.

    I think the advantage of the modern method of presenting new music to the public is that once a given recording starts to gain traction with listeners, production of physical units can be ramped up in an economical manner-the end of record-store returns means an end to waste. A label can now risk next to nothing while developing a new artist; how is this not a breakthrough?

  33. Honky Tonk Junkie
    November 6, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    I wish I could afford to purchase a whole CD from artists I like because what ultimately happens is I’ll go back to CD’s I purchased years ago and fall in love with some track I dismissed as filler then. Even now I do that with iTunes. Maybe some of the fill is just ahead of its time. I don’t think labels have the ability to correctly choose a single. I thought the lead single from George Strait’s latest album should have been the title track, Twang. Instead it was something else that, in my opinion, is not as strong.

  34. K
    November 6, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    I think the popularity of Ipods, Itunes, and digital downloads is great, especially considering that albums these days only have a handful of great songs.

    Digital downloads are convenient, and offer instant gratification- which is what most people need in this fast-paced world.

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