By many accounts, the full-length album is declining fast as both a standard listening format and a cultural touchstone. From music journalists chronicling waning album sales to the omnipresence of digital streaming platforms that favor playlists built of individual songs, the album is undoubtedly facing challenges like it never has before.
And this might lead modern musicians like you and I to question the worth of pouring our time and money into making 12 or 15 songs as opposed to just one or a few. But the truth is that no matter what’s happening with listening trends, or what journalists are saying, if you want to be taken seriously as an artist, creating great full-length albums is still one of the best things you can do for your career.
There are three big reasons why this is true. Let’s discuss!
1. You’ll get far more promotional and radioplay mileage with albums over singles.
Releasing one-off singles can certainly help some artists find a temporary audience, and it can make radio DJs lives a bit easier in the process, but as far as media placements and radioplay go, nothing beats a full album. Being able to offer tastemakers a choice of which song to play, and giving them a lengthier collection of material to engage with, helps experts and insiders get to know you as an artist so much deeper than a single song can allow.
Practically speaking, when it comes to submitting music for coverage in blogs and newspapers, and for play on the radio, very few outlets accept anything other than EPs and albums. You could interpret this as music industry gatekeepers unwilling to adapt to the times, but it goes deeper than that. Most music critics, radio DJs, and curators really do believe that fully realized collections of material tell better, more colorful stories than singles, which are typically associated as being mostly for commercial purposes.
And while we shouldn’t ignore the fact that audiences are buying less albums than ever before, it’s important not to count them out when it comes to earning money as a musician. When you’re on tour, full albums sell better than anything else on your merch table.
2. Albums help musicians create definitive, long-lasting artistic statements in ways that singles can’t.
Today, the world is fixated on artists who find overnight success by releasing a single song. While this does happen from time to time, the chances of it happening to you are exceedingly slim. Though the musical world has transformed over the past two decades, most artists still find success by making great albums; each one garnering slightly larger fan and media attention than the last.
Albums reflect artistry and compositional creativity in more well-rounded ways than singles can. Sure, listeners might experience music predominantly through playlists right now, but true music fans––the lifeblood of the music industry––turn to albums to fully experience an artist’s oeuvre. True music fans are looking to meaningfully grasp onto your story and musical vision.
Writing an album demands months of focus and effort. It’s the kind of work that forces musicians to dig into the process and demand more of themselves than when they focus on writing a couple of songs at a time. The result is often a strong collection of songs that can be promoted as singles later on.
Lastly, if you’re self-releasing, and not making physical merchandise copies of your records, then singles might work for you. But if you’re looking to get published by a label, get represented by pro-level management or agents, and print physical copies of your records, full-length albums are a better bet.
3. Booking is easier with an album under your belt.
Whether your band wants to perform locally or tour nationally or internationally, album releases go a long way in helping you to book those shows.
Talent buyers, festivals, series, and corporate partners alike want serious bands who can draw to grace their stages, bands that take investments in their career and artistic narrative seriously. At the most basic level, albums give talent buyers a much better idea of what you sound like live than singles do.
Don’t get me wrong, albums can be a pain in the butt to make. They’re expensive, time-consuming, and often demand a huge emotional investment from the band. Add the fact that there’s so much music being released out there, and most of which is fragments into playlists and mixtapes, you might be tempted to not to create albums at all—but you shouldn’t give in to that temptation just because everyone else is.
If everyone else is running in the same direction, maybe it’s time you laced up your shoes and started running somewhere else. Today’s artists that go the extra mile in any direction, will be remembered far longer than those who don’t.
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Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.
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