De La Soul is reportedly about to release their first new music in nine years as a series of monthly digital singles including a video. Rather than an ongoing release strategy, it appears to be a marketing tactic to reintroduce the group. However this news again raises the question of how best to proceed in an age in which singles dominate the musical landscape.
Last week an article at Rolling Stone revealed De La Soul's plans to begin a series of monthly single releases "through YouTube and social media" beginning with "Get Away (feat. the spirit of Wu-Tang)." It was expected this week but there's no word on their Twitter account though the article says they shot a video in March.
"I think putting out those singles would be more impressionable than dropping an album at this present day in music...It's about trying to just creatively have a bunch of songs in the stable. You have to consider a lot from the administrative standpoint in the release of a project. I see the song that we're putting out being the perfect B-side – with a video this time."
There's also a "long-in-the-works" album called "You're Welcome" planned for eventual release and talk of "experimenting with making soundtrack-style records." Yet Maseo "says he expects singles will take precedent over albums."
Are De La Soul's Plans Primarily a Marketing Maneuver?
So it seems they may still be feeling things out. Calling them B-sides suggests De La Soul's holding something back for an album release which suggests this may be more of a marketing tactic building to a record deal. That would make sense given that, while they certainly aren't as popular as they used to be, they should be able to get a lot of attention for a new album.
But hip hop nearer the top of the charts has long been a singles game with numerous releases followed by albums that often contain a large number of tracks much of which seems like filler tacked on at the end.
Of course many artists at all levels of the charts release song after song on the web, usually for marketing purposes, building to a label deal or album release. But even with the increasing shift of albums from the primary product to a special piece of memorabilia, the main artists who seem to be developing actual strategies focused on singles are Web-centric YouTube stars.
Are YouTube Stars the Real Singles Artists?
Alex Day is one prominent example. He puts out one song at a time as a combined YouTube/iTunes release. He does additional videos that are part of his approach to entertainment and also help build an ongoing relationship with his fans.
Though he's toyed a bit with physical product, his first full-length release is a collection of singles that only saw digital release. This focus is likely due to his insistence on doing almost everything himself, since physical releases are very difficult to do at scale without real support, though a mail order release seems doable.
What Would a More Complete Approach Look Like?
A more complete approach would involve a series of releases of single songs online, available both for free and for sale, with tracks that get a strong response worked to radio. This process would result in periodic releases of the top tracks in a bundle, traditionally called an album, available both digitally and in physical form. The bundle of songs could be included in larger bundles from digital, with videos and related material included, to physical, with deluxe editions plus tshirts and the like.
This is an approach that could be modified based on budgets. One could go all digital at first and gradually introduce physical items. Radio efforts could begin with single songs focusing on a select group of college stations or related outlets.
The biggest difference between this approach and more traditional approaches would be the move away from picking a lead single based on the tastes of a small group of people, spending lots of money to put it in front of the public and releasing a studio recording composed of many songs that have never been tested on the actual audience.
Aren't Most Artists and Labels Simply Adapting Rather Than Disrupting?
While there is increased testing of a sort, currently most labels at every level of the game seem to be focused on digital as a form of sustained rather than disruptive innovation. Even cassette labels appear to be simply taking a modified, scaled down approach.
I'd certainly be interested in hearing of examples of artists and labels who've embraced a singles approach that goes beyond the YouTube model of cover songs and digital-only releases without simply adapting traditional industry methods.
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Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch/@crowdfundingm) also blogs at All World Dance: Videos and maintains Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.