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So, why and when should your band release a full-length album? Actually, the answer to this one is really easy! Yet, almost no one will get it right, because the answer is all about your marketing plan, almost no one does that right. Let’s see how your answer stacks up.
You release a full-length album when you have so many fans literally lined-up to give you $10 for the record that the whole thing is paid for before you even start. Ta-da! There you have it! No other answer will do.
Unless, of course, the record is a vanity project. Despite the derogatory name, there’s really nothing wrong with a vanity project. It’s really just any project that isn’t intended to make money. For some people, the goals are not financial. They just want to make a work of art. That’s cool.
So which camp are you in? Vanity project or Commercial success? Those are the only two. The answer I gave before assumed you were in the commercial success group. On the other hand, almost everyone says they’re in that group, so maybe a long look at your motives would be good about now.
But all snark aside, long form records are really expensive to make (at least if you try to make a good one). So you have to have enough customers (yes, customers) to make it worth doing. If you don’t know that you will break even before you start, then you’re going to lose your shirt.
Most bands don’t have that many paying fans, which is why I’m here to say to those bands: don’t do it. It’s a recipe for heartache and ruin. You, my friends, are in a different category. You are not in “sales mode” so much as in “fan-acquisition mode.” This doesn’t mean you don’t sell anything, but rather that your focus is on making new fans.
At that point, my young economist, you realized that you gotta give it way, give it away, give it away, now! And that means make the record for a cost that won’t leave you hesitant to give it to people freely. On the other hand, you’re not going to win friends and influence people with shoddy workmanship. The product must be undeniable!
So, if you can’t cheap out on the quality, then you cheap out on the number of songs you do. Plain and simple.
Singles are great, 2-song demos are also great. You can just give them away! Boy, does that hurt less than giving away an album. You don’t want it to hurt to the point where you hesitate to give them away. Otherwise that hurts your business model, aka fan-acquisition.
Here’s a script for you: “Hey, nice to meet you! You have ears, please have a copy of our music. I hope you love it. We’re playing tonight at 9:00. I hope you stick around to listen. Have a great time!”
By the way, EPs are so much cooler than LPs for most young bands. The reason is just the same. With 4-5 tracks on them, they’re so much less expensive to make (and with fewer songs they encourage many repeat listens). Meaning that you need a whole lot fewer screaming fans waving ten-spots at you to make the finances work. Which means your fans get something they’ll love, sooner than they would if you waited to make a full-length, and you’ll get to not lose your shirt. Win-win-, well, win!
Another thing to consider is that in our digital economy you only get noticed if you’re creating buzz. It used to be that if you dropped a great album and toured behind it, that created buzz. Not so much anymore. Now buzz is short-lived. You get the same amount whether you drop a massive album or a great single. So releasing many great singles in a row over the course of a year, for example, gets you a pop each time you put one out. The album is one and done. Do singles and you keep showing up on fans’ radar and making your mark. Pretty soon they’re converts (and that leads to tenner-waving for the EP!)
Similarly, in the world of streaming audio, having a constant barrage of new singles will keep you on your fans’ minds, providing something new for them to listen to, and you with something new to crow about.
Again, it’s not one or the other, necessarily. Having a demo to give away alongside your EP is perfect: something to hook the newbies and something to sell the fans. If you’re really creative you can work out bundles, perhaps with some merch included, to upsell potential fans into buying more.
So, at the end of the day, there aren’t a lot of commercially good reasons to do a full-length album anymore. We can commiserate about the demise of the album as an art form, and I’ll be first onboard that train. However, in today’s reality, you gotta work what you’ve got. Brilliant short-form to give away, and equally brilliant medium-form to sell to the whole bucket of new fans you just made.
Award winning mix engineer and producer Jordan Tishler runs Digital Bear Entertainment in Boston MA. The SSL console and racks upon racks of analogue outboard gear, tape machine, and gazillions of instruments helps Tishler meet the expectations of artists including B Spears, JLo, Iggy A, MOTi, Justin Prime, SIA, and London Grammar. Contact me about producing your next record, or mixing the one you’re working on now!