Back in March I had the honour of presenting a session on making a submission to a festival (and then preparing for a festival gig) as part of Music Africa's Artist Training Program. I enjoyed the experience, with an engaged audience and some good discussion, and I took the opportunity to update a presentation I call "Getting the Gig" - something I originally put together nearly ten years ago.
While the general concepts contained within the presentation haven't changed over the years - the nuts and bolts of preparing a submission, being professional, building your own brand, etc. - there are some key differences. One is how submissions are made - our submission process is now exclusively online, and video footage has become much more important. Another is how music is released - and consumed - in today's streaming world, particularly when it comes to singles versus albums. And I'd be glad for your feedback on this issue.
Similar, I suppose, to when vinyl 45s started to arrive in the 1950s, digital singles provide an easy way for fans to engage with an artist. Whether a tune stands alone or is eventually released as part of an album doesn't seems to effect listenership - according to rollingstone.com, in the heyday of the 45, up to 200 million singles might be sold in a year. (At the time, of course, that could provide some real revenue for the performing artist whereas today...but that's a discussion for a mother time.) And there are many examples of contemporary artists amassing huge followings - and commercial success - exclusively through the release of singles: Vulfpeck comes to mind, and H.E.R. just picked up two Grammy Awards despite not having released a new album since 2017.
As an Artistic Director, I find the move to singles, from a programming standpoint, to be a challenge. I'm looking for artists who can sustain a full 75-minute set - whether the show is free or ticketed, the musical presentation needs to be solid from beginning to end, and if all I have to go on is a few singles - regardless of those singles' popularity - it can be difficult to assess the quality of a full performance. I've learned this the hard way - it hasn't happened often, but there have been occasions where I've booked artists based on just a few tracks - when that was all that was available to me - and have been disappointed by the full performance.
As an artist, whether I'm assembling a set list or a track list, I spend a lot of time thinking about what tunes will be included, in which order they should appear, and how the tunes, when assembled, will best tell the overall artistic story. And as a programmer, I appreciate when artists have taken the time to give their work this kind of thought - I can trust that the same care would be taken with their live show. In situations especially where an artist has little track record - either in recording or performing - I'd argue that releasing only singles might work against them.
All that said, I recognize there can be true strategy behind carefully released singles. A well-planned schedule of single releases can create excellent and consistent engagement with fans over a longer period, and build excitement both in one's fanbase and the media for an eventual full album release. When supported by an effective online marketing campaign - a music video, social media content, etc. - impressive buzz can be generated by just a few minutes of well-produced music - buzz which will get an artist noticed by presenters.
Just as artists have had to adapt to changing consumption trends and new dissemination technologies, I would be foolish to ignore an artist who does not yet have an album of their own. And while the release of a full album is always reason to celebrate, generate media attention, and create buzz, it's clear that the same can be accomplished with a few good singles. My bias leans to the side of the album - I'd still rather hear a full project than just a taste - but how do you feel? As an artist, or publicist, or presenter - what are your thoughts on the single versus the LP?
I'd be glad to hear your thoughts. And either way, it's Friday, and that means it's New Release day, so I've got some fun new tracks to check out...