New music helps artists stay relevant and top of mind – but is there such as a thing as releasing music too frequently?
What about the opposite – can you keep a fan-base engaged with only one big release every year?
If you’re an artist, you may be asking yourself: when exactly should I be releasing new music?
By the end of this article, you will have the answer and a release schedule that you can follow to attract more fans and get more plays.
Singles Vs. Albums
The first question we want to answer is: what exactly do you plan to release?
Are you aiming to release a single? A series of singles? A multi-song project in the form of an EP or LP?
Consider this. There are over 40,000 songs being added to Spotify every day (and growing). At any given point, your music is competing against thousands of other new songs, as well as millions of previously released tracks that consumers already know they like. That’s a lot of choice.
In his book Future Shock, author Alvin Toffler introduced the concept of choice overload. This phenomenon happens when there are too many choices available, and leads to the decision-maker feeling more pressure, confusion and potential dissatisfaction from their choice. In many cases, choice overload leads to paralysis and no choice being made at all.
How is this relevant to an artist releasing music?
If you plan to release an album to an audience, you are releasing multiple song choices for them to consume. By offering this many choices at once, a listener is more likely to become overwhelmed by the options and less likely to actually listen to any of them.
According to a survey conducted by Paris-based streaming service Deezer, 54% of respondents are listening to fewer albums than they did 5-10 years ago, with 40% preferring playlists. Only 20% of R&B fans say they will listen to a full album, with 19% of rap fans and 18% of hip-hop fans agreeing.
For hip-hop and R&B music creators like myself – this means about one-fifth your audience will actually listen to an entire album.
Artists can increase their chances of being listened to by releasing singles instead of albums. Focusing on singles also offers other benefits, such as:
- It costs less to produce one song compared to an album
- You can release music more frequently
- You don’t have to manufacture physical copies like CD and vinyl
- Easier to concentrate marketing efforts on a single
- It’s much lower risk to test out promotional strategies and new sounds or styles artistically
New artists should always release a single first because most streaming services won’t allow them to claim their profiles until they have at least one song available. The tools offered by these platforms can help inform future releases by gathering analytics from your listeners.
Albums will always have a place in music – especially when they are created to deliver a specific message or tell a story. Regardless of what you choose to release, you will always want to lead with a single to capture attention and build hype for whatever is coming next.
Formatting Your Music
Today’s average consumer has a short attention span. According to a study conducted by Microsoft, the average person generally loses concentration after 8 seconds.
We’re constantly bombarded by new information, advertisements, and other distractions that lure us away from what we were focusing on only seconds ago.
This is small window of time to captivate someone’s attention– if you don’t provide enough value in less than 8 seconds, they will move on to something else.
Songs that are listened to not only capture the listener immediately but also maintain their attention and get them to come back for more.
Good music isn’t made – it’s designed. A well-formatted song is more likely to be shared by listeners and via streaming playlists – a key ingredient for a successful release.
Songs that do well on streaming share a few commonalities, such as:
1. They don’t have long intros or outros.
With less than 8 seconds to catch the listener’s ear, it makes sense to skip the intro and get right to it. A great example is “Yes Indeed” by Lil Baby Feat. Drake. The song has a brief intro but begins with Drake rapping by the 0:04 mark.
2. They start with the hook at the beginning.
By leading with the catchiest element, it helps it stick and increases the likelihood that a listener will stay with you throughout the rest of the song. This has become a common trend in music today, with hits like “Better Now” by Post Malone and “Rock Star” by DaBaby and Roddy Rich following suit.
3. They are shorter than 4 minutes.
Would you rather have a song that is too long or too short? I’d rather have the latter. People rarely hang around past the 4-minute mark and shorter songs are more re-playable. Drake knows this – his highest streaming songs “One Dance” (2:53) and “God’s Plan” (3:19) meet the criteria and have over 1 billion streams each.
4. They avoid or limit explicit content.
Explicit songs limit exposure onto playlists while clean songs are much easier to feature. Many popular artists even upload both clean and explicit versions of their songs onto streaming platforms to help cover all angles and increase the odds of being playlisted.
Formatting your song well is not enough – the song itself must be good. It’s paramount that artists make every song the best it possibly can be.
A bad song that’s less than 4 minutes with the hook as the intro is still going to be a bad song. Artists must focus on releasing their best music period.
Travis O’Guin, CEO of Strange Music, explains that Tech N9ne doesn’t have a huge unreleased catalogue of music. Instead, he focuses on making every song the best it can be so it can get released (and they do – apparently Tech only has 25 unreleased songs in the stash, most being due to clearance issues).
Pitching to Playlists
A 2016-2017 study found that official Spotify curated playlists attracted roughly 75% of all followers of the top 1,000 tracks on the platform.
An artist that was added to the Today’s Top Hits playlist, which had 18.5 million followers during the research period, received roughly 20 million more streams on average.
My recent single with EverythingOShauN “Odinma” was featured on Spotify’s Peppeh playlist, which focuses on fresh finds from the Afro scene. This spotlight helped our song garner over 100,000 plays in less than 2 weeks with zero paid promotion.
Getting featured on a playlist can ultimately make or break your single’s success by reaching more people and getting more plays.
Spotify allows artists to submit their singles for playlist consideration directly through their Spotify For Artists tool. Playlist curators review submitted singles and decide if they will be added to any of their playlists.
Getting featured is usually determined by genre, past release performance and music quality.
The New Music Friday lists are great for independent musicians as over half of the tracks are from independent labels or artists.
Spotify recommends submitting songs at least 7 days in advance for playlist consideration. Keep in mind that the song must already be in Spotify’s system in order to pitch it. For this reason, I recommend uploading songs at least 14 days before the release date through your distributor in order to give curators enough time to review your music.
It’s possible to be added to playlists after a release depending on the song’s performance – but it’s best to be proactive and pitch the song in advance to improve your chances of getting featured.
Distributors like DistroKid make this process seamless. By signing up with DistroKid, you’ll be able to reserve your Artist profile and gain access to the Spotify For Artists tool once you have uploaded music.
Video Killed the Radio Star
Studies suggest that people will spend over 100 minutes per day watching online videos in 2021. This number has been increasing every year – it was only 84 minutes in 2019. Platforms are changing to accommodate this.
Spotify has added video to their apps. Some artists can add a Canvas to their release – this is an 8-second visual loop that replaces a song’s cover art in the Now Playing view of the Spotify app. This paints a telling picture of what’s to become of music consumption in the near future.
YouTube is the world’s 2nd largest search engine after Google. It also happens to be a key income source for many music creators as it allows for monetization through advertising on their videos.
Humans are visual creatures, and we are living in a very visual age. Therefore, incorporating music videos into your release strategy is not only helpful; it’s crucial for success.
Music videos are easier to consume, enjoyable to watch (when they’re good) and help strengthen an artist’s image. They connect dots and tell stories that music alone cannot. This makes them one of the most important branding tools in an artist’s arsenal.
While music videos are an obvious and relevant choice, there are other types of visual content artists can create and release as well, including:
- Lyric videos
- Behind-the-scenes footage
- Song breakdowns & explanations
- Live performances & covers
- Fan-generated content
There’s a lot of room for creativity with video. I even combined some of these video types for my single “Somethin’ Outta Nothin’” which doubled as both a BTS video and a music video:
Artists should therefore not be exclusively consumed with when to put out new music but also when to drop visual content that will coincide with their releases.
Frequency & Consistency
Artists releasing new music need to be mindful of these two overlapping factors:
Frequency – how often they will release music (ie, daily, weekly, monthly)
Consistency – how they will create a connected string of music releases (ie, 3 months consecutively)
Today’s most successful artists are consistent. DaBaby has had a stellar year on top of Billboard because he continuously showed up with high-quality releases.
In 2019 alone he released 2 albums, 15 singles, 16 music videos and was on 37 other singles as a featured artist. No wonder you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing him.
Independent artist Russ is another great example of how consistency pays off. He achieved success by releasing new music on a weekly basis in 2015 and used the momentum to build a raging fan-base.
It’s clear that releasing a higher volume of music is connected to an artist’s success. But while that strategy worked for Russ – it may not work for all artists.
Flooding listeners with too much content at once doesn’t allow for much time to build hype and promote songs independently as a DIY artist with no team involved.
Wearing all of those hats and constantly having to release new music adds to the pressure. Artists that aren’t mindful of this may end up burnt out and creating mediocre songs no one will listen to.
Releasing too often can also lead to audiences tuning you out and not appreciating your work. To quote Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power, “use absence to increase respect and honor.”
The best thing to do is negotiate a middle ground between the two based on what you plan to release.
A Recent Experiment With EverythingOShauN
I work closely with EverythingOShauN as a producer and engineer. In 2019, we only released 2 singles. In 2020, we vowed to release significantly more music – and so far we have delivered.
In February, he dropped the single “Equestrian“
In March, he followed up with another single called “Come And See“
This experiment is still in progress as we have more releases coming, however, it has already yielded some impressive results.
In the past, we were focused on releasing albums. Upon release, Spotify would only select one or two songs to be featured on a playlist, and those songs would go on to reach five to six digit streams.
However, this created a large disparity in streaming counts between songs on each album. In most cases, songs that weren’t added to playlists struggled to surpass even a few thousand plays.
Through these consecutive releases, EverythingOShauN has been able to surpass 50,000 plays on each single within a much shorter time frame of less than 30 days.
Because the focus was on singles, each one was able to get featured on playlists such as Northern Bars and New Music Friday.
Not only that – but key singles like “Odinma” surpassed over 100,000 streams in less than 2 weeks, making it the first song of his to reach that many people in so little time.
We achieved this with no paid promotional efforts – instead relying on releasing music consistently and using our existing platforms to get it in front of people.
We’ve been able to increase his streams and following overall – proving how important frequent and consistent releases can be for artists on a limited budget.
Verdict: For The Artist Planning To Release Singles
If you’re an artist planning to release singles for a while, I recommend alternating between releasing a new song and music video every 4 weeks.
For example, in July you could release the audio with artwork for your single. The following month, you could release the music video for that same single. In between both releases, you could share trailers, photos, BTS and other pieces of content on social media that will help promote both.
Essentially, every 8 weeks is a cycle for one single before moving on to the next one. Audiences will be focused on one offering at a time, which will reduce choice overload and direct them to doing one thing only: listen to the song. If they like it, they can always go back in time and check out your previous releases.
Artists that exclusively follow this strategy will release at least 6 music singles and 6 music videos per year.
Verdict: For The Artist Planning To Release An Album
If you’re dead set on a multi-song project such as an EP or LP, you’ll still benefit by releasing singles ahead of the release. You can even kick it up a notch with a special strategy I call “the double up.”
This strategy revolves around releasing multiple singles close together before the album release.
A few artists have been doing this. Have you noticed this trend yet?
In late 2019, PARTYNEXTDOOR dropped 2 singles – “Loyal” and “The News” – within 24 hours of one another to build anticipation for his PARTYMOBILE album which came out a few months later.
In order to capitalize on this strategy – it’s best to promote 2 singles that are distinctive from one another sonically. This offers potential fans options and provides a preview of what they can expect from the album.
For PARTYNEXTDOOR, “Loyal” was a cheery and bright record while “The News” was the opposite – more down-tempo and dark. This difference in sound helped PARTYNEXTDOOR cater to multiple audiences while building anticipation for his project.
These are but a few strategies you could follow for your own release based on the research we’ve done, and experience we have with our own music. No two artists are exactly alike – and you may want to adjust accordingly with that in mind.
No matter what strategy you choose to explore, focusing on frequency and being consistent will help you elevate your career in the long run.
Take a look at your music catalogue and start planning out your next moves now – it could make all the difference in your career.