In today’s landscape of hacks, instant gratification and collective forgetfulness, it might be tempting to question the album’s relevance and place within music and popular culture. For bands, it can be especially tempting to count albums out considering just how expensive and time consuming they are to produce. Why spend loads of cash putting out an album when you can just spread out promotion and release an endless stream of singles? That’s a fair question, but the truth is that albums are more important than ever in 2017, and that your band will lose a significant amount of momentum putting out your music in pieces rather than through an album.
Albums still matter because they tell the unique story of who a band is at a specific moment of time that one or two singles just don’t have the ability to do. Imagine if the songs from Nick Drake’s Pink Moon or The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band were released one at a time over the course of a year. Yes, the songs would still be incredible, but the meaning of these hugely important albums would be far less impactful. Whether it’s a concept album or not, good albums feature some sort of story or larger narrative whether it’s in the lyrics or instrumentation. Singles can’t tell the stories albums can.
You’ll get far more mileage out of releasing your music through albums than you will from spreading out your releases song-by-song no matter what kind of music you make.
This is not to say that singles don’t have a place and purpose in music. Singles are a great way to introduce your music to a large group of people. Getting someone unfamiliar with your music to check out your new album is a tough sell, but most listeners are happy to check out a new single or two. But while singles are important, nothing can replace the importance of releasing songs collectively through an album.
Albums don’t need to be deep, meaningful or political in order for the world to take notice. Rather than being some grand artistic statement, it’s sometimes as simple as a music listener thinking, “Hey, a band I like just put out ten songs.” You’ll get far more mileage out of releasing your music through albums than you will from spreading out your releases song-by-song no matter what kind of music you make.
If you’re a new band, don’t feel like you need to drop everything and record an album right away. There’s tons of examples of bands who’ve gotten plenty of success from putting out demos, EP’s and singles before making albums. But through decades of unpredictability and rapid change, the artform of the album still remains the most common way to release, distribute and consume music. As listeners, albums released by our favorite artists are so meaningful that they often serve as markers of time. If you dig Radiohead, listening to In Rainbows might bring you back to your days in college or a past relationship. Again, singles are great, but they typically don’t pack the sort of punch you’ll often get from listening to a great album. Albums are a little bit like a great meal. They often take a long time to make, but they’re worth the wait if the chef knows what they’re doing.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.