In today’s music-hungry listening culture, it makes sense why artists would want to crank out as many songs as possible and share everything they write with their fans. Unfortunately, this strategy comes with some major drawbacks, with audiences potentially losing interest after hearing one too many underdeveloped or bland tracks. But if you’re an artist on the other side of the spectrum, someone who takes years to release albums or even just singles, you’ve got just as big of a problem on your hands. How do you find the right balance when it comes to knowing how much time to spend working on new music?
Finding the right balance for your goals and identity as an artist
Ultimately, the answer completely changes from artist to artist. Some bands, solo artists, and songwriters make their best work under the traditional timelines creators in the music industry are accustomed to, which typically looks something like a year or two between album releases. Other artists thrive by being as creatively active as possible for as long as possible, and it’s amazing to see just how much great music comes from this prolific approach. Digital music distributors are now so fast at posting new music that you can essentially track the progress of some bands and solo artists in real time.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are benefits and drawbacks to be found with any creation and release timeline strategy you choose. Your audience might love your music, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have an attention span long enough to stick with you during the extended time between your releases. And if you opt for the uber prolific route, there’s always the risk of wasting your time working on and sharing some real stinkers instead of focusing on your best work.
To determine the best strategy for your unique identity, start by thinking about your needs and goals as an artist. How do you make your best work? Is your audience older, or do you have younger fans that are more accustomed to hearing new music from artists more often? How attached are you to traditional album formats? If you’re flexible, you could easily release a couple songs at a time throughout the year while you work on your next group of tracks. Is there something about releasing a constant stream of music that energizes you or takes away from your process? Will writing and sharing music frequently or infrequently get you closer or further away from your career goals?
The best strategy for developing artists
These are all important questions to ask, but there’s an important truth you should acknowledge off the bat if you’re a developing artist, which you most likely are if you’re reading this. If you lack experience and are still growing your audience, you will get the most benefit from writing and sharing as much great music as possible at the outset of your music career. No, don’t share each and every track you create, but you’ll get the most benefit from writing a lot of great music and sharing your work as often as possible. The main reason comes down to practice and chance. Every new song is another opportunity to connect with fans, and if you’re new, you’ll need all the chances you can get to carve out your identity as an artist and build your audience.
The prolific approach is the best option for developing artists because it gives you time and opportunity to improve as a music-maker and offers the best chance to connect with audiences. Is your debut album truly worth spending three years creating, promoting, and sharing? Honestly, no, in all likelihood. You’re far better off releasing a string of singles and EPs if you’re still building an audience and trying to nail down your sound.
Just because you try a specific creation and release timeline during one season of your life doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it forever. A real sign of creative health in your process is a willingness to try new things and pivot to new ways of creating. So see what works for you now and don’t be afraid to change course down the road.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.