What's The Best Way To Release An Album?

To some, the album has become an egregious artifact from an era of music biz excess; to others it is an oddity that is a relic from their parents era in the sun, and yet the long-play continues to sell as a downloadable collection of files, on CD and in its original vinyl format.

Record companies today dissuade new artists from contemplating recording albums, pointing out that five and six songs on an EP are more saleable, and press the point that there is no good reason to even do that before having three, four or even five hit songs that can prove the act has an audience. But musicians can be stubborn creatures. Paul Resnikoff offers some valuable discussion points for consideration before going the distance and deciding to record a long-form collection of songs.

Musicians at every level — superstar, mid-sized, or emerging — are now struggling with one simple question: how to release their music.  And the options are now overwhelming and confusing.  Some of the biggest artists in the world are skipping Spotify, a move that could spell career suicide for some up-and-coming bands.   Others are delving into the tricky world of ‘windowing,’ which involves the careful timing releases to on-demand streaming services, YouTube, download stores, and physical formats like CDs and vinyl.

Throw in crowdsourcing, $1,000 albums (see Nipsey Hustle), surprise releases (see Drake), Tidal exclusives (see Kanye), Apple Music exclusives (see The 1975), smartphone-specific exclusives (see Rihanna and Samsung), Target exclusives (see Adele), Walmart exclusives (see Garth Brooks), vinyl exclusives (see Record Store Day), bundled CDs and concert tickets (see Prince), and BitTorrent Bundle releases (see Pretty Lights), and the complex matrix of options can become overwhelming.

Even the album itself is a choice, with many artists preferring one-off singles releases, mixtapes, or other formats. But sifting through all of these options, artists are generally trying to accomplish two objectives:

(a) maximize the amount of revenue made, regardless of the ultimate source; and

(b) maintain and strengthen relationships with fans.

Sounds easy, but those two basic questions can be difficult to address if there’s little data on who’s out there listening and buying. For example, excluding Spotify could be catastrophic if 90 percent of an artist’s fans are Spotify listeners. Or, worse, if an exclusive misses where fans actually convene, or what they’re most willing to purchase. Kygo, for example, sparked his career on SoundCloud and YouTube (where his target fans were), and ultimately started selling out venues like Barclays Center in Brooklyn and headlining major festivals like TomorrowWorld and Lollapalooza (where his fans were willing to pay).

But if great data drives great release strategies and marketing plans, the next riddle is how to compile and analyze the incredibly fragmented data that exists. Platforms like Pandora are starting to deliver key data back to artists, including where listeners are coming from geographically. Royalty reports from Spotify, Apple Music, Rhapsody, and Deezer (often compiled through aggregators like CD Baby) can give some idea of what tracks are the most popular, while analytics companies like Next Big Sound (now owned by Pandora) can tell you where things are trending.

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