[Editors Note: This blog was written by Hugh McIntyre and is the second installment in a two-part series about how the timeliness and/or frequency of your release schedule can impact your career.]
Recently, I looked at the upsides that can come with releasing music either fairly often or rarely. There are plenty of good reasons to consider either one of those options, but what I didn’t discuss in detail in my piece was what could be wrong with these choices. What are the downsides to dropping albums and singles constantly, or only every so often?
Ask any artist that releases a new album every year and you’ll probably hear them all say the same thing: they’re tired. Operating as a musician that shares that much material that often is exhausting in almost every way, and while it might sound terribly romantic to be so committed to your art that you’re willing to wear yourself thin to make it and put it out into the world, it’s incredibly difficult to keep up.
Between writing, recording, finishing everything else that comes with an album, and then properly promoting that new project—which means filming music videos, doing media outreach, and composing entire marketing campaigns—and that’s to say nothing of touring, it isn’t actually too difficult to imagine that refusing to take breaks in between album cycles is the sort of thing that can run anybody down, even the most ambitious and talented of artists.
If you’re constantly creating and releasing music without taking time to refresh and relax (at least for a little while), it may not take long for your art to suffer. Time is one of the necessary components to creating great music, and if you’re always working, you will see the quality of your work decrease…and everybody else will eventually notice as well. Sure, you may be selling more albums than you would if you only dropped a full length every few years, but can you keep up the pace for long? Are you really willing to all but kill yourself to get to a place where you’re worn out and creating music that may be beneath the best you can?
Also, just because you’re not taking time in between albums, that doesn’t mean that creating singles and albums (and everything else connected to these products) can be finished faster. It’s likely that putting together a 10-track record will take you essentially the same amount of time no matter how you’re doing it…so don’t you want your art to be appreciated? Putting new things out into the world constantly doesn’t let fans and the media give each piece the right amount of time and attention. If there’s always something else to hear, everybody will move on, and that can cheapen your art!
It’s quite simple: if you don’t release a lot of music, you’ll have fewer things to sell. Even your biggest and most ardent fans are only going to buy every album you release once (or perhaps twice, depending on how you market different formats). Releasing an album every few years may help in some departments, and it may be the absolute best art you can possibly create, but you can still only sell it so many times. Sharing new tunes less frequently means you’ll need to focus on selling more copies to different people, which means more time spent promoting your limited output in the hopes of attracting new fans. Adding to your fan base sounds great (and of course it is), but it’s far easier to sell something, anything, to a fan you already have than to turn a stranger into a paying customer.
On top of having fewer opportunities to sell music, releasing music only occasionally only gives you so many chances to promote yourself, at least via traditional methods. Few blogs will want to interview an up-and-coming artist with nothing new to push, and larger publications that may only be potentially interested in you during the beginning of a cycle may miss you once, and then you’ll need to wait a long time before having a good reason to pitch them again. Even if you spend the money to hire a publicist, they’ll likely tell you that your best chances of getting press come when there is something new and exciting coming.
The same can be said for touring. Much like selling music, only the biggest and most adoring fans will come see you more than once if you have nothing new to play them. Tickets always sell better when you’re in full promotional mode, which comes with a new “era.” Plus, does it sound like fun to you as an artist to continually travel across the country playing nothing but the same few tracks?
One of the least talked-about issues facing artists that take lengthy breaks in between album cycles (or whatever we want to call it in today’s post-album economy) is that of lost momentum. Sometimes when a new or lesser-known artist starts to see their single become well known, be it on the charts or via a streaming platform like Spotify, they have already released an album or an EP that had been in the works. While some tracks become overnight sensations, it still takes a lot of acts months to see their songs go viral. Once that happens, musicians need to do everything they can to capitalize on their newfound, growing popularity. To disappear for a few years shortly after a potential fan base becomes interested is a huge wasted opportunity.
While it may be tiring, the smart thing is to try to get something out in time for those people that just arrived to the party to snap up more material, thus cementing them as fans. If you step away for a time and return years later, it might be too late for many of them, and you’ll have lost some could-have-been fans.