Written by Brynn Goldman, Account Executive
In the fall of 1969, my dad purchased his first vinyl record at age eight. He remembers walking to the store with the cash in his pocket (that he earned from selling tomatoes door-to-door in his apartment building) and rushing home to his parents’ turntable. The album was Led Zeppelin II, released in the U.S. on October 31, 1969.
The opening track from that album, “Whole Lotta Love”, was released as a single in the U.S. on November 7, 1969, one week after the initial album release. It was common industry practice for singles to be released afterward to allow time for critical reception to be published and physical copies to be distributed. Singles were marketable due to their convenience for casual music consumers and radio stations alike.
However, nowadays, with the advent of streaming services and social media platforms, the music release schedule for albums has flipped. The digital revolution of music consumption has also allowed for shifts in music distribution and marketing techniques. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported that last decade, music streaming jumped from 7% of the market to 80% by 2019.
Album rollouts are now proactive instead of the past model, which heavily relied on retroactive releases. In an era where social media dominates the attention of consumers, it’s important for artists to be marketed as brands. Brands stay relevant by steadily releasing campaign content for followers and the general public to interact with, and now the popular music industry follows the same model. Beyond posts, songs are released on meticulously planned schedules and album rollouts have become much more strategic.
In a Rolling Stone article, Larry Mattera, GM and EVP of Commerce and Marketing for Warner Bros. said, “In the past, it was about vying for fans’ dollars. Now, it’s about vying for fans’ time.”
Major streaming companies are also responsible for this shift in music marketing. These platforms are so powerful that they have influenced record labels (whose primary goals are profit) to structure albums in a way that generates the most streams and revenue. If a platform counts a stream as 30 seconds of runtime, and an artist’s audience is likely to listen to at least 30 seconds of each song on the first listen, why not make the album as long as possible? The mindset is essentially to let quantity win the short game and quality will prevail in the long run (likely with the help of social media virality).
“Whole Lotta Love” was the only single released by Led Zeppelin II. In the 1980s, more artists released singles in consequent months and even years as a tactic to squeeze every last ounce of profit out of that work. Michael Jackson's 1987 album, Bad, is a prime example: nine singles were released from that 11-song tracklist (eight of which were released after its initial release).
However, now the tactic is to build as much attention as possible before the full album release. Unless you’re Frank Ocean (who could go decades without releasing anything and fans would still listen), artists need to remain in a cycle of release patterns in order to fully engage fans on a consistent basis and be constantly curated on playlists to garner more streams and revenue and loyal audiences.