The real question is, “Who do they matter to?”. The answer is simple; albums will always matter to the grassroots. The grassroots is your core audience. They’re the ones at all your shows, buying merch and know the words to every song. Yet when you look at major artists in the industry today, their grassroots only makes up 1-10% of their overall audience. The larger percent are the masses or what we like to call the “sheep”. The sheep are usually focused more on singles and will probably only listen to an album once or twice. So when you ask yourself, “how often should you release singles ?“. The answer depends on who you’re trying to feed and where you are in your career.
Every aspiring artist starts at ground zero. It takes time to develop your sound but it also takes the same amount of effort to develop a fan-base. When you look at Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles perspective, its evidence that the most important piece is the music. Whether you produce singles or albums depends on where you are in your career. Some artists are not as skilled with producing a quality album but can be consistent with singles. These are the artists that Lyor Cohen is referring to, while Kevin Liles is giving you the perspective of a grass-root fan. Both are important but it takes a certain level of self awareness when choosing whats right for you.
Rules Are Meant To Be Broken
Music industry standards have always been about releasing singles, preferably with a feature from a major artists. 10 years ago, record labels wouldn’t release albums unless artists encounter a successful single. As Lyor Cohen voiced, ” It has always been a “singles” business. However artists like J. Cole came along and broke all the rules.
After the release of his mixtape, “The come up”, J. Cole caught the attention of Jay Z and was signed to Roc Nation. He was featured on Jay Z’s, “The BluePrint 3” and went on tour opening up for Jay. At this point, J. Cole was starting to have a underground buzz and colleges were calling for shows. He decided to go on his first solo tour to different colleges and was releasing free mixtapes. This was when he discovered his true connection point with his fanbase.
After the college tour, J Cole dropped his first single” Who Dat”. This was the first time where J Cole broke all the rules. The single was not commercially viable, and it didn’t perform well on radio. It was the first time in his career where the media was questioning his ability in the industry. J. Cole explain in a Vibe Interview,
” Instead of shooting for an obviously commercial song, I love [“Who Dat”] because it’s really about the beat and the raps and not much more. It’s an introduction to those that were unfamiliar and also something for my fans to brag about as opposed to hearing it on the radio and being like ‘Ehhh.’”- J. Cole, VIBE
Art > Money
“Who Dat” didn’t perform well, yet when J. Cole dropped his debut album it sold 218,000 copies in the first week. Shocked by the album numbers, the labels realized that J. Cole has developed a grass-root audience off his free mixtapes and tours. He explained to Sway, during an interview that the rules of putting out a single before the album was no longer true. The notion that you need a hit single and features for a album to be successful was no longer the only way. Furthermore, J.Cole has always catered to his grass-root fanbase over the masses. Examples including his “Dollar and a dream” tour, costing fans only $1 to enter.
“You can do the art first and then build the business around that” – J Cole
J. Cole paved the way for artists like Kendrick Lamar, who put the art before the business. Kendrick’s come up was similar to J Cole’s in regards to putting out free mixtapes and touring. He explained in a interview with “blank”, that he sold out shows before he was ever signed. He focused more on the music and became a master at producing quality albums. The same pressures that every artist had about finding a “single”existed, but kendrick understood his ability to create music for the people. The industry rule that J. Cole broke gave artists like Kendrick Lamar the blueprint to building a successful career without the pressures of producing a hit single.
The Russ Method
After dropping 11 albums on deaf ears, Russ realized that he need to build his fan-base in order to “blow up’ . He uncovered the “Singles Strategy”. He found a way to get his music heard by feeding the “sheep” who then inevitably turned into his grass-root. Russ’s strategy is an example of the “Law of Large Numbers”.
“Its just naive to just think I have 400 followers, Im going to drop an album and its just going to blow up.” – Russ
Russ is an example of the digital era in the music industry today. He understood that music is similar to real estate, its a digital asset. When you apply the law of large numbers to the assets (singles), you then are able to compound your outcome. What Russ did with singles is like pushing a wheel up a hill for it to eventually come down on the other side. He released over 60 singles in a 2 year span, It was inevitable for something to hit at some point. Little by little his audience grew and he continued to feed them new music. On top of that, his old music started to compound, which increased his views and his income stream. He was then able to take that leverage and get what he felt he deserved from the labels. He’s one of the few artists who can sell out an arena by himself compared to his peers.
Create Your Own Lane
There is no “One-Trick-Pony” to creating a music career. The internet has provided all the tools you need to create and build an audience. The most important of all is the music. In order to grow in your craft you need to put the music out, whether you focus on albums or singles. Lyor Cohen may not believe in albums the way Kevin Liles does, but they both agree that you need a catalog of music in order to grow. It takes 10,000 hours to master anything, but when it comes to music you shouldn’t wait 10,000 hours before releasing it. While you’re mastering your craft, you could also build your grass-root.
Kendrick Lamar and J Cole had the opportunity to tour in order to build their grassroots but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it from the comfort of your home. One example is an artist by the name of Marc Rebillet. He uses Youtube to livestream improv songs every Sunday with his fans. I know it sounds crazy, but you have to watch the video below to fully understand. He recently used those livestreams to sale shows to his live improv performance. The key is finding your connection point and planting the seeds in order to grow your grassroots.