As music streaming has grown in popularity over the past decade, it’s taken the single-song format along for the ride. While a full-length album shows you’re serious about your music, the digital single is an indispensable tool in an artist’s belt.
Singles are especially useful for new artists, when potential fans have the choice between a 45-minute album smorgasbord or a three-minute appetizer. When they just want to find out what you’re all about, they’re going for the bite-size sample nine times out of ten.
But there are many more ways to release a single than just putting your best foot forward in advance of a new album. And there are more reasons for releasing singles too. The big one? Streaming platforms reward artists who consistently release new music.
Don’t wait a year or two between releases. The more frequently you put out new music, the better your chances of landing on an editorial playlist on a platform like Spotify, as well as algorithmic playlists such as Release Radar.
Launching singles at a steady clip also gives you more opportunities to connect with your existing audience, so you don’t lose momentum on streaming platforms (who reward dependability).
Here are seven kinds of singles you can release, and how to use them:
The lead single
Yes, we just got done telling you there are plenty of OTHER types of singles to release, but this is still the big one. You’ve just finished recording, mixing, and mastering your new full-length album, maybe even your first album. Pick a song from the album you love. Sure, sure, songs are like kids and you can’t play favorites, but you know there’s one song on your album you secretly love more than the others. Pick that one. Release it on its own with some cool cover art that’s different from what’s on your album. Hit your potential fans with that first taste and make ’em want to come back for more.
The follow-up single
And here’s where you bring ‘em back for more. The follow-up single could either be your second favorite song from your album (you know you have one, too), or it could be a song that sounds a bit different from the lead single. If your lead-off single is a total banger, maybe choose a more relaxed and dynamic song for your second single. This shows listeners a different side of your artistry. Who doesn’t love some variety in their favorite artist’s catalog? Or you could just put out a second banger and knock ’em dead outright.
Sidenote: If you don’t have a finished album from which to choose your lead and follow-up singles, you can also work in reverse. Record and release singles as you finish them, then gather them together later as an EP or LP.
The unreleased studio track
Let’s say 10 songs made the final cut for your album. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few extras that didn’t quite fit in the sequencing. Pick your favorite non-album studio track and release it a few months after your album is out. This not only helps you maintain release momentum, but it’s also a cheap way to release new (to your fans) music that simultaneously refers back to a previous release you’re still promoting. The unreleased track was already lying on the cutting room floor, mixed and maybe even mastered, ready to go. Why not put it out?
In our last article we recommended you make “stem” tracks of your songs. This is why. When you group the individual instrumental and vocal tracks of your songs into stems, it makes it more appealing to remixers. And remixing is a good thing. An authorized remix by a legitimate DJ or electronic artist can raise your profile beyond your own fanbase. Electronic artists have their own group of fans who love creative takes on songs, even ones they’ve never heard before. If they enjoy the remix the artist posted to their channels, chances are they’ll track down the original on your page and listen to hear how it compares. Streams all around!
Not into remixes? Any kind of collaboration with another songwriter or artist will help you reach new audiences. So maybe work on something with a featured guest artist or even a track with another primary artist. Just make sure to format your metadata correctly!
Fans love when their favorite artists are multifaceted. Heck, Taylor Swift just went from pop megastar to brooding singer-songwriter in one album. If she can record an hour’s worth of subdued acoustic songs, you can surely record an alternate version of your big single with all the electronic instruments stripped away. There’s a reason MTV’s Unplugged series is so popular: we enjoy hearing songs we love in new ways. An acoustic mix sheds new light on areas of your composition and arrangement that distortion can often, um, distort. And if acoustic’s not your jam, try another type of alternate take. Maybe make it all drum and bass to showcase the oft-overlooked rhythm section?
No time to record an alternate version? Adjust the tracks in your existing mix. Tweak the levels. Mute some stuff. Play around with what you already have, and suddenly your recording session could yield two unique but solid songs.
Demos and live versions
Who doesn’t enjoy a song that’s a little rough around the edges? True music fans love the creative process and the lead-up to the finished product as much as the final version itself. Put out a demo version of one of your previously released singles and give listeners a peak behind the curtains.
Not quite comfortable with something that stripped down? Put out a live version instead. Live recordings capture the spontaneity of a live gig for those at home. Just make sure it’s a decent recording. No one wants a muddy live mix or one where you can hear the crowd talking and bottle clinking over the sound of actual music.
The staple of all brand-new artists doesn’t have to be their realm entirely. Even after you’re established and writing songs of your own, covers are a great way to showcase your influences. They not only show where you came from, but also where you’re headed next. Record a cover of an artist who got you into music in the first place and put your roots on display.
Or, even cooler, cover an artist you’re currently into who’s influencing your next move. This provides a fun hint at what your next batch of original songs might sound like. It’s like an Easter Egg for fans to look back on when your new songs come out. Look toward the future in style!
Now that you’ve got some ideas for releasing a single, it’s time to put them into action. The world needs new music now more than ever before!