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Only 516 pages left on your journey to becoming a rock star!

Albums and singles

If an artist gets signed by the A&R division, then the next important step will be to do a record. Please note that I’m talking about a real artist here, not about some puppet just providing vocals for a writer / producer, this will be discussed later on.

The standard procedure is to record an album containing at least one hit single.

In some cases the record company also decides to first start with a single, and to only record an entire album if the single will become successful. If the single becomes an unexpected success, then it may take some time to get the album ready as the artist will probably spend most of the time promoting the single, which doesn’t leave much time for studio work. If the album will be released, then it will usually contain the original single, while a second single will be released at the same time to thrive sales. The single / album strategy has been the same since the 1950s (and maybe even earlier), and this is also what I recommend you to do, even if you don’t have a deal with a record company. Some so-called experts claim that nowadays the album is dead and that artists should only do singles, and there may be some truth behind that if it comes to today’s Top 40 chart music.

But as soon as you wish to become successful by making good or even great music, you will have to record an ALBUM.

The exact reasons for this will be explained very soon. The single / album strategy is quite simple:

  1. The single is getting released and promoted, people will like it and maybe even buy it.
  2. Shortly after (often as soon as single sales have dropped, when the potential buyer market is saturated), the album is being released. Those who really, really liked the single (which means that they liked the artist and most importantly the sound and style of the artist) will also buy the album, generating a second wave of cash. You generally sell less albums than singles if you had a hit single, but selling an album brings in about 10 times more money than selling a single.

That’s the plan, it’s a brilliant one, it worked well for decades, and record companies made billions with this one simple strategy.

Everyone made a lot of money using this strategy in the past, as by selling an album you will earn about 10 times more than by selling a single.

Albums are great, both from an artistic (more freedom) and from a commercial (more money) point of view.

So why doesn’t it work anymore? The answer is simple, and it has to do with

  1. trends,
  2. irrelevance, and
  3. competition.

The first problem is that people expect albums to be boring. And they’re right about that – at least if it comes to bad albums by bad artists. Albums are boring because they contain only the hits that get played on the radio all of the time (which means that people are already saturated hearing those), plus a bunch of completely irrelevant songs whose only purpose is to add additional play time to the record. Most albums are rip-offs, and people know about this of course.

The second problem is that nowadays all music in the charts sounds more or less the same. This was completely different in the Golden Age Of Popular Music. If you liked Queen for example and you wanted more music that sounded like Queen, then you had to buy a Queen album. There was no alternative. And if you liked Queen, U2, Micheal Jackson and Madonna in the 1980s, then you already had to buy a total of four albums if you wanted more of this.

If all artists sound the same and all songs on their albums sound the same, then why should people buy the albums? There are only very few mainstream trends nowadays, which finally puts all records in a situation of competition, so in the end EVERYONE LOSES.

Since the 2000s, both A&R executives and producers have been focusing a lot more on singles, as their primary goal seems to be to make it into the singles charts and to win Grammys. That may be great for the ego, but it’s really bad for both art and for the business.

Most of the entire Top 40 music is being produced by only a few people who have been (very successfully) applying the same writing and production techniques in a copy-paste manner during the past two decades – Katy Perry’s songs are being produced by the same guy (remember Max Martin?) who also does songs for Taylor Swift, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Ellie Goulding, and many, many more, including Adele on her latest album 25. The singles charts have been mostly dominated by only a few producers and DJs since the 2000s. It’s just normal that it all sounds the same, it’s always the same people writing the songs and producing the records.

There are (almost) no real individual artists anymore, and that’s a huge problem.

Of course this kind of music creation has always existed, even in the Golden Age Of Popular Music. But back then this was only one element in the Top 40, while today it’s probably 90% or more. Real artists are almost completely absent, and even then they’re trying to follow mainstream trends too, with very few exceptions.

Many of today’s artists lack courage, as they simply follow the trends and copy the sounds defined by those producers who are responsible for mainstream teen pop.

Even established artists such as Coldplay are now doing more and more pop-oriented music and they’re even collaborating with low end pop artists, instead of trying to create something new and challenging. And then there’s another huge problem:

Some great artists do not follow trends and still focus on producing good albums, but most of them are no longer writing great singles (or “hit songs”), which explains their absence from the charts and from mainstream media, and which also explains that many of those albums lack momentum.

Thus those albums don’t have any real impact anymore, which makes them almost irrelevant, as they won’t set any trends or even start any revolution anymore.

Great music will only return to the main stage if real artists start writing hit and signature songs again, songs that will be revolutionary and that will thus have a real impact.

In chapter 5 (which is about songwriting) I will explain the differences of good and bad albums in detail, and you’ll get all of the information you’ll need in order to be able to produce a great album that people will want to spend money on. For the moment you should just keep in mind that it’s a very, very bad idea if everything sounds the same. Finally I’d also like to remind you once more that almost 90% of all albums released by the music industry are failures, as they do not break even, which means that the sales income is not high enough to even cover the production costs. This implies that the 10% of all records that make enough money will also have to cover the production costs for those 90% that don’t make it.

Every successful artist is in fact also paying for nine productions you’ll never hear of.

There are failures in every business and in every industry, but I’ve always been shocked by the extremely high failure rate of the music industry. 90% is an extremely high number, which is often explained by the fact that’s impossible to predict if an artist will be accepted by the masses or not. I will not say that I don’t believe those alleged reasons for such disastrous results, and maybe it’s even impossible to do any better. But I think at instead of simply accepting such bad numbers as a rule, an industry should at least question the processes that are leading to such disastrous figures. I can’t think of any other industry with such a high failure rate, and it almost sounds like playing the lottery.

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Chapter 2.2   •   Page 4 of 11

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