In the business of music there’s two ways to make money: dollars and cents. Sell an album, make a few bucks. Sell a digital single, make cents. Neither one is inherently wrong, especially when you consider that lots of cents can add up to lots of dollars. What separates one from the other is the strategy employed. When the team at D.I.-Why talks to an artist, we first ask what their goals are. And, naturally, we usually hear things like:
I wanna make a million bucks…
I wanna sell a million discs …
I wanna be the next Captain & Teneille…
OK, admittedly we only hear 2 out of the 3 of those, but the 3rd one wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. But we digress. The point is artists are rarely specific when they state a goal. If we heard, “I’ve got a new single coming out, and I’d like to maximize awareness and reach,” well then we might just pinch ourselves ‘cuz we’d think we were dreaming.
To explore that thinking a bit further, we’re gonna put forth the proposition that you don’t need to dig too deeply to sell a single. In fact, your reach should really be about broad/wide levels of exposure. It’s not a huge investment to ask someone to spend 99-cents on your behalf. However, it is a much bigger deal to expect them to buy your entire lp/ep. That’ll set ‘em back $5-10 (presumably), and assumes that they’re so interested in your music that they want more than the “hit” single.
What’s this mean? What’s the point? What about Captain & Teneille? Again, we look at 2 out of the 3 questions. If you’re starting out, and you’re just trying to “establish” yourself and build a fanbase, it’s nice to have an full-length album — but expect folks to buy a single. You’re trying to build the big wide bottom of the pyramid, not the teeny pointy top part. That huge base of initial support is what lets you do things like create a mailing list, establish tour dates, start gaging web analytics, and so on.
Artists who are slightly more established, with a better understanding of their fanbase, might want to go the album route. You know who your devoted fans are, and there’s enough of ‘em out there to make selling an LP practical, if not successful. In an age of streaming services, “illegal” downloading, and YouTube, it’s just plain harder to get folks to buy a full album. But it’s not unreasonable to expect devoted fans to. The same holds true for merch items.
For example, you don’t expect some random casual fan to buy a $50 hoodie with your logo on it. But someone who’s interested in a 99 cent single might be inclined to get the single plus a small item (bottle opener, shot glass, guitar pick, kazoo) if the cost is equivalent to the single. That level of interest is small, but it builds. They’re already moving up the fan engagement ladder because of your slick understanding of fan dynamics and engagement!
I encourage all artists to take a look at their online stores as well as their merch tables. Would a casual fan find more than “just” a single there? Would a big fan find more than just your music?