In DepthIs the single a thing of the past?

By | posted on 4th May 2015

I wrote recently about the album Dark On Fire by Turin Brakes and made mention that I thought they chose the wrong tracks to be released as singles.  Well, this got me thinking about how a band decides on what tracks they are going to release and whether there is some thought around album tracks that perhaps were overlooked at the time.  You know, those songs you hear on the record, absolutely love, but they weren’t ever considered for release.  More’s the pity.

I suppose the first question though should be this.  Is the single actually that important?  Many moons ago I think the choice of single was extremely important to an artist.  I mean, it was an indication of what fans could expect from the upcoming album, especially if they were released by drip feeding to us over a space of time.  It was the hook to get people excited about what was to come so it had to make an impact on the audience.  Nowadays though, we are in the age of streaming and iTunes etc and there is no longer that initial waiting period for fans to find out what the album will be like.  It’s an immediate response.  In most cases an artist will stick the entire album online before general release in whatever form they want and the consumer can choose to buy one track for say 99p or just a couple from the album that they like.  No need to purchase a CD and find out that actually you don’t like the majority of it, just buy the tracks you enjoy listening to.

Nme_blur_oasisBut what has this got to do with tracks that should have been singles?  I guess what I’m trying to establish is the importance of a single in the first place.  Does an artist need to hit with a top class tune and draw people in, or should they just make an album regardless and allow their audience to decide on how much of it they buy?  I am of the old school persuasion and still enjoy buying CDs on a regular basis.  I do, however, need a bit of a pre-empt of what to expect of the artist, so I am always interested in hearing a snippet of what their work sounds like before I wade in and buy the full album.  Perhaps I am in the minority on this though.

I did ask the question of a recording artist to find out how they go about choosing what tracks to release as singles when an album is completed.  I asked the lovely Olly Knights from Turin Brakes what their process usually is.  This is what he told me:

We argue amongst ourselves and then we let a radio plugger help settle it.  It helps when you have a clear front runner.  It’s not that easy with Turin Brakes though as we simply aren’t a single lead band.  But we’re really trying this time with the new album.  It’s been very eye opening doing lots of co-writes for others.  It’s ALL about the single!  Who knew?

I found this very interesting to hear, especially the part about not being a single lead band as I had never really considered this before.  Clearly there are artists out there who put together an album for the love of the art, but don’t ever necessarily think about how it will attract and stand out to the record buying public.

1952_nme_chartRadio play is also a big part of getting the single out there and heard by the public.  Years ago it was the top 40 on the radio every Sunday that let us know who had the number one that week and what people had been buying.  The charts now seem to be focused around the downloads that take place bearing in mind you can’t actually buy singles much anymore.  If the artist is lucky, perhaps some kind DJ will play a track they like on their show and get people talking about it.  This is exactly how I discovered Leon Bridges.  Zane Lowe played his song "Coming Home" on Radio 1 and I just happened to hear it.  It was only available on Soundcloud as Leon is a new up and coming artist.  I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it and went off to seek it out and have been telling people about Leon ever since.  Zane did his job very well indeed and decided to share something he thought other people would enjoy.  Job done.

So is it still important to craft a stand out song when you’re composing an album?  I would say yes.  You still need that little piece of magic that will intrigue the album buying folks out there, whether it be online or in an actual shop (gasp!) to prick up their ears and listen to your wares.  Without a track that can do that, you’re pretty much relying on your solid fanbase to just buy your album because they like you and not considering the whole new audience that you could be reaching by selecting the right song.

And this (finally) is what brings us to those songs that should’ve perhaps been released as singles.  I’m sure we all have an opinion on certain album tracks that we think would’ve fared better for our favourite artists.  I know I do.  I sometimes find it a real shame that an awesome track is hidden away on an album and unless you actually have that record it won’t be heard out there in the world.  With this in mind, we asked the nice folks on Twitter whether they could recommend their favourites to us.  We had lots of responses and decided to take heed of your suggestions and come up with a playlist featuring your tracks.  I really enjoyed listening to them, so a big thank you to the people listed below who got in touch.  This is your playlist.  Enjoy.

@starsfrighten / @HertfordSoul / @glynmorgan89 / @Adycolclough / @theGranerator / @MrKilliecrankie / @JohnyNocash / @Supernova_zine