Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fuck Singles

We’re all familiar with the standard industry practice of bands and recording artists releasing “singles” in advance of a new album’s release.  This is so commonplace, and has been going on for so long, that no one ever seems to question the philosophy or merits behind it.  Well, I think it’s time someone lay waste to what is in my estimation a misguided undertaking.

Let’s begin by examining the often-cited motivation for releasing singles - generating a “buzz” - that electric gossip over something so cool and interesting that no one can stop talking about it.  Without a buzz, your album will be released into anonymous oblivion amidst the endless sea of content that humanity swims in; the world won’t stop to take notice of your contribution, and no one will realize you even exist.  But fear not, for the single has the potential to avert this creative and existential disaster.  This is that one song that will change everything.  A song so special, it makes you believe in magic.  Yes, the single holds the power to generate that coveted buzz, but…and this is the important part…it must be released in advance of the album to which it belongs!  Failure to abide by this tenant will render the single powerless; for reasons unknown, people simply will not feel the same way about the song otherwise.

So this is the apparent mythology at work.  But while I am certainly not opposed to the principle of generating a buzz, I would rather do without the supposed benefits that result from this exercise.  After all, why would I want listeners to hear only one song from an album?  This doesn’t make sense to me, and even less so in situations where a single (or singles) are released months in advance of the album, such that by the time the album becomes available, listeners’ perception of the entire body of work is unavoidably distorted on account of having heard the single(s) out of context and disproportionately more frequently.  Fuck that.  When I finish an album, I release the album.

Now there are some that view the single as being representative of the album as a whole - that it functions as a sort of emissary, communicating the identity of the new album to listeners.  However, unless every song sounds the same, this is an aural impossibility.  And while I suppose a single could be representative of the spirit of the overall work, heterogeneity notwithstanding, and while I also concede that there are albums in which every song does in fact sound the same, there is nevertheless no compelling reason to release that single in advance of the album’s release.  Unless of course the album is subpar, in which case the utility of an advanced single lies in deceiving your audience in an attempt to manipulate listeners into pre-ordering an album they haven’t had the ability to vet, or buying it on faith upon release.  Fuck that.  I am not in the business of aural bait-and-switchery.

This brings us to the idea that singles constitute the “strongest” songs on an album, a notion that once again implies a subpar album, and to which I again refer you to my lack of interest in bait-and-switchery.  But I am also confused by the principle of an artist / label creating a work that is comprised of “strong” and (by implication) “weak” songs.  If a song is weak, why the fuck is it on the album?  Of course, it may very well end up that a listener gravitates to one particular song on an album while ignoring the rest of the work, in which case, so be it…but I’m not going to decide or predict on their behalf which song on that album they will / should perceive as being more worthy of their attention than others, nor will I assume that such an outcome is a forgone conclusion.  Fuck that.

Still, there remains the practical consideration of radio play (be it traditional or digital in nature).  Stations aren’t going to play an entire album, so you need to deliver a single in order to participate in the process.  Well, note there is nothing inherent in this concept that requires delivering a single in advance of an album’s release; not to mention, it makes more sense for people to fall in love with a song whose album they can immediately purchase or stream, rather than have to wait a few months, at which point they will hopefully a) remember there was an item they were previously interested in, b) realize this item has now become available, and c) still be interested in it.  And correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t the stations / DJs / tastemakers decide which song(s) to play from a given album?  Otherwise, what purpose do they serve, apart from feeding the masses musical fodder as directed by their label overlords?  And while we’re at it, why should there be a moratorium on playing multiple songs or a full album from an artist?  Am I crazy to think that stations should simply play whatever music they think best satisfies the genre / style parameters they seek to service?  What’s with all the arbitrary and contrived rules about music consumption?

In light of the above, I have been and will continue to be a conscientious objector to this indefensible pastime.  The only singles you will find from me are self-contained songs that do not belong to a larger body of work.  After all, that’s what a single should be…one single fucking song!!!!