When you release an album, you typically release it once. That's one shot to promote however many songs are in the collection. Most of the time, historically, albums have been made up of the songs people hear — singles — and the deeper cuts that only the real fans will notice or remember. Be definition, these album tracks will have a reduced pop culture influence and reduced memorability.
Every so often an album comes along that defies convention and gets attention for nearly every track. Taylor Swift's 1989 is almost entirely made up of singles. Ditto Third Eye Blind's debut album, or The Killers' Hot Fuss. But in these cases, the vast majority of the singles were released after the album itself.
So the model thus far — again, typically — is single first to hype the record, the record, additional singles to keep sales up.
For a big-name artist, this model makes sense. Record companies and PR teams work to keep the artist in the public eye, and the public, for their part, gets to hear new stuff with just enough regularity to keep things fresh.
But if you're a Taylor Swift fan, there's nothing on the radio today that you didn't hear two years ago. (Except for a soundtrack song, but whatever. This is about her album.)
For indie artists, we live and die by our fans' enthusiasm. We have no PR teams, no marketing departments. PR companies, music blogs, and other tastemakers will only even consider giving you attention if you give them tons of advance notice; you can forget about getting any attention at all for a thing that has already been released.
So we have to try really, really hard to hype something we're working on, usually while we work on it. It used to be that a record would be sent off for mixing and mastering and pressing and distribution, and you'd have plenty of time to get the hype machine going, but now we can have a song on iTunes and Spotify within a few hours of finishing the song. Because the impulse is always to ship when a thing is ready, it's hard to sit on a collection of finished songs.
But if you only release those songs once, and you blow it, it might be six months to a year or more before you get another chance to get attention. That can kill momentum and end a career before it starts.
We're starting to see a shift toward singles in the hip-hop world and EPs in the rock world. Airplane Mode, for our part, has only ever released EPs. We've stayed shy of singles because of how it feels — not enough substance, and lack of context for the song itself. The great thing about an album is that you get to focus on a certain kind of experience, and share those songs as something of a snapshot of the band in that moment. But maybe there's a third idea.
We're going to start taking a hybrid approach with this next record. It will still be an EP, probably 7. But we're going to set the release date to something like July or August. When the songs are ready, we'll start releasing them monthly as singles, each with their own artwork that fits both the song individually and ties into a bigger theme. On the final month, instead of releasing a single, we release the EP.
(We'll also almost assuredly be in the middle of recording the next set of songs by then, so we can probably keep a steady pace indefinitely.)
Instead of releasing one thing, we get to release seven. That's seven chances to get PR hype, seven chances to get a track featured on popular music blogs, seven chances to make it into 'new release' playlists. Maybe none of them will catch fire. But we'll get six more chances than we would have otherwise.
It also means that when we release music videos — and we intend to release a video for every song on this record — you won't be watching a video for a months-old song. Everthing can feel as new and interesting for the longtime fan as it does for the people just discovering us, and nobody gives anything up along the way.
So when is our next record coming out? I don't know. Probably end of summer. But by the time it does you can know every word to every song.
Note: You can even get an early listen as we record and mix by supporting us on Patreon.