By Cari Cole
There’s been a question in the air for a while now about whether the record (album, LP) is really dying out – if you need one at all anymore? But regardless of whether that thinking is coming from declining record sales or from artists releasing more singles into the marketplace, the fact is you still need one. People love hit singles, and everyone from independent producers to beatmakers and yes, pop artists, are obsessed with them. But that’s not what makes people become die-hard fans that sell out shows and buy all your music merch. People want more than just a couple of singles strung together. People want a full vision, an idea, a message, a movement to get behind. People want a full collection: a record.
Here’s what happens when you don’t (have a record that is)…
You can’t make a music career out of singles… (even top acts like Rihanna who are known especially for their steady release of hit singles always release full albums) There’s a reason for that.
No matter how great your music is, how many fans you have, or how many singles or YouTube videos you release, we are still a “record” centric culture. We like to listen to a “body of work” from our favorite artists. And regardless of a decline in record sales, a record still fuels your tour and merch and brand – all of it.
But you also need it for your artistic “process.” Putting together a record is a gelling of a “period” in your life, a collection of material that helps you create a cohesive sound. It helps you tell your story with more impact, in a way that deepens and solidifies your brand. And better branding guides your message and marketing. Marketing campaigns still run around releases and thankfully so, because they give you the opportunity to tell your story, deliver a chapter in your life as an artist, connect with your fans and create real substance for your brand.
For newbies, records are getting shorter. An EP (Extended Play) of 5-6 songs gets you out of the gate today. Plus, with an EP you can tour for up to 18 months and get people ready for the next thing while building your fan base and followers at half the cost of a full record.
And some artists release an EP on their way to an LP. So that EP serves as a placeholder on the way to the full release over time.
And let’s not forget, you really want/need is a “breakthrough” record that “goes the distance” for you. What does that mean? It means a super well recorded, crafted, tweaked, mixed and mastered, broadcast quality record of your best ever-ever-ever songs. Not a “I-recorded-produced-mixed-and-mastered-it-all-myself-in-2-days” kind of record. And that doesn’t mean a “live” record, but a high-level studio record.
I was just in the office of one of the biggest players in the music business and we were having this conversation about what it takes to breakthrough as an artist. And the truth is, no matter who I speak to in the business, the answer is the same.
There are lots of great voices and artists with “the look.” But what sets you apart is… Drum roll…
Songs that speak for you and connect in a way that strikes a chord with what people are thinking and feeling. And a song (or two or three) that becomes what you are known for, that brands you in the public eye.
Here’s my list of 8 Attributes of Breakthrough Songs…
1. They stand out with just piano/guitar and voice (sans production elements).
If a song stands on its own performed with one instrument, you know you’ve got something powerful.
2. They say something brave.
There is an element of risk in songs that stand out. What are you holding back from saying? Write that.
3. They speak from your life and message.
Real life is far more interesting than made up stuff. Write songs that you fight for, that are hard won.
4. They speak for a generation or tribe of people.
You know you’ve got a kick-ass song when it speaks from your life and at the same time speaks directly to people or for a generation.
5. They are cleverly crafted.
The lyrics wax poetic, use imagery to “show” not tell, tell a story, make use of clever songwriting tools like internal rhymes to hook our attention, and leave no filler lines (lines that reiterate what’s already been said or just fill space instead of saying something). Kick ass songs also always have a solid structure and melodies that tear straight into people’s hearts. Work your craft baby!!
6. They are relevant and timeless.
They sound like they were written today (not 20 years ago) and at the same time. They sound like they were written today (not 20 years ago) and at the same time, have elements of classic songwriting that exudes the timeless of great songwriting.
7. They are produced with great precision and vision.
Even if it’s just a demo, it’s recorded perfectly with perfect time, tempo, instrumentation and vocals that are on pitch, on point and beautifully phrased. In other words, nothing is interfering with the delivery of the song and message and only enhancing the message.
8. They are unanimously liked across the board.
One of the best ways to know for sure that your song kicks ass is that everyone likes it. And that means complete strangers too.
I think this conversation and process is so important, and too many artists don’t have the critical feedback they need to push them to greater heights artistically in the process of record making.
You’ve got this! #rockstar.