The Raw Material of the Music Industry

May 24, 2012 No comments
Written by Guest Contributor

“The single” has existed as long as popular music and in many ways, has defined how popular music is listened to, distributed and… popularized. It’s the entity that all aspects of popular music are based. The success of touring, merchandising, and album sales are all dependent on the single, the raw material of the music industry. Even after the maiming the music industry has undergone in the past decade, the promotion of popular music still heavily relies on the traditional ‘single’ format.

So why have we held onto this odd custom when downloading, leaking, social media-ing and viral marketing seem to have ousted former methods of “getting your music out there”? What is the significance of the single in 2012? Is it effective? Is it a burden? Is it ironic? Will the single evolve, or is it simply just the best way for a band to make a first impression?

The following is a conversation between two musicians; A and K, who will attempt to unravel the secret meaning of the ‘single’ in 2012, all while trying to prep the lead single from their own debut album.

A: So… before we get into this, what is your definition of a “single”?

K: It’s a snapshot of a band. It’s the one song that helps people understand what your band sounds like. It’s usually the most concise, marketable and ‘pleasing’ sounding song.  It’s often between 3:00-4:00 minutes and has a standard structure (ex. Verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus)

A: Do you think those requirements are counterproductive to the whole process? Doesn’t that just result in different bands writing the same song over and over?

K: I think mainstream radio has stuck to its guns. It’s still always in search of that 3:00 minute gem. That results in what seems like a lot of bands doing the same thing. But mainstream radio is such a limited sample of what’s really going on out there. There are bands totally breaking that mould and just…dominating. Take the latest Destroyer album for example. The first single off Kaputt was ‘Bay of Pigs’. A 12-minute long, ambient, polar-opposite of what’s commonly thought of as a single.

A:  That was sort of like an anti-single. I never heard it on FM radio, but it ended up being his breakout hit online. For some bands, they seem to fall so far outside what’s currently being played on the radio that it doesn’t even seem worth trying to break into. Do you think that with all the resources available online, bands will eventual just give-up the “single” thing?

K: There’s a pretty good chance. Or we’ll see bands just release everything they’ve got to see what works. I think Arcade Fire released practically every song off The Suburbs. That plan might help your odds, but I feel like it wouldn’t work for new bands. People don’t want to have to listen to all your material before they’re even sure if they like you or not. So how does a new band like us do it? Should we be trying to fit in this format? Do we hope our stuff goes viral so we won’t need radio?

A: I feel like the smartest thing for a new band to do is take advantage of every possible opportunity that’s available to them. Internet, radio, carrier pigeon etc… It’s so tricky though… I remember when we were writing songs and tried to come up with a traditional “single”, it was terrible. Not in a sell-out way, it was just so difficult to consciously restrict ourselves to that form. I remember when we finished the song it sounded like none of our other material. That’s why we threw it away. It’s like we filmed a commercial with a sports car, but are were trying to sell chips and that’s not what a single is about. I would say that bands should try to get their songs on the radio. If they have a hit, great! But these days, having that perfect radio song just isn’t the be-all-end-all of the music game. But that’s just me.

K: True say. If you can get a song on the radio, all the power to you. If you can’t…I still think you’ll be just fine.

Adam Nanji and Katrina Jones are part of the Vancouver-based indie rock band, The Belle Game. Together, they will provide a bi-weekly column showing their perspective on all things music.

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