Digital Singles Catch Up With Radio Release Dates

The New York Times reports that labels are getting back on the singles bandwagon. Over the past few months, labels have begun releasing singles for sale through download outlets like iTunes and Napster at the same time as they release them to radio stations.

Old-time record label thinking was that you got the single out, you sold it and you called that good business. But the advent of the album as a money-maker in the 60’s (thanks in no small part to the Beatles), started a shift in that thinking that culminated in the near-death of the single in the 90’s.

The new paradigm was to dangle the track at radio to build buzz for the album release. By refusing to sell singles, labels could force consumers to purchase a full album to get the two or three great songs (a generous assessment in some cases) that the consumer wanted.

Then came Napster.

Suddenly, the song became the focus again. And iTunes’ big splash as a legitimate seller of single tracks reinforced it. Labels began to face up to the fact that consumers in many cases wanted the song, not the full album. But still, they held to the belief that if they held the song back from iTunes and its ilk–even while it was getting saturation play at radio for weeks before the album release date–that maybe people would still buy that full album.

Now, they’ve seen the light. Or, at least they’re begining to. The “new” new paradigm: Sign better artists, then grow them like in the days of old with time for writing and demos and club dates. No fast track to stardom, just help them make better music. Ultimately, the onus is on the artist to make great songs that are consistently good enough to make us want to buy their collections. That’s really not such a hard concept to understand.