With the maturity of digital delivery and a proliferation of websites that allow easy uploading and legal downloading of music, the old models of making and marketing CDs are gone. The shift from an album-based economy to a track-based economy spawns many new considerations for the Indie artist when the time comes to go into the studio and record.
In the old days, the typical strategy was to record an album, release a featured "single" and people would then purchase the whole album, never having heard the other songs. Albums often contained several 'filler' tracks of songs which never would have stood alone.
Today, anyone can easily hear up to 2-minute samples of tracks before purchasing, so the notion of using filler tracks is essentially useless – ALL the tracks have to be good or the consumer will just bypass them and download the ones they want. More than ever before, the quality of the songs is important helping your music rise above the baseline of filler tracks that are out there on CD Baby, i-Tunes, and other internet music stores. If you spend the time and money to record a filler track, it's not going to give you the return on your investment in a track-based music economy as it might have in the old album-based economy.
This leads to the obvious question, is the concept of an "Album" even valid anymore? Should an artist spend time and money making a physical CD, when CD sales are rapidly declining and digital sales are increasing? If you are a touring artist, you'll still (for now) want physical CDs to sell at gigs, but remember that the ultimate goal is always to be able to generate income without having to be physically present.
Content is King
Consider how a typical listener comes to find new music. As an Indie artist, it's fair to assume that most people have never heard of you. How will they find your songs? The most likely path to your music will come from consumers doing Internet searches on topics which have nothing to do with you. However, if your website contains content that might be of interest to particular groups of people, they will find you and then discover your music. For example, I have lots of website content about hunger and homelessness, and also about songwriting techniques. I've had lots of folks around the world find me and my music because they were searching on those topics, and now they've become fans. Think of the content on your website as a net to catch Internet searchers.
Another way to increase the effectiveness of your net is to put the lyrics to all your songs online as a separate page for each song. If you write songs about various topics, people searching those topics will be more likely to find your content. Again, the importance of the songwriting comes to the fore. If you just write generally about love and how you broke up or got together, you're going to be lost in an ocean of similar content. If however, you want to write about those things and use some interesting metaphors, like "your love is kryptonite" (a Superman reference) or "My heart is as parched as the desert of Tatooine" (a Star Wars reference), you're now providing potential hooks for people with specific interests. In this age of niche marketing, specificity is always going to be a big plus. Over the years, I've been commissioned to write songs about a submarine, a river, a statue, horseback riding, Special Olympics, and various other unusual but specific things. These songs get found by people searching for related content. As an example, my submarine song about the USS Connecticut is often mentioned on websites of Navy personnel.
In a track-based digital music world, there are some things we've lost from the album-based model. Concept albums like the "Days of Future Past" (Moody Blues) , or "The Who Sell Out" (The Who) don’t translate well to a track-based model. The order of tracks and the transitional content between them were essential to making concept albums work as a whole. With individual digital tracks available in any order, the artist can no longer control how the listener will hear the content. Each song will have to be able to stand alone, and transitional material between songs is meaningless, and complicates where to place the track markers. If you want to do a concept album with transitional material, it is a good idea to submit a different version for digital download, where any inter-song transitional material is omitted. With most sites giving a 30-second clip to preview the song, it's important to limit the length of musical introductions and get right into the song, unless you can specify the section to use for the preview clip.
Similar to a concept album, but more in tune with today's market is the themed-album. This is a collection of individual songs, each of which could stand alone, but all of which relate to some common and specific theme e.g., high school life, baseball, rural life, spirituality, boats, etc. This serves two purposes. It makes it much easier to identify a target audience, enabling you to focus your promo efforts. It also provides a critical mass of content on the Internet, making a much bigger net for catching Internet searches about that topic. The more specific the theme, the better.
What's In a Name ?
One of the most important things to think about in a digital world is the song title. Typically the title of a song going to be a phrase in the first or last line of the chorus, as that is the most easily remembered part of the song. But it might not be the most unique phrase as far as search keywords go. So you can use the technique of double-titling, where the song has one primary title, followed by a second in parentheses. An example would be Rupert Holmes' song "Escape (The Pina Colada Song). In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, I produced a song by a fellow writer called "Daydream" about memories of growing up in New Orleans. I suggested that it would be advisable to double-title the song calling it "Daydream (The Levees of New Orleans)". You can see the difference that would make in number of search hits the song receives.
If you can come up with a title which is similar to some word or phrase which is commonly searched, it will be a big help to you. Before there was the "High School the Musical" phenomenon, I released my CD and song "High School My School". This gets many hundreds of hits each day from people searching "High School Musical". If you can generate high web traffic, you only need to convert a small portion of that into sales to start seeing meaningful royalties.
In today's world of individual tracks and search engines, make it a part of your overall planning to think about how you can maximize the web traffic that each of your songs can generate. Think of lyrics, titles, and subject matter as web content. Make sure each song is truly strong enough to stand on its own as if it were a featured single. Learn how search engines like Google work and optimize your website content to draw people to you. Cast a well-thought-out net, and you'll be well-rewarded.
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