Touring Singles

I have a scenario for you…maybe a ‘thought-puzzle?’  Naah, not smart enough for that.  It’s an…idea…that crossed my mind yesterday.

You see, I was at the Chad Brownlee & Dallas Smith ‘Boys of Fall’ stop in Hamilton yesterday when this thought passed through my mind.  I had shown up early for soundcheck, said hi to Chad, had that giddy moment I get all the time now when someone on a stage leans over to shake my hand and says “How’s it goin, Roo?”  I should also note that later in the night, near the end of the show, my co-worker Amber made a comment that totally brought the thought back in to my mind.  What she said was, and I’m paraphrasing, “Chad has more songs.”  Referring to his two albums, where Dallas has one.

I should interject one more time…Dallas Smith has MANY more albums than one.  As lead singer of Default he released albums and singles that were very popular (and quite awesome) in the early 2000s.  I am referring to country albums, since he has successfully made the leap from alt-rock to country (judging from the screaming crowd)


Chad has two albums, Dallas has one.  Chad has…about nine singles.  Dallas has (to my count) two.  Yet they could tour and pull in 50 minute sets full of music.  How can they do this?

I’d argue it’s because of the albums.  And here’s where the ‘thought-idea’ comes in.

If we’re moving to a world where music is consumed in singles, and people (including newsletterer Bob Lefsetz) is telling us that the album is dead, especially among the youth…how the hell will people play 50 minute sets, or tour at all?

Work with me here:

  • Artist releases single.  Based on their good looks, interesting story, and amazing hook it makes it to the radio…hell, it hits #11 on the charts!
  • Artist releases second single, with an amazing video, and hits #2…amazing!
  • Artist tours.

…and what…play the only two songs anyone knows?

I think this is where the ‘singles market’ argument kinda dies.  I’m not saying singles aren’t ‘the market’ right now…consumers prefer singles over albums for the most part, though according to those statistics there was about a 20-25% increase in album sales in 2011 compared to 2010.  Still, the difference is staggering: 1,114,000,000 singles downloaded versus 85,000,000 albums.

But the artist who releases albums has more songs to sing at a show.  And isn’t live performance kind of…the point?  Here’s my conclusion…feel free to argue it if you like!

Singles are to Albums what Business is to Art.

Or more specifically, an artist releases albums because they are creative beasts and probably (hopefully) have more than two or three songs in them each year.  They probably have 30 or 40 that they have to painstakingly reduce to 12 for an album release (with the others shelved or released online for fans).  They tour because they want to perform for people, and want fans to hear all their amazing songs.

A business person sees the financial potential in releasing and promoting one song at a time, packaging up a singer with a pre-recorded track, and maybe pairing them with a few others of the same ilk to send around singing their ‘song’ in front of fans.  While out promoting their song, hired songwriters are busy writing the next one, managers are hiring video producers, labels are finding sponsorship deals…

I’m not slamming the business person.  But I’m acknowledging that the last time we had a singles market the industry was a factory.  Songwriters in Tin Pan Alley wrote the hits, labels found artists for their repertoire, singles were released.  Artists toured, played their hit and a few covers.

Then there was this period as the 50’s went on into the 60’s that artists released albums: coherent, long-playing collections of songs, some of which were *gasp* not singles!  But fans could love them…and artists could play them live.

Maybe I’m reaching pretty far for this one, but it occurs to me that something is lost in a singles market: ‘everything else.’  You have the hits, but some of the best songs just aren’t fit for radio or Much Music.  They’re the songs you want to listen to on the drive to work, or at home while cleaning.

Have you ever listened to Top 40 radio for a whole day?  It’s TIRING!  Imagine if we went back to the singles factory: churn out a hit, tour the artist, have them sing covers to fill the space.  It would be like Top 40 on stage that you pay to see!

I like it when the space between the hits is filled with other awesome songs, rather than other hits.

What do you think about all this?  Am I reaching?  Am I spot on?  Am I crazy?  Let me know in the comments, or maybe even on Twitter @Potoroo!


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2 Responses to “Touring Singles”

  1. Daniel Says:

    I do agree with you on this! The singles market is a double edged sword. It allows the consumer more choice in what they want to purchase (I can’t count how many albums I bought for a really excellent lead-off single and the rest of the album was absolute pap! Primitive Radio Gods, I’m looking at you. You too, Wanderlust!). Sadly, it also means that artists don’t get to define their sound by a well-rounded collection of songs, but rather by the song that has been heavily marketed, or has gone viral (Gotye, I’m looking at you.)

    It reminds me of the story I heard from someone who was at Coachella this past year. He went to see Gotye, who was playing in the afternoon. Gotye got a few songs in, then sang “Somebody That I Used to Know.” As soon as he was done that song (maybe 1/3 of the way through his set), two thirds of the crowd left the venue and went to other stages. After that, he’s (understandably) reticent to play that song live at all! I also don’t really understand the mentality that would cause a music fan to do that. Why would you hang around for the song you’ve already heard a million times? If you like that song -so much-, why wouldn’t you hang around and really get to know this artist a bit better?

  2. Roo Says:

    Very good points!

    Re: Gotye…that’s too bad. I always saw Coachella and other festivals like that as representations of how awesome music is right now. Rock fans also like hip hop, and alt-country, and folk, and even some pop…you can go to Coachella and see Snoop Dogg, Neil Young, and Primus on the same stage.

    But if people are only going to hear the 40 bands play their one well known song…that’s sad. First you had the radio, then the jukebox, then the iPod…now are stages our jukeboxes?

    Also, it’s too bad, because Gotye’s album is pretty good…it kind of reminded me of a Peter Gabriel album.

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