I’m fairly certain that we all feel some sort of anxiety when an artist we enjoy announces they’re going to put out a new album. The anxiety could be so large that it keeps you awake until the wee hours of the morning or as small as a whisper lingering for too long in the back of your mind. Regardless of size, it’s there. One of the easiest ways to relieve/exacerbate this anxiety is by pressing play on the single (or two) that arrives with the album announcement or shortly thereafter. The music and the way it’s delivered to us has effects on this anxiety that range from increasing how comfortable you are with the album when it arrives to wiping away any faith you had in the record being of quality to begin with.
One of the most straightforward examples I can think of is how Obscura handled hyping up their new album, Akróasis. They announced the record on top of putting out a music video for the title track from the album, then every month until release, dropped a single. The week before their album came out, they then decided to release a full stream of the album through Soundcloud. Before release, we had heard three tracks from an eight track album. Even though there were more surprises in store, the singles released gave me confidence in the album overall and made me want to invest my time in listening to the full project. The consistency of the single releases and their quality eased my anxiety quite a bit.
This strategy seems like it’s becoming popular when it comes to garnering attention for a record. The 1975 released five singles from their seventeen track album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. Even though they weren’t indicative of the overall direction they would take (quite a bit of atmospheric interludes alongside their polished pop), it still gave you enough incentive to want to listen to the album without much fear of running into something you may not like. These bands released plenty of singles in order to make their albums more approachable and familiar while still saving some curveballs for the listen. I think these are two shining examples of how to eliminate pre-release anxiety while not eliminating the joy of listening to an album for the first time.
On the other hand, there are artists who don’t feel the need to release more than one single or a single at all. When Tyler, the Creator announced his 2015 album, Cherry Bomb, he released two singles and then released the album a week or two after. The two songs were drastically different from one another, but those two songs ended up giving a perfect snapshot of the record to come. If he had only released one of them, I may have been a bit confused and bewildered as to the direction he was taking, thus increasing my anxiety going into the record and waiting for it. Sometimes, just one song is not enough.
Hell, sometimes the whole album isn’t enough! I was wracked with worries about Kanye West‘s The Life of Pablo up until I had completed my first full listen through on my own. The fact that it was streamed live did nothing to ease my fears as it didn’t feel like I was getting a proper listen through of the project, especially since the songs he played weren’t even finished or in order. No matter the amount of songs played, I was still a wreck thinking that one of my favorite artists would disappoint me with his finished product. Luckily he didn’t (I bet money that I have more plays than anyone in the world on TLoP) but it goes to show that you could be given everything and still be just as anxious as when you had nothing.
Lead singles can help and hurt, but I ultimately believe they help. When you use a great single release strategy, you can help your fans by easing their fears of how your new material is going to sound. Obscura and The 1975 deserve praise for their strategies because they gave just enough away to let you know what was going on sonically while still leaving a few surprises for the first full-listen throughs of their albums. Sometimes you’ll worry and have that nagging anxiety no matter what you do, good single release strategy in place or not, as anxiety isn’t always based in rationality. However, in a world where you’re given a single and then told to wait, bands should at least have the courtesy to make the waiting a little bit easier on the fans by making sure there’s enough quality and quantity to keep them interested as well as keep them away from biting their nails in worry.