So, it’s been a while. I think the last time we talked, you had just put the finishing touches on your new album. And now, you’re ready to release it – but you still haven’t decided which song to release as a single.
A single is a song from your record that you use to promote the rest of the album – the one you send out to radio stations, put up on iTunes or bandcamp first, and send to people when you’re trying to convince them to check out your work. There’s a strange pseudoscience to selecting a single, and I’m not sure if I can narrow it down to a specific set of factors, but I’m sure going to try.
Now before you go commenting about how there should be “no rules” for this kind of stuff: that’s absolutely correct; but I can’t write a bunch of blogs about just doing whatever you want. If you don’t already know that this stuff isn’t law, then I don’t know what to say to you. Also, what kind of person reads an advice blog and then comments about the parts they disagree with? A sad person. And you’re better than that. I just know it.
Here are my arbitrary rules for choosing a single.
A Single Should Be Catchy
This seems obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. If you’re going to select a song to represent your entire album (or even just release a standalone single), it’s probably a good idea to make sure that people will remember it. Listen to any song on the radio, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear a strong hook at some point – a part of the song that sticks in your head long after you heard it. It’s the part you find yourself humming in the middle of the night, going, ‘What song is that?!’
Maybe you’ve made it a point to write an album full of six minute songs that don’t contain verses, choruses, or anything resembling a spoken language. Awesome. I’m stoked for you. But would it kill you to include one track that people will remember, by just adding one solid singalong chorus?
Love it or hate it, Don McLean’s American Pie is a good example of this. It’s eight minutes and thirty-three seconds of ‘what in the frick is this man talking about?’ and fifteen seconds of it is one of the clingiest choruses you’ve ever had stuck in your ear:
So bye-bye, Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good old boys were drinking whiskey ‘n rye
Singing, “This’ll be the day that I die.
This’ll be the day that I die.”
A Single Should Be Accessible
Your single should be the song on your album that the most people will enjoy.
Maybe your album is Death Metal Sludge Country. Awesome. I’m stoked for you. But who gonna listen to that, Trey? Maybe you should consider why you’re putting out a single at all. Is it to attract new listeners to check out your full album? Then maybe try appealing to them, in a common language. Or, maybe consider just putting your single up on YouTube and hoping it will be discovered by like-minded Sludge Country-heads. There’s got to be several more of you out there.
A Single Should Be Instinctual
This is where we get into the metaphysics of it all. Close your eyes and listen. You will feel a single. It sounds hokey, but I think it’s mostly true. Especially when you listen to the album as a whole – which song jumps out?
Personally, I think Taylor Swift’s singles are usually some of the least interesting songs on her albums – but listen to the whole album and tell me that We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together doesn’t jump out at you. I prefer State of Grace, but look, I don’t make the rules. The record companies do.
Sometimes, the record company is DEAD wrong. But in some cases, they make a good point. Weezer’s self-titled Red Album was rejected at first, because their label didn’t think it contained a single. So, songwriter Rivers Cuomo went home and banged out Pork and Beans. Is it the best song on the album? No way. But if you’ve heard it once, you’re likely singing it in your head right now. That’s because it’s CATCHY, it’s ACCESSIBLE, and it’s INSTINCTUAL. It feels like a single.
Again, you don’t have to abide by any of these rules. You’re an outlaw, and I’m stoked for you.