Using singles to build your fan base: The Incremental Album

May 3, 2010{ 37 Comments }

Music fans are getting more and more accustomed to instant gratification. They want to feel connected to the process and the progress – not JUST the finished product. Waiting a year or more to put out the “perfect collection of songs” all at once could actually be costing you. But with CD Baby’s new singles program, you can release songs one-at-a-time getting them up for sale right as you finish up with each track.

Here’s where you can really get your fans base excited: enlist them to become your de facto A&R team, by offering up singles after you finish recording each song.  Seek out their opinions and use that feedback to determine the strongest tracks. Compile those songs into an EP (maybe include some demos and alternate versions, too) at the end of each 3 or 4 month period. Finally, at the end of the year, take the best of the best (your fans have already helped you decide this) and compile them together into one killer full-length album. This process has a few big benefits:

Fan engagement: You’ve kept your fans engaged and made them feel a part of the creative process by seeking out their opinions in real-time.  They feel invested in the new project and will be eager for it’s final release.

Multiple Products: You have more opportunities to earn revenue, selling singles, EPs, and full-lengths. Remember, you’ve STILL made a full-length album by the end of the process.

Crescendo: You’re a saner, healthier individual because you didn’t slave away on an album in SECRET for a year. You built it piece by piece, letting it be revealed in public, and allowing it to develop into a product your fans KNOW they want because they’ve heard you build it song by song.

  • This is killer advice. I've been thinking along these lines for a while now. Having released a couple of independent albums, and having messed around with for a bit now with demos of songs, getting feedback, etc., this seems like a no-brainer. Great article, thanks!

  • Great idea as I've been pushing the individual singles idea myself. Just a note that you don't have to wait for companies like cdbaby to offer this – you can offer any product any time in any combination on your own website.

  • I've been doing this for the past few years, and it works great. I abhor the thought of leaving my fans in the dark for months. Each completed "preview" offers one more chance to connect with fans and get valuable feedback. It also gives me the opportunity to tell the real story behind each song without competition from the other songs. Good article.

  • This article rings true to me. I would still like to see maybe some examples of artists using this technique. Can anyone chime in who does this regularly?

    Or maybe does someone know of an artist that does this?

  • m

    brilliant! ive really been struggling over the last year trying to find the perfect mix of the best songs i have for an album i have been wanting to release for ages… its soo frustrating..

    this approach makes so much more sense…keeps fans engaged and allows you to release music as you go and work your way towards an album rather than feeling frustrated trying to get it all right at once..

    thanks for this advice 🙂 definitely what i will be doing.

  • This strategy totally makes sense. With rampant social networking, it's a great way to keep you fans satisfied with constant new music and anticipating more.

  • This is a great idea cdbaby! I have taken your advice and implemented it with Facebook. My fan page, White Grizzly on Facebook… now features the single Jersey… Sure… which is off of my new album. This song serves as an appetizer for the album which will be released. It has drawn a lot of attention, and now people are anticipating the release of the album.

  • Great idea, except that now we're talking about a minimum of $90 (for a 10 song album) in terms of getting the whole thing on CD Baby. Yeah, sure, it's only $9 at a time, but $90 vs. $35 is still a lot more money. Then, what happens when you want to compile the songs at the end (into an EP or album) and sell IT on CD Baby? We pay $35 again? NOT a practical way to proceed for the indie artist who is barely scraping it in to begin with.

  • I see this positively as a new option being provided to us which we did not have before, and, like everything, it is up to each artist to determine if it is right (including cost-effective) for each of us. You are correct that in total it will cost more, but that has to be offset against earlier revenue for the separate released tracks and other benefits. Logistically, when after several single songs are distributed I later include them in a full album, I will cancel the singles when the new album is out and available. One reason for that is because I will have the album mastered but not the incremental tracks along the way, so the quality of the final product will be better, and I would want only the best version to be available in the marketplace at any time.

  • Jim

    I agree with David. The idea of releasing a single a month seems to be fast approaching the standard way of getting new music out to fans. The problem with the CD Baby $9 per single, $90 for ten singles, and then $35 to put it together as an album just looks like a clever way for them to make more money from their customers. It would be a lot easier to swallow if cd baby took the coffee shop approach: you buy ten singles at $9 each (getting a stamp on my coffee card) and when you have paid for 10 singles( my coffee card is all filled up with stamps) then I get to release the collection of 10 albums for free (I trade in my full coffee card in exchange for free coffee). It only seems fair, doesn't it?

  • The concept sounds great to me as I am "sitting on" a single that I'd love

    to get out there! But my question is does the single have to be available as a physical copy (i.e. we'd have to get it pressed, a jacket, etc.) or can we offer it as a digital download only? i am confused because of the mention of a barcode… please advise! thanx!! i LOVE cdbaby!!

  • I've been thinking along these lines. It also makes sense when I consider doing several remixes for different segments of my fan base. Thanks for this blurb. Very helpful.

  • Great! Actually been waiting for this! Has me excited to get into the studio again and take more time concentrating on one song. I also did not like the idea of being begged an acoustic guitarist because of my previous CD's. I love it all and that has been what I have been recording. This allows me to take a chance on different material to see if it is a strike or a miss. Not to mention directing these singles towards placement and such.

  • Fantastic! I started doing this just recently – in fact the first track's release just happened to coincide with the introduction of CD Baby's $9 single offer. I won't be selling every single track through CD Baby/iTunes, most of it will be done via my website which is practically free. I'm hoping it will not only be a filtering process, but also a great way to build interest leading up to the release.

  • Matt

    David while you make a valid point I think one needs to find a balance. Before reading this article I have thought about doing something similar, but rather then releasing 10 singles and then selling them all on a full length album, I plan on making 2 – 3 singles and space them a couple of months apart while recording the full length album. Those 2 singles would be on the full length, or possibly a new version of it depending on the reaction they got. I think the article is a sound strategy, just maybe not exclusively using that model.

  • We have done this and it was superfast to itunes. We already have reviews after I posted it was available on itunes via facebook. Check it out…

  • I have to chime in with David, regarding the $9 x 10 songs or so… plus the $35 to release the full CD later. — Perhaps CD Baby plans to waive the $35 if an artist has already paid the $9 per song? — Also, what is the barcode for on a single e-release? — And, will CD Baby waive the barcode cost for the album release if the $9 per song has already been paid? — Look forward to these answers… Thanks!!

  • I think overall the singles concept is good to have if an artist/band wants to release a single or two or three or four. already has this option to release singles and it's nice to see CD Baby do the same.

    We, Ross Phazor recorded 12 new songs summer 2009 and have been producing, mixing and mastering the new material over the past 9 months or so. Releasing singles sounds like a great way to get a few songs out prior to the full release.

    Best wishes to everyone here on CD Baby!

    -Ross Phazor

  • I'M GONNA DO THIS because I song-write for a hobby. It's nothing I'm in the position of pursuing at the moment in terms of shows and actively writing. Just do it when I get the chance due to other obligations. It would be more beneficial for me to release as I go since it's probably every 4 months that I get a song done in this season of my life. If I wait for a full album, I'll NEVER release. I'm willing to pay $9 a song now than $35 for a full album four years down the road… Just my situation, though. Originally signed my band (Raising Daybreak) on CD Baby years ago. We broke up. Here's my latest project. Listen:

  • C'mon guys! The bar code is for tracking airplay and sales… do want to get credit for airplay and paid for sales don't you???? And $125 to release 10 songs AND a CD, with barcodes for the singles and the album…..????? Try to get that anywhere else for anywhere close to that price. It aint gonna happen! For some really good articles on barcodes, get of copy of the current Indie Bible. And one gig should more than cover the $125! (If not, maybe you need to take a serious look at how you are taking care of the "business" part of the music biz??) Sometimes you gotta spend a little to make a little more.

  • I have an even better plan… to release 9 albums, one each year, then put them all together and release them as a single! Surely that'll do it…?

  • Rick Bishop

    I think that the model of releaseing singles and the advantages are but suggestions. We may use the single service as we see fit. One could wait until he makes his $9 back from iTunes before releaseing another.

    If you are not touring you may want to release a single every now and then just to remind people that you are still there.

  • I have to agree with the other David as far as the money thing goes.

    CD baby has sure proven themselves to be very savvy on making money.

    I've been releasing albums since the vinyl days. The prices for CD's even for the Major labels just keeps on dropping forcing us to drop our prices. But yet CD baby still gets 35.00 set up and 4 dollars an album no matter what you have to charge to sell them. I still think it's a bit steep.

    I can see paying the 9 bucks to release a single or two… but there is no way and hell I'm gonna do it with the whole album.

    And I'm curious about the barcode they offer. I have my own barcodes for releasing my albums. If I use theirs for the single, will it be an issue when re-releasing the song on the full album later using my bar code?

  • Burt N.

    70,000.000 million records and counting! Earning Multiplatinum Record Awards……What a privilege it has been!!!! That is the number of sales I have been involved in. From Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror" to Madonna's, "Like A Prayer"………My walls are decorated with many accolades! NOW that I have your attention. Everyone has some very good points. Don't nickel and dime this opportunity. Keep your eyes on the prize!

    Aside from CD Baby being a great affordable outlet and opportunity for new and even established artist to get there product to the public it is a business that must serve three masters: The artist, the CD Baby business and the purchasing audience. Sure, there may be tweaks that need to get done to make things better but overall I have been with CD Baby since its beginnings and it continues to innovate and open new doors. Support it and be less critical and offer your suggestions. Many have valid points but how you present them will say alot about who you are. Be grateful and practical.

    Many years ago I suggested a singles program and even a merchandising program. Management was too young and they already had their hands full. Of course, I was in the main stream of entertainment and already had experience with methods used successfully. This is a growth time for CD Baby. Hopefully, they will also see the value for a Merchandising program; T-shirts, hats, etc. "Wearable's" are the most profitable and best selling in the merchandising field. An excellent profit center.

    There are secrets in this business that many touch but do not realize their value. Offering Singles was the one thing that fueled the record business for many years. When they got away from it sales slowed down and continued to decline. Now CD Baby is getting smart! To veterans in the business this is a well kept secret. Get on board and it may just surprise you. Remember, we are now in a global economy! Best to all

  • I have had this idea on my mind for the past few years. When the single song becomes your final product I think the focus shifts from the distraction of writing a great cd (a herculean task) to writing a great song. I think the net result will be better songwriting aided by the immediate feedback of the public. At $9, a song could be presented in draft form soliciting market critiques…how many times have you irrevocably committed a song to your final cd hoping it will be ok. This new process allows you to build your cd with confidence, garnered through the realistic ( repeat-realistic) feedback of fans and general public. Fun for them and you-result better songs!

    With that in mind I would love your feedback. We (group Allegash) have just recently submitted a single called "Dog Gone To Heaven." Give a listen and tell me what you "honestly" think. I just received a critique from TAXI…would love to know what you think b-e-f-o-r-e it's written in concrete (ie. Album ). Email me directly at I'd be happy to critique a song of yours!

    Thank you.

    Jared Brown…………………

  • Ny Billy

    Both are available.I just made a mistake and paid for two albums.It was a mistake on my part since I do more music video cause of you-tube,i will eventually open an account with film baby,I was thinking of just putting something up as a sample.,way I talked to Franklin and he applied a credit towards the marketing my "tune"immediately,I have time to putout the album I already paid for.suppose you put an album out and wanted put out a single only?

  • Nice idea.

    But it isn't really the way I work, I don't record songs one by one for a year.

    I write and gig new stuff for 6 months to a year (some isn't really new, may be stuff I wrote years back that I decided to start using), then when I'm ready I hit a studio and record. Sessions usually take a couple of days, then a month or two of mixing, overdubs, edits, then off we go.

    Will bear it in mind though.


  • I think the best way is to write as many song as possible,there is more chance of getting a hit.I try to write a song a day then at the end of the week review what i have done.

  • Brandon Lamar

    Simple Question…Say i release a single throught the singles option, what about later when i want to release the full album on itunes that includes that "single" song? (u cant re-submit a song thats already on itunes and i wouldnt want to leave it off the full album to put on itunes or cdbaby….so then what????)

  • admin

    Brandon – You CAN resubmit a song to iTunes. It happens all the time especially with signed artists. They'll release a single as a teaser leading up to the full release of the album that also includes that song released as a single. Compilation albums would be another prime example of the same song ending up in multiple places in the iTunes store.

  • Burt N.

    All have very valid points. Do not lose sight of the opportunity to put out your best song(s) without a major investment. You never know where it will lead you. The message here is……….don't try to engineer it. Just take it and run.

  • flaming duck

    A bit late to the discussion but..

    Yes, I first thought $9 was too much if you plan to release an albums worth of songs.

    Sad as it is though, most music buying public don't download full albums based on a few short samples. They will take a chance on .99 though, based on the fact you're offering it up as a 'single', therefore the listener already has the impression that you think it's really good enough to be out there RIGHT NOW.

    And then you only have to sell it 9 times to make your money back, as opposed to trying to convince listeners unfamiliar with you to part with $10 for an album, which doesn't happen that often and ultimately takes longer to earn your investment back.

    With singles, you either gain a fan based on ONE song (and they don't feel ripped off and will come back for more) or they didn't like it and won't bother with you again, but they don't feel cheated for $1 and they certainly wouldn't be dropping $10 to check you out.

    However, I think this will work better for artists who already have music on CDbaby than for those who are new to it.

  • $9 times 10 singles plus $35 for an album of proven material? Are you crazy, that is a great idea! If you can't sell a tune @ 99 cents you sure won't sell ten of them at $9.99! It's just dues folks. Pay your dues. 🙂

  • anthony

    but if you ocntinue to drizzle singles out, and your fans listen to them< would they want an album full of singles that they already heard?

  • I've noticed Michael Buble doing the one-song-at-at-time thing. I myself actually like buying this way from other artists.

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  • I agree with everything you are saying here. In fact I've developed a system for releasing a single. Stop by and let me know what you think: