Singles Vs. Albums

singles vs albums heat on the street music marketing

Singles vs Albums – The Dilemma

Most music consumption outlets are now focused on singles. Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, playlists, commercial radio, etc.  The singles vs albums debate continues. Should rock bands focus on releasing stand alone singles like many pop artists, or should they take the traditional route and release albums?

Simple Answer:  Both.

It’s a good time to stop and review our strategy for releasing singles and albums. So if you want a steady flow of new music going to your fans, you can promote your album over a traditional album cycle (18 months). Then promote singles from the album every couple of months between albums. So I recommend a blend of albums and singles.

Genre matters

First of all, genre matters greatly when discussing singles vs albums.  Pop and EDM artists have had success with a stand alone single strategy.  I’m not being wishy washy with a “both” response to the question. To be clear, I am against rock bands taking a “singles only” approach. The overall goal is music consumption. So all of it matters. Albums, EPs, singles, mp3’s, CDs, streams, vinyl, YouTube views, internet radio plays, terrestrial radio plays, etc.


New buzz term – music consumption

Yet even after their stand alone singles have become hits, pop artists are still releasing albums. Today, record labels don’t have the expectation to sell millions of albums or singles. Rather, the expectation is to sell millions of album “equivalents”. Since that’s what the new Billboard 200 measures.  It no longer measures the album format, and is a blend of everything.  “Music consumption” is the buzz term that labels now use instead of sales. Therefore, putting things into terms of “album equivalents” gives the industry a way to easily calculate how much money was made.

10 digital tracks = 1 album equivalent (or about $9.99 gross)

1,500 streams = 1 album equivalent (or about $9.99 gross)

How a hit pop album compares to a hit rock album

Typical Hit Pop Album consumption 

Breakdown: 200,000 Physical Albums + 250,000 Digital Albums + 400,000 Track Equivalent Albums (TEA) + 1,150,000 Streaming Equivalent Albums (SEA) = 2,000,000 Album Equivalents

Typical Hit Hard Rock Album consumption 

Breakdown: 200,000 Physical Albums + 125,000 Digital Albums + 75,000 Track Equivalent Albums (TEA) + 100,000 Streaming Equivalent Albums (SEA) = 500,000 Album Equivalents

As a result, the rock band had less than 40% of the consumption from singles. And the pop band had more than 75% from singles.  This demonstrates how genre matters in the singles vs albums debate for rock bands.  Furthermore take a close look above at the singles vs albums vs streams.

Sara Fischer with Axios demonstrates with this graphic that Hip Hop, Latin, and Electronic/Dance fans are streaming at much higher rates than other genres.

Another helpful source is BuzzAngle’s 2018 Year End Consumption Report and this infographic.

music streaming by genre breakdown heat on the street

So what should your singles strategy be?

Let’s not ignore the fact that rock music also uses singles to drive album sales. Today it’s rather pronounced with streaming services focusing on playlists and moods over albums. So, it’s a good time to stop and consider your “singles” strategy.  What are the 3 or 4 best songs from your albums that you will focus on?  You should have a track development plan for a new focus track every 2 to 3 months.

Download My Track Development Plan here


In my research I came across one rock fans consumption process. It was on a gaming forum that almost unanimously preferred the album format. 

“I tend to buy albums. It pretty much plays like this: Find band. YouTube band. Play tracks on repeat via YouTube. Get annoyed with YouTube. Buy album.”


Most rock fans prefer their favorite band to release albums.  And too many stand alone singles in an album cycle risks frustrating your album buying fans. Yet, these are typically your best fans that are buying your concert tickets, merchandise, and everything you put out there.  The heavier the music, this is true. You will hear die hard rock fans talk about their favorite albums vs. singles. They like the story or theme of an album.

There is a “completist” audience that wants to own all of the band’s material, rather than the most popular tracks. Some have a fear of missing out on a track that wasn’t a “focus track” or “single”.  They want those deep cuts. If you pose the question of “Singles vs. Albums” on forums or social media to a hard rock or metal audience, you almost unanimously get “album”. Anybody who disagrees gets made fun of.  An album of material has more chance of making a strong connection to the listener that could last a lifetime.

EP vs Album

Another recommendation is releasing an EP if you are a new band. Apply the same singles strategy to the EP. The only difference is an EP is shorter and cheaper, so it’s easier to grow your fanbase with.

If you don’t have the things on this short list, I recommend an EP.

  • Have you established your sound / style?
  • Have you developed your branding and identity?
  • Do you have a track that has streamed 150,000?

I’ve spent all this energy talking about how rock fans want an album, so why am I recommending an EP for new artists?

Because you need to establish volume at this early stage. So get fans in the door.  Making money is not the goal in the early days. Think of it as testing the market. Sound advice for any business. It’s easier to convert fans into paying customers at the $3.99 digital price point than $9.99. An EP can be used as a development tool to prove you are ready for a full length album. If you sell 5,000 or more EP’s in a short amount of time, that will prove you have a paying fan base.  A short EP with 5 or 6 back to back bangers is going to leave your fans wanting more. It builds anticipation for a successful full length release.

I used this EP first strategy with many bands including Mayday Parade, Motionless In White, The Word Alive, The Maine, Tonight Alive, and Go Radio. I Prevail had already self released the Heart Vs Mind EP, but we chose to re-release that with fantastic results, setting up the debut full length.


In conclusion, music consumption is not as black and white as singles vs albums.  The overall market for singles is bigger than albums, but rock fans still prefer to experience an album. A special thanks to one of my readers Sean from Elysian Drive, whose question inspired this post and is always trying to think of out of the box creative ideas. 

Todd McCarty

Over the past two decades, music industry leader Todd McCarty served as GM of rock/punk indie label Fearless Records, and SVP Sales at Sony Music / Century Media. He still consults for record labels, but is actively blogging and working to educate new artists through

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