Why Doesn’t Sean Paul Release More Singles?

One of the many scenarios thrown out by MP3 optimists (within and without the record companies) is a future in which artists drip-feed their work to the public, putting new tracks up for sale and download pretty much as they’re completed. Something like this already happens in dancehall, of course.* Despite being a massive international artist, Sean Paul keeps doing new tracks over recent riddims. Even someone as dilettante-ish as me when it comes to Jamaican stuff has heard at least two non-album pearls by him (“Head Fi Toe” and “Bounce It Right There”) and I’m sure there are a few more floating around. It’s good for listeners and good for Sean P too – keeps him up to date. Could it be good for the record companies as well?

Dancehall artists surely provide excellent test cases for the drip-feed model. It’s how they’re used to working; they’re recording the tracks anyway; why not use them to move away from total reliance on the album format and start trying to shift new tracks quickly? Of course the unit profit is much higher on an album than on a single but it’s not as if these tracks are likely to end up on the next Sean Paul album anyway. For artists with shorter commercial lifespans (most pop acts, for instance), track-at-a-time release schedules make even more sense. Currently a pop group has three albums at most in them before the furore dies down – a three year window of opportunity for their record company. Why not make the most of those three years by planning thirty-six smaller sales points not three larger ones?

I’m not saying this because I want the record labels to make lots of money: I’m saying it because I think it would be good for pop. I think we’ve reached a stage where pop-cultural info transmits so fast, and where the desire for novelty is so great, and the micro-evolutions in sounds and styles so rapid, that the album format is actually holding creativity back.

*Hip-hop too via mixtapes, but that’s a slightly different set-up.