You Are The Worst Person At Choosing A “Single” THAT MEANS YOU!


It happens right at the end of every record I make, someone from the band says, “So which song should we promote out of the songs we recorded?” I tell the band the honest truth, that everyone in this room is probably the worst person to make this judgment. You know what the people at your record label and your manager are probably the next worst people to decide. We have all bought records and wondered why on earth the band choose a certain song as the single, when there are much better tracks on the record. Don’t be that band!

Yesterday, we discussed the difference between an album track and a single and how an objective perspective can help get you a clear opinion on things, and today we discussed the concept of crowdsourcing. After the jump I will show you how all of these things can help you not make the fatal flaw of promoting the wrong song on your record. If you think you have too good a ear or too smart into falling into the trap of picking the wrong single, follow me to the jump and I will challenge your intellect and your ear.

Why Bands Can’t Choose Their Own Single
In my opinion no one is worse at choosing which song to promote than the band. Everyday at work I see tragic mistakes of bands who probably could have gotten a little more popular if they didn’t pretend to be geniuses and let someone else do the thinking. Let me count the ways why the band’s perspective on which song to promote is unbelievably flawed:

  • Bands CONSTANTLY choose the song based on which song has their favorite part in it. Do you know how many times I have seen the drummer want to promote the song with his favorite drum fill? This isn’t just bonehead heavy metal bands! I have watched every style of artist execute this moronic logic for years.
  • Bands get sick of their best song, most bands even acknowledge that they do this. You wrote a great song but now it’s six months old and you aren’t as excited about it. However, to a first time listened the older song is way better than the rest of your tracks. This doesn’t stop bands from putting their newest song out as a single all the time.
  • Your bands tastes may not be where they should be for picking a single. There is nothing worse than when a band first discovers Mars Volta, Aphex Twin, Radiohead, Battles, Dillinger Escape Plan etc. and starts to get progressive. They then want to show all their “mature” material and hate their catchy songs. They think the song with the beat in 7/8 is their best one, and will show the world what awesome musicians they are. Do I even need to mention how totally retarded this is? You know what the thing about all those bands I listed above is, THEY ALL PUT THEIR MOST ACCESSIBLE SONG OUT TO THE PUBLIC FIRST!!!

Why the Producer/ Engineer/ Mixer Can’t Choose It
Since I have seen this first hand – by doing it for a living for over a decade – I am the first to admit my flawed perspective in this situation. Let me list the producers mess up this decision, but love to throw their opinion around like it is made of gold:

  • Producers are some of the most jaded music listeners in the business. We have heard it all, done it all, seen it, flipped it, stomped on it and reinvested it a million times. Since most music fans and passionate music listeners are young and haven’t clocked half as many hours analyzing music as a producer,we tend to over-think everything.
  • Just like musicians we often think about which song we like our production/ mix best on. We all get selfish and skewed.
  • Like the musician we hear the song a million times and lose that first listen feeling over time. We don’t know what it is like to hear the finished product for the first time since we have heard the song grow from one track into a monster.
  • Most producers who succeed in a given genre don’t even listen to that genre too much. Usually what makes you able to be an amazing producer is being so totally over a genre, you are an expert. You are bringing the tools of the other genres you listen to the one you are working in and that is what makes you exceptional.

Why The Label And Your Manager Can’t Choose It
The labels love to be the expert at this, while there are some people with great ears in this industry a lot of people have just received credit for making very obvious choices. We have all heard records with one amazing single and the rest of the record is unlistenable. The record label guy who choose this single gets touted as a genius when they made a really obvious decision. To make matters worse even if they make a poor choice, the single may succeed from the amount of promotion put into it and even though the song wasn’t the best choice, the record may succeed just because that song was still great. Though the record never reached it’s full potential since the best song never got promoted.

Odds are the label is just as bad as you, they have heard demos, roughs etc. so they have lost the experience of a first time listener. As well, record labels suffer from the same thing as producers in that they have heard way too many bands and are really jaded. To make matters worse the average record label person is not in your target demographic. Most music is made for teenagers, so odds are your record label people are not in your target demographic (I am not saying you should always cater to teenagers if you demographic is 30 something year old dudes your label person could be a more viable opinion).

So Who Should Choose It?
The people who are actually going to buy it. The easiest way to get a great perspective on which songs you should promote is to play it to some people who are fans of your band (this doesn’t mean your significant other or best friend) and some people who may potentially like your band. These people will have a fresh, unbiased perspective.

So how do you find these people? Your fans are easy to find, someone you see at your shows that you don’t know too well. Tell them you want them to help select your new single and they will be ecstatic to participate. Do this with two or three people and they will ecstatic they had the chance to be a part of a band they are into. Next, go on Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and find a band similar to you, look for one of their super fans who is always commenting and ask them to listen to your songs and see which they like best. Do this with another three people and you will have a great perspective of what potential fans think is your best material and what you should be promoting! I bet you just made three more fans as well!

Jesse Cannon is the editor of Musformation. He produces records at his studio Cannon Found Soundation. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseCannonMusF. For more info please visit his website.

  • matt Searles

    It’s funny to read this article today.. very synchronicity-ish. I’ve just recently been given the job of putting an album together.. via a process of curating my own work.. and my first instinct was “I’m not qualified,” and so I immediately started asking people for there advice.
    Generally.. a number of the reasons you give for why an artist shouldn’t pick there own stuff doesn’t seem like it fits me.. Ten years ago 17/16 was my favorite meter.. I’ve been making microtonal music for years.. I feel pretty good that I out progressive-ise the progressives..
    I play guitar, program synths, program the sequences, mix, and produce my material.. so I don’t look at from any one stand point.. so its not like that drum fill is going to seduce me.. I’m generally thinking of the thing as a whole.. though the deeper I get into mixing.. I think I may be weighing elements of how stuff is mixed.. and sound design elements.. over other stuff
    I think in trying to decide what songs to promote.. I think you also need to be thinking along the lines of.. what kind of represents you as an artist.. as well as the album.. that is promoting a song is also an exercise in branding… so I think what you want to say to the world in this sense is important.. which may have something to do with why the drummer wants that drum fill song..
    I’m not big on being too serious about what teenagers want.. they’re an important demographic for sure.. but I’m weary of the suzzie creamcheese effect.. to use Zappa language.. how there tastes define soo much the decisions artists make.. and.. well todays teenagers, thanks to the magic of P2P are probably more sophisticated music consumers then the teens of yesteryear… I am aiming for a certain musical maturity.. which may or may not be what teenagers want.
    I think you kinda.. to some extent.. as an artist.. need to be more Moses on the mountain about things then crowd source about things.. I think that’s just the job of the artist.. historically different things have always come from folk traditions versus elite’s…
    That said.. I’m def asking people there opinions.. if for no other reason then to help me get some kind of objectivity about things.. so I ask a berklee professor.. an avant guard head friend.. I ask a few PR friends.. a guy who gigs at the local bar.. a couple teenager types.. etc.
    I do think.. it should be sorta common sense that.. the longer you work on a song, live with the song.. the more you get so you hate it.. I know after I’m done with something.. I often have no idea if its any good or not..
    To some extent I actually think turning to the label / management might not be such a bad idea in my case.. seeing as I think my target audience might be a more sophisticated.. or at least they were excited enough about me by hearing it.. but again its just looking for more feed back to kinda weigh things with…
    I think a lot of times what I think of as “my best stuff” might not be my most accessible.. there’s the issue of what sounds good the first time you hear it, and what sounds good on the zillionth listen.. I’d imagine for singles you probably want a good balance and for album material you want something that’s a little bit more orientated to the zillionth..
    Still.. with iTunes being what it is… and people listening to music more as a part of there personal play list then as album.. I don’t know…
    I think I’ll probably need to read more of your articles to help me think about it.

  • Tim

    I check this site every day :] You guys are great, I’m doing a solo project but am just fine tuning everything before I get my hopeful hit tracks online etc…
    Once i’m up and running with the new myspace etc i will promote this site. it’s awesome!!!

  • Anonymous

    I think in trying to decide what songs to promote.. I think you also need to be thinking along the lines of.. what kind of represents you as an artist.. as well as the album.. that is promoting a song is also an exercise in branding… so I think what you want to say to the world in this sense is important.. which may have something to do with why the drummer wants that drum fill song..>>>>
    I agree it is important to think about the branding but if you don’t think about your audiences demographic and hitting that with your best foot forward it is not going to matter how you brand yourself because no one is ever going to hear what represents you since they may not want to hear more. I am not always talking about taking into account teenagers, I am saying take into account whoever is your demographic and teenagers are the usual demographic. Most of what I am saying is for an unknown artist and do agree that over time you should be Moses on a mountain and start to stand as an artist and guide the crowd rather then crowd source and that is a great point. But before you get to that point paying attention to your audience is essential.

  • Davey Wavey

    There are 2 main factors at work here taken care of by this article.
    1: music needs to communicate to be successful. Following the guidelines here leads you to which song reaches people most effectively.
    2: music captures a time in peoples lives. So what has just been recently released and what is being released at the time you put your single out there will influence the minds of the public. Perhaps the public wants more more more of a new popular style out at the moment or they are ready for something new, distinct and fresh.
    Your single needs to penetrate the market and so just maybe the best song on your EP or album isn’t going to be the most effective single.

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  • svenni

    wouldnt then just putting out whatever song you are the most bored with, be the most tactically sound strategy? since whatever song one is the most bored, is the song one liked the most at first and devoted the most time with.