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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Bloore

Music Promotion in the Age of TikTok: The Single VS the Surprise Album Drop

In the age of the TikTok teaser, top artists contradict the trend and drop surprise albums with no singles. What does this mean for independent artists?

Album vs The Single
Album vs The Single

The pressure to go ‘viral’ and its effect on music promotion

As an independent music artist, you are told time and time again that you need to go ‘viral’. This means a snippet of your upcoming song is picked up online and used tens of thousands, even millions of times - soon the general public cannot wait for the release of the single. Most artists continue to follow the conventional strategy of staggered single releases, and more recently the soundbite promotional tactic spurred on by platforms like TikTok, Instagram reels and YouTube shorts. However, in recent years certain artists such as Taylor Swift and Billie Eillish have begun to contradict this release strategy by not releasing any singles or musical snippets prior to dropping a record. Instead, fans wait in anticipation for a full album and circulate it on TikTok after the album is released. The question is, will smaller artists follow suit?

The rise of the soundbite

Short snippets of a track are a must to appeal to listeners on platforms like TikTok; our shorter attention spans mean that extracts from a song can be easily retained, rather than having to process a song in its entirety. Research suggests that our ability to focus has worsened, an issue symptomatic with our regular usage of social media sites. Psychologists have calculated that our attention spans have dropped from 2 ½ minutes to only 45 seconds. One could argue that the repetition of a few lines of a song will hold our attention far better than an artist releasing a song in its entirety - songs which are most often over 2 ½ minutes. Artists therefore factor in a new section of their music marketing campaign: leaking part of the song to TikTok to stir up hype to pre save the lead single, and then the EP or LP.

Spotify single
The rise of the soundbite

The surprise album drop - a step back from the single soundbite? 

Releasing an album with no leading single seems to contradict this current method of promotion, giving listeners no musical material to circulate in a frenzy before the album release. The surprise album drop is not new - Beyoncé’s self titled album caused shock in 2013, as the album appeared with no prior single release or conventional promotion. The album reached huge commercial success: it sold over 617,000 copies in the United States in the first three days of sales, and debuted at number one on the US Billboard charts. Since then, artists including Miley Cyrus, Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar have followed the method of the shocking surprise drop. It is a clever tactic - unprecedented album releases often cause widespread media attention, which makes up for the lack of the usual long promotional campaign leading to the album release. Most commonly known for this strategy is Taylor Swift, who regularly shocks fans by announcing new re-recordings of her old albums and brand new ones at short notice and with little to no singles. Instead, fans try to dissect easter eggs from her tours, social media and music videos to guess when the next album will be. Ultimately, the anticipation is the promotion. 

Billie Eillish, has also followed suit: on April 8th she announced her third studio album, Hit Me Hard and Soft, saying on Instagram, ‘not doing singles; I wanna give it to you all at once’. The strategy was effective - since its release on May 17th, the album has reached critical acclaim, and all ten songs have charted on the Billboard Hot 100. In speaking to Rolling Stone, Eillish defended her decision to not release singles, saying she ‘really [doesn't] like when things are out of context’. This directly contradicts the TikTok soundbite trend, where the point is for the song to be applied to as many different contexts and video edits as possible. 

Does this fight back in an era of TikTok? Is this the future for smaller artists in the music industry?

This release strategy of releasing an album in its entirety appears to be a privilege belonging to artists who are already incredibly successful, or are signed to a record label or major record company. It may be less suitable for an independent artist or independent record labels releasing their first album - new music using single releases are often an effective way to have a prolonged and successful promotional campaign. In an oversaturated market of music marketing, independent artists are still under pressure to match the competition on social media sites such as TikTok. That being said, there are still lots of hugely successful independent artists who have loyal fanbases and reach a wide audience; fans will listen to their album regardless of whether a single is released. The majority of artists may well continue to follow the standard release pattern, staggering singles and circulating a snippet of their upcoming song on social media to encourage pre saves. However, it is interesting that even in an age of TikTok, instant gratification and diminishing attention spans that the surprise album drop is here to stay.

Music Promotion in the Age of TikTok
Music Promotion in the Age of TikTok: The Single VS the Surprise Album Drop

Read more: How to become a music playlist curator Visit our Spotify promotion service Check out the best Spotify playlists to listen to in 2024


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