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There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Releasing Music

There are multiple blueprints for success. Not all of them work for every artist.

Sometimes, you need more than 280 characters.

Last month, I posted a short thread on Twitter, suggesting artists release music every three to four weeks to build momentum when leading into an album campaign. The suggestion was based on the eight years I’ve spent working in the music industry, including my time as the current Director of Digital Marketing & Partnerships at Cinematic Music Group.

I was trying to articulate that, in addition to creating great music, artists should also think about how they go about releasing their music. Unfortunately, I didn’t paint a complete picture.

To help clarify and expand on that thread, I will illustrate how six different artists — some currently active, others not as active — handle releasing new music and how each has benefitted from their particular approach.

Before I dig in, let me reiterate that every artist should move at their own pace. Let your art guide you and feed off of the energy of your fans and supporters. Quality should never be sacrificed for quantity, marketing, an algorithm, a rollout, or anything else. Creating beautiful and timeless art that you’re proud of should always be priority number one.

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar has always been known for taking his time in between releasing albums.

When the TDE stalwart releases his fifth solo album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, on May 13, 2022, it will mark his first new full-length drop in five years and a month.

Unlike most artists, Kendrick can take his time because of how impactful and acclaimed his past album releases have been. When you’re an established superstar act with millions upon millions of loyal fans, one who rose to fame ahead of the streaming era, you don’t require the same momentum as a newer, non-superstar act when it comes time to regain the attention of the masses. See also: Drake, J. Cole, Kanye West.

Kendrick’s track record of success, his catalog's quality, and his dedication to every aspect of his craft means the recording industry and hip-hop will always stop every time he’s ready to unleash a new album. These artists are few and far between. The Kendrick Lamar blueprint cannot be easily duplicated.

Frank Ocean

Like Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean is patient, often going years between song or album releases. Ocean’s last release came in 2020 with the single “Cayendo.”

The previous acclaim combined with cultural impact allows Frank to start right back up where he last left off, especially since his fans have come to expect long gaps in between releases.

It doesn’t hurt that Frank’s approach to creation isn’t rooted in the sounds of a particular moment in time. This creative decision allows his music to stick years after release, allowing him to take time between releases.

Brent Faiyaz

You might not be as familiar with his music, but Brent Faiyaz is one of the most prominent independent artists in the world — a label he achieved by moving at his own speed.

Similar to Kendrick and Frank, Brent is all about quality over quantity. His music's acclaim means he can go years between full-length projects and months between singles (Brent’s last single, “Mercedes,” released in December 2021).

To showcase the stickiness of his music, Brent’s 2020 album, F*** the World, is currently No. 9 on the Apple Music R&B chart. His 2017 project Sonder Son is in the top 40 of the same chart.

Muni Long

Muni Long’s current hit single, “Hrs & Hrs,” first reached the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Charts in January 2022. The song is currently No. 2 on the Apple Music singles charts four months later. Leading up to her breakthrough release, though, the rising singer-songwriter focused her attention on releasing new music at a rapid rate.

Here’s a quick look Muni’s release schedule on YouTube before she released “Hrs & Hrs”:

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  • June 8, 2021: “Luv Kanye” (Single + Video)
  • June 30, 2021: “Sneaky Link” (Single + Video)
  • July 14, 2021: “Just Beginning” (Single + Video)
  • August 11, 2021: “BHB” (Single)
  • September 23, 2021: “Boys II Men” (Single + Video)
  • October 13, 2021: “No R&B” (Single + Video)
  • November 5, 2021: “Ain’t Easy” (Single + Video)
  • November 19, 2021: “Hrs & Hrs” (Single)
  • November 22, 2021: “Hrs & Hrs” (Video)

Over six months, from June through November of 2021, Muni unleashed seven songs before “Hrs & Hrs.” A prolific output doesn’t work for every artist, but Muni found her blueprint and stuck to it. And it worked. In March 2022, Muni announced a record deal with Def Jam.

Russ

For almost two-and-a-half years, spanning 2015 to 2017, Russ released one new song a week to build up his fanbase and total audience. Fast forward to the present day, and he’s still running with that same approach.

Here’s a look at Russ’ release schedule closing out 2021 and so far through 2022:

  • December 8, 2021: CHOMP 2 (mixtape)
  • January 14, 2022: “Remember” 
  • January 21, 2022: “Remember (Remix)” 
  • February 3, 2022: “Handsomer” (Open Verse Challenge) 
  • February 4, 2022: “Handsomer” 
  • February 18, 2022: “Real” 
  • February 25, 2022: “What Are Y‘all” 
  • March 9, 2022: “Handsomer (Remix)” 
  • April 7, 2022: “Handsomer (Extended Remix)”

A few interesting notes:

After dropping #CHOMP2 last December, Russ returned almost one month later with brand new music. Why? For those artists with an existing base, new music helps to keep current fans engaged. If a fan missed #CHOMP2, the latest release(s) can serve as an entry or re-entry point for the project.

In mid-January, Russ began releasing new songs every one to two weeks. Then, after releasing “Handsomer,” he launched an Open Verse Challenge on TikTok — which went viral.

As the challenge went viral, Russ continued to release more new music (“Real” and “What Are Y‘all”) before returning with a remix to “Handsomer.”

This formula works specifically for Russ, so he's been doing it for years. He conditioned his fans to expect new music, and, in turn, it's how they consume his style of music.

Tobe Nwigwe

Over the past few years, Tobe Nwigwe, a rapper and singer from Houston, Texas, has built his music career by epitomizing the incredible balance between consistency and quality.

Tobe engages fans through periods of incredibly consistent and frequent rollouts, combining intentional and thoughtful art — his motto is making purpose popular — with aggressive release cadences.

Tobe has his formula down to a T, not one to sacrifice quality. At a recent SXSW panel, Tobe explained how he strategized his rollouts: one song and one visual per week. Tobe based his entire workflow on this model, which meant not releasing anything until he had enough material in the chamber to carry him for several weeks. Critically, he stuck to his plan once he started.

Here’s a look at Tobe’s video release schedule, beginning at the end of 2020 and heading into 2021. You can watch all of these visuals on YouTube if you need inspiration for creativity.

  • August 23, 2020: “Eat”
  • September 20, 2020: “I Need You to Reprise”
  • September 12, 2020: “Shine Reprise”
  • October 25, 2020: “Clearing My Mind”
  • November 1, 2020: “Ashamed featuring PJ Morton”
  • November 15, 2020: “Wildlings featuring Olu of EarthGang & Duckwrth”
  • November 22, 2020: “Bozos featuring Big K.R.I.T.”
  • November 29, 2020: “Father Figure featuring Black Thought & Royce Da 5‘9”
  • December 6, 2020: “Headshots featuring D Smoke”
  • December 13, 2020: “Purple Rain Thing featuring Lil Keke”
  • December 20, 2020: “A Million”
  • December 27, 2020: “Cujo featuring Killa Kyleon”
  • January 3, 2021: “Tundah Fiyah featuring Nell & Mumu Fresh”
  • January 17, 2021: “Pistol featuring Bun B & CyHi”
  • January 20, 2021: “Wake Up Everybody”
  • January 31, 2021: “The Truth featuring Trae The Truth”

Tobe released 16 videos across YouTube and his social media platforms in five months. The videos follow the same format, with lyrics at the bottom of the screen.

The caveat with an aggressive release schedule, like the one Tobe has employed, is that it’s hard to sustain. The solution is to create and release in batches. Part of the year should be spent creating — recording music, shooting visuals, preparing the rollouts, etc. The following months are dedicated solely to releasing the content and marketing it.

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