I’m really curious as to how a record label selects a first single. In some situations the choice seems obvious, such as cases where a song is part of another medium such as a movie soundtrack or a television backdrop song. In other cases, what criteria is most important in this important selections? Other schools of thought are that the second single is the one to drive an album.
I ask this question because of the current choice of single for Clay Aiken’s incredible album called On My Way Here. There are so many possibilities for a single choice from that album, many which are radio friendly and which also would raise an eyebrow or two from those who associate Clay with ballads.
I guess that a single choice probably has two main goals. The first is to associate the song with the album as a whole in order to entice the purchase of the whole CD. This is obviously getting harder and harder these days when people can pluck individual songs from itunes or Amazon and make their own CD. The second goal is either choosing a song that is representative of what people like about that artist or the opposite, giving people a new look into what the artist can do.
The label’s choice for this album was the title track. At first glance, it might appear to be a good choice. The song immediately relates to the album in both name and theme since the album is representative of learning and growing in your twenties. The songwriter is Ryan Tedder who has produced hits for his own OneRepublic as well as that really repetitive, well promoted hit by Leona Lewis. And Clay sings it very, very well.
Yet, it seems to fall short as a lead single in a number of key areas. First, it’s a very long song so they had to truncate it for television appearances and so it has no time to build and the best verse is left off. When Clay has his usual high energy and fun interviews on the “couch”, the energy seems to leave the room with the slow buld up of the song. It’s also a ballad and could give the impression that the album is full of the same when that is not the situation at all. Providing the right impression that this album is not all ballads is important after the label’s choice to make Clay release an album of cover ballads in 2006. (I wonder what would have happened if he had been allowed to release this album like he wanted, after Measure of a Man.)
I’m not sure people think about the theme of an album when they hear something on the radio or TV and make that decision whether to purchase the song or the CD. Ryan Tedder wrote a nice song but how much of his success should be attributed to Timbaland (for Apologize) and the huge promotional budget for Leona Lewis. Unless you’re Elton John, do people purchase a CD because they know who wrote the song?
Clay indicated in an interview he has zero say in the choice of single. Some artists who have been around awhile seem to have some clout. Justin Timberlake was not happy with the choice of "Summer Love" for his single and while it was released anyway, he stuck to his guns and declined to make a video for it.
Clay has recorded songs on this album that would have been more radio friendly, been more sonically representative of the album as a whole and would have taken people by surprise in terms of the depths of genres that he can perform well. The biggest surprise is a funky R&B song called Everything I Don’t Need.
Get outta my dreams, there's no room left
Get outta my bed
See him groove to it here on AOL Sessions, along with four other tracks.
Another is Ashes, which can also be found in that AOL session.
I recognize that there are other factors that I am not aware of that go into a single selection. But right now, I can’t think of any beyond a tie to a movie, TV,endorsement or the Olympics that would trump the negatives of choosing a long, slow (albeit it pretty and well sung) ballad for this CD.
I wonder if asked off the record whether he really agreed with the choice.