Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Singles Bar

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.

Technorati tags:

new album


John T. said...

I think you do Ryan Tedder a disservice here whilst making some very interesting points about single choice and Clay's album.

I think it would be fair to say Apologize did so well despite the presence of Timbaland, his input being minimal. And Bleeding Love shot to number #1 all over the world, often ahead of any major promo - even here it was top of iTunes before Ms. Lewis arrived on the country to hit the promo trail.

As for the first single from Clay's new album, like you I'd have gone down the non-ballad route. People who love his voice and his ballads would buy the CD anyway. The record company need to be reaching to new demographics, and introducing or re-introducing Clay to many more people who'd see an alternative side to him.

Anonymous said...

I had an e-mail conversation with the program director of a local big
radio station today. He was great.
He said he loved Clay's CD and "On My Way Here" will start playing this week. I asked about the 2 radio friendly choices of mine, "Falling" and Everything I Don't Need" and he said they would follow but the record company wants to start with the CD name first. He was very patient and explained how it works but he loves Clay and plans on playing him. I thanked him profusely and this is the first time a radio exec has treated me decent and plans to play Clay that I have dealt with. Thumbs up for Clay!
p.s. Again the record company did not do him any favors picking "On My Way Here" as the first single.}

berkeley said...

Interesting blog, Corabeth.

I'm not sure what the label was thinking, either, but maybe that's because I have a serious fondness for uptempo, kickass Clay. "Everything I Don't Need," "Ashes" and "Falling" show that aspect well! Then I turn around and love "Something About Us" and "As Long As We'e Here," far from the average expectations of radio-friendly. Guess growing up listening to full albums instead of an iPod on shuffle will do that.

Though it's not my favorite song on the CD, I really like "On My Way Here." This is a rare case of my liking to listen to Clay sing a song more than I like watching him perform the truncated version featured in his recent television appearances. The full song has a really nice build.

On paper, it's a good song, not a great one, but the vocals, instrumentation and production really elevate it. I find myself swaying and bopping my head as it builds to the bridge, just like Kipper does in the Amazon video. With repeated listenings, it is catchy. Guess I'll have to keep watching its slow ascent at AC.

I like Tedder and OneRepublic and, though I'm not buying, I don't mind "Bleeding Love" at all. I guess there's a difference in what I will listen to (Timberlake's "Senorita" is a favorite of mine on radio) and what I am interested in buying, though. There is music that I like in the background, music I'll exercise to, and music I'll really listen to, purchase and go see live. Lewis is the first, Timberlake is the second, OneRepublic is between the second and the third and Aiken is all three, listen/buy/live. His music is just that compelling to me.

"On My Way Here" (the CD) has at least six songs that would work very well on radio, crossing Hot AC to AC. It will be interesting to see if the title track was the smartest choice as lead single.

How will it drive further sales of the CD? A smart edit of "On My Way Here" could make it into the perfect Olympic profile music, raising the profile of the song and the CD on an international level. A TV or film tie-in could also drive sales and lead to greatly increased spins at radio. Absent those kinds of top-tier placements, it will be interesting to see if the single cracks the Top 20.

Anonymous said...

This type of a blog does a huge disservice to Clay. You have no idea what Clay has to deal with regarding the record label and 19R. Let's just support Clay and stop dissecting everything he does.

Corabeth said...

Actually, you are totally misreading the blog and its intent. Perhaps a knee jerk reaction is not appropriate here.

The intent was to say that the album is GREAT and for many who don't like slow ballads, to not prejudge the entire album based on the choice of first single. OMWH is beautiful on my ipod but doesn't play as well on TV, especially when he was forced by the shows to eliminate one verse. And for those who want to pigeon hole Clay as a ballad boy, that single just reinforces that when Clay's versatily shines on this album more than anything else he has done outside of concerts.

This blog has never been anything but supportive of Clay and this entry was more about how a decision made by others (not him) could have possibly handicapped this album.

While I appreciate you taking the time to comment, you did very much misinterpret the intent of this piece.