Focus, Focus, Focus… Tracks

Single 45sListening trends in music can best be described as cyclical. In the 1950s, the single is king. By the 1970s, the popularity of the “concept album” reaches its peak. In the 80s and 90s with the rise of cassettes, and later the birth of iTunes, singles are back. Around the turn of the millennium, a return to artistic freedom and the album is afforded to artists large and small by the explosion of independent distribution, especially in the digital space.

Today, we are seeing massive changes in the industry. Streaming is growing at an unprecedented pace: in the first 6 months of 2015, music analytics platform Next Big Sound tracked more than than 1 trillion online streams. That already exceeds the number of streams for the entirety of 2014.

Some of that increase can be attributed to the growth of streaming platforms across the board. In just over a year, Spotify’s paying subscriber base grew from 10 million to 20 million. In its trial run, Apple Music has amassed 11 million subscribers. Not all streaming subscribers are created equally, however. The consumer who is joining Spotify or Apple Music for the first time today is probably not a music fanatic. They are more likely “lean back” listeners, who want music suggested to them.

Accordingly, playlists are increasingly becoming the focus of streaming services. Spotify made a huge push on its own playlists in the last year, more than doubling their number of followers, and Beats 1 Radio is set to have a serious impact on the non-interactive radio listener base. All of these facts point to one resounding refrain: the single is back.

Ok so what are you, as an artist or label supposed to do with that information? Read on:

What is a focus track and why do I need one?

A focus track is the term we and most services use to refer to what is more traditionally known as a single. The word “single” generally tends to make people think about charts and radio campaigns, and that may not be in the cards for you. However, consider this: 51% of the content of Spotify’s own playlists comes from Indie labels. Compare that to the 6% featured on BBC Radio 1 and you can start to see why it’s beneficial to have a track designated as the single.

But can’t I just let people hear the whole album and decide for themselves?

In a word: no. There is a glut of music flooding the market today and you need to meet both today’s users and the professionals responsible for marketing and placing music on platforms, halfway. If you expect or would like retail placement on your release, you must submit a focus track. The first question we get asked by retail accounts is (you guessed it!): “What is the focus track?”. Without an adequate answer to this question, we cannot properly market your release.

Ok, I picked a focus track. Now what?

1. Create a listening link: Our retailers receive a huge number of pitches per week and you want to make it easy for them to hear your music as far ahead of release as possible. The simplest way to do this is to upload it to a private Soundcloud link. Here is an article on how to do that, and you can also make use of our SoundCloud Connect app in The Orchard Marketplace.

2. Tell your client manager about any drivers specific to this track: Was it featured somewhere? Does it have an impressive number of streams? Make sure there is at least one factor setting this track apart from the rest. This helps us “tell the story” to our accounts. In addition, it’s helpful, especially now that we are pitching tracks for specific playlists on certain accounts, to tell us in general terms what the songs sound like. This can be as simple as a few tags such as “sad,” “ballad,” “folk” or “party,” “electronic,” “motivational,” “workout.”

3. Don’t deliver standalone singles to download stores that support Instant Grat: It’s no longer necessary to deliver your singles separately, as many stores have changed the way they count their chart, eliminating the benefit of delivering standalone singles. Setting the track as an Instant Grat will have the same effect as a standalone single in terms of user access and won’t affect your chart position. It also streamlines marketing efforts, allowing you to market pre-order and individual tracks sales simultaneously, and with the same link and UPC.

The constant and extreme change in the music landscape requires quick reaction-time on the part of labels and distributors alike. Remember: we’re here to help you. The faster the above practices are adopted, the greater your (and our) odds of success.

One Comment


good article! however prior to the last paragraphe “ok, i picked..” it would have been cool to dedicate a few lines to the A&R topic “how do i pick a focus track?” or “how do i find out which album track has most potential as a single?”


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