Do Albums Ever Die? How Make Old Music Relevant Again
Just because an album has been around for awhile doesn’t make it irrelevant. The streaming age and the rise of playlist culture has provided a unique opportunity for artists to breathe new live and relevancy into their back catalog of work.
Guest post by Chris Robley on DIY Musician
3 things you can do to breathe new life into your oldest music.
Every week I “discover” some song I’ve never heard before that I really enjoy. I dig a little deeper and realize the track is 10 or 20 or 50 years old, from an album I’ve never heard of, and often by an artist I’ve never heard of.
If I really like the song, I play the whole album.
These are albums that never became big hits; the artists never became household names. And here they are getting a new chance to make a first impression.
In the old music industry, this rarely happened. Labels had a habit of abandoning any album that didn’t take off after a few months. No more promo. No more pressings. To the archives!
In the world of streaming, things are totally different.
I say it a lot, but no shelf space means no shelf life. And older material that wasn’t successful in its debut is finding new audiences.
Again, I’m not just talking about obscurer albums by famous bands; I’m talking about really rare stuff by musicians you’ve probably never heard of. For me this happens most often when I’m listening to my customized Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify, but it also happens occasionally with Apple Music’s curated playlists and on Pandora.
As artists, the impact that this change in consumption habits can have on our music is something we’re just starting to understand. It became clear decades ago that our music will live longer than us — in that it could always be… available. But that didn’t mean anyone was actually hearing it. Now, thanks to playlisting and the infinite ways you can re-contextualize back catalog content, your oldest music might still connect with new listeners.
It’s not a hypothetical. As a listener, this happens to me every single week.
So what can you do to help your older albums along?
1. Distribute your entire catalog
Don’t just focus on selling and promoting your newest songs. Make it all available. Put it all on streaming platforms (and in a sync licensing catalog, because you never know what music will fit the needs of a TV or film production).
2. Build playlists that include your older music
For people listening in a more passive way (like, for instance, putting on a playlist for an hour or two), they don’t care what year a song was released, only that they don’t need to skip it.
3. Find other creative ways to draw attention to your earlier albums
- Twitter listening party – CD Baby’s Kevin Breuner hosted a Twitter listening party on the 20th anniversary of his band’s debut album.
- Bonus content playlists – I’m in the process of making a behind-the-scenes playlist for one of my albums that just turned 10 this year, with bonus tracks where you can hear me talking about the record in between the album tracks (similar to the director’s commentary on a DVD).
- Remaster and re-release your old stuff – If you’re not crazy about the sound of some of the early albums, you can always revisit the mixing and mastering. Then put it out again with some bonus tracks (demos, unreleased songs from the session, remixes, etc.)
- Remember the birthdays – You have a built-in reason to promote something on its 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th (and so on) birthdays. Email, blog, tweet, whatever. Get the message out that it’s time to celebrate some of your “vintage” music.
- Play anniversary concerts – For example, on the 10th anniversary of your album, do a show where you play the entire thing from front to back.
- Offer discounts or giveaways – Got a few boxes of your first CD sitting in the basement? Start giving them away at the merch booth to anyone who buys your newer music. Or sell them for half price. If the music is good, your fans are going to start streaming it as well.
Those are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s lots more you could do too.