How Much is Too Much?

One of the first concerns that Kevin, Chris and I had when we first started MK837 was that we would become a spam label. By that I mean a label that just constantly released music and never gave any care to what we were releasing as long as it kept our label on the top of the new releases every week. After quite a long debate, we decided on a standard of two releases a month. After two solid years of releases that gave our label about 43 releases. That included albums, EPs and singles.

At this time, Chris was exiting the label to focus on being an artist, but one of his main concerns was that he was not able to really give each release the attention it deserved because by the time a release hit, it was time to focus on the next one. It was a never ending wave of promotion and at least in his eyes, we were missing a major pay off. Taking Chris’ advice, we cut our schedule for the following year to 2 small releases one month and one release in the following month. Had we kept this schedule through the end of the year, we would have had 18 releases.

This year, we’ve decided on one release a month. Partially this is due to where Kevin and I are in our lives, but it also seemed like a nice rhythm at the time. The drawback though is that even though the quality of our releases has been improving each month, they have not gripped the hearts and minds of those shopping for new music.

Now there could be a multitude of things that we are doing wrong as a label. In fact, I’m sure there are. One thing that can’t really be ignored though is the question of release frequency. Have we in fact cut our release schedule back so far that we simply do not stay fresh on people’s minds. Given what seems to be selling these days, we may have.

I’ll be the first to admit that what makes it into Beatport’s overall top 10 (or top 100 even) isn’t the best representation of underground dance music. We did mention we’re talking about an overall top 10 chart right? Nothing that would be considered a bestseller should ever be considered underground (of course there are exceptions to this). The point is, from a corporate standpoint, sales are good and a lack of them is well… bad. Very bad in some cases. Maybe there’s something worth noting about the frequency of releases for those who do make it big and what is even considered a release.

The Death of the EP and Rise of the Single… Single.

About two years ago, we noticed that EPs seemed to be gaining attention. Rather than releasing one track and three remixes, it was becoming more and more popular to release EPs of three to four tracks. With EPs, we had even noticed more people buying the whole EP as opposed to one or two tracks. This to us was a good thing and we jumped whole heartedly into this ideal. Fast forward to today and it’s not working as well as it once did.

Looking through Beatport this week led me to one conclusion. The single is back and not the single with three remixes, but the single track release with no remixes. It seems that more and more labels who are actually selling music are focusing on finding that one killer track and getting it out to the market as quickly as possible. Spinnin’ Records is just example of this practice and it seems to be working well for them. Revealed Recordings has also followed this trend and it doesn’t take much effort to find many other labels that have followed suit.

One reason why those single track releases might be doing well is ironically the lack of remixes. Without remixes and with only one track on the release, it is more likely that the track hits sales charts. If there is only one track on the release, you don’t have sales split between the original and three remixes. That in turn pushes the track further up the charts. The additional bonus is that when the track sells, it also counts as the whole release. Thus, you have the benefit of easier charting and your most popular releases will be updated more frequently as well on Beatport.

What’s My Frequency?

With this new trend of single track singles that cuts out a major issue in getting a track to market and that’s the remix process. Getting a track remixed can take a while and you have to account that time in your release schedule. When you have a hot track, and it’s hot NOW, you have to get it to market quickly. There simply isn’t time to get a solid remix team together for the project. Beyond that, often times, you can tell when a single is mediocre by how many remixes of the track there are. Again, that’s not true in all cases, but it does seem to be the case often enough.

So, without the remix process, you can cut out up to a month off your release date. That still doesn’t mean that you should have more frequent releases. It just means that you can have them with less of a headache.

The biggest argument for more frequent releases is what I discussed earlier. The more often you release, the more often your label shows up in the new releases section of the stores. This is where the real money is. As people look through their favorite genres for new releases, you’re more likely to be heard. In a lot of cases, as a small label, you’re looking for those chance encounters. As a larger label, you’re looking to stay at the top and be the biggest label on the market. A more frequent release schedule does this. It allows you to build a perception of greatness. It reassures those buying your music that you know what you’re doing and that you’re not going anywhere. In other words, it helps to make you an institution. In the end, this is just part of becoming a success according to business world standards.

All that said, these labels are releasing a new track every week or two. That kind of frequency keeps them in the minds of everyone out there. I don’t think I have ever bought a track from Spinnin’ Records, but their name is engrained in my mind and I see it everywhere. This may be one reason why.

What Now?

So here I am. It’s been a few days since I made this “shocking” revelation. I’ve got zero sales stats to back any of this up. I just have circumstantial evidence and a gut reaction to it. Kevin and I could ignore it and keep doing what we’re doing, but is what we’re doing really working? I can’t say that it is. “Something” about what we’re doing at MK837 is off. Usually our Sounds of Summer compilation is our annual money maker. This year though, it’s barely sold a couple of tracks. By the way, you really should check it out as it is our best summer comp to date.

I think we’re game to start making some changes in this direction. I’m not saying that we’ll drop the whole EP/Album concept, but starting in the upcoming months, we’re pretty likely as a label to follow suit and up our release frequency while trimming back on the number of tracks we release. It will be an interesting switch. Chris was right in saying that as soon as one release is out you have to promote the next one. Maybe that’s the catch. Maybe promotion beyond the initial release date doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s critical and these other labels have figured out how to overcome that problem. This strategy certainly isn’t without its pitfalls and struggles, but nothing worth doing ever is.