The fraternal trio is releasing its latest album one song at a time. Maybe that’s how you should debut your next project.
The day before Hurricane Henri washed across New York, veteran pop star Taylor Hanson stepped to the plate in the 73rd annual Artists & Writers softball game in East Hampton. There was no need for guest umpire Bill Clinton to labor over balls and strikes: Hanson quickly smashed a pitch through the right side. Though he had plenty of time, the singer sprinted down the line and dove headlong into first base.
That’s not his only unorthodox single of late. Taylor and his brothers have been putting out their latest Hanson album, Against The World, one track at a time until it’s complete. The latest, “Stronger,” came out this past Friday; fans who preorder at Hanson.net get the full physical album in November.
“We’re going to slowly send you each digital file each month until you finally get the physical product,” Hanson, 38, tells me. “That is not happening on almost any digital retailer.”
The concept, which is sort of like episodic television or serialized books, first occurred to Hanson back in 2012. That’s when the independent trio started to contemplate a 20th anniversary album. The brothers’ notion: instead of the usual strategy—dropping one or two singles before releasing a full album—why not fully embrace the digital age and put out a single every month until the record was complete? But, as Taylor Hanson notes, a decade ago the plan seemed “out of this world weird,” so the band shelved the idea.
You’d think it wouldn’t have seemed so strange by that point. After all, Napster upended the music business at the dawn of the 21st Century, conditioning consumers to download songs one at a time instead of buying whole albums. Even after that service faded, Steve Jobs’ iTunes Music Store carried on the a la carte model starting in 2003. The era of the indivisible album ended more than two decades ago.
The music industry doesn’t want to let go of the old model for quite a few reasons. Aside from the artistic merit of releasing songs related by one unifying theme, there’s the monetary aspect: people hear a song they like and go buy the whole album (or at least they used to).
Record executives have been know to discourage artists from putting too many hits on one album, instead surrounding a few bangers with filler, holding powder for the next release. That’s what Taylor Hanson calls the “three singles and then a bunch of ‘album tracks’” formula.
Taylor Hanson, just before his latest hit. (Photo: Zack O’Malley Greenburg)
In any case, Hanson ended up releasing 2013’s Anthem with a fairly traditional launch strategy. The music business has since been coming back toward the brothers’ original idea. In 2018, Kanye West and Pusha T released Ye and Daytona, both clocking at just over 20 minutes with seven songs apiece. Lil Nas X, now one of the biggest stars on the planet, has debuted seven singles of his own but still hasn’t put out a proper studio album (though he’s set to do so later this month).
The pandemic—and the accompanying uncertainty around touring—has supercharged that sort of approach.
“With a world tour, typically you drop an album and then you spend the album cycle talking about something that came out a year ago,” says Hanson. “You get further and further away from the release day. So what if you go with a different kind of principle: We want every week to be release week.”
The Hanson model mirrors the premise of my new book, We Are All Musicians Now, both in substance and strategy. Just as artists can draw inspiration from musicians who find a way to make every period feel like release period, authors can make every month feel like launch month.
There are parallels to be drawn across all corners of the creator economy—and beyond. Whatever your business, releasing the equivalent of ten standalone singles (as opposed to two hits and eight filler tracks) forces you to make sure every last one of them is uniquely compelling. Making yourself to create differently often yields inspirational results.
“Every good brand has an audience,” says Hanson. “There’s a certain group of people that want the most exclusive, the most precious, the most one-of-a-kind. And the mediums today have not been setup to really super-serve those people.”
Now, maybe there’s a blueprint to do so—one hit at a time.