How to Pick Your Album's First Single

It's more art than science to choose a debut song

Man playing vinyl record
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Choosing your album's first single is more art than science. Sometimes an unexpected song clicks, and sometimes the seemingly perfect track falls flat on its face. Choosing the first single from your new album is a tricky affair. There are a few general guidelines to keep in mind. Here are a few strategies to consider. 

Choose the Catchy Song

The chances are that you have one song on your album that immediately clicks with people. It's the one that your friends always remember the name of and your audience at your shows seems to know the best.

The downside to this is that usually without fail, this song isn't the one the band wants to pick as the first single. But it's probably better to attract your audience by reeling them in with the catchy song, then drop the more complex stuff the band cares about. Be proud you wrote a song people want to hear over and over and can't get out of their heads, and go with this track as your lead song.

Think Radio Friendly

Not all genres of music need the radio to survive, but if you hope to get your song played on the radio, whether we're talking college or commercial, then try to think like a program director. Songs with profanity probably aren't going to cut it, unless you have an edited version. Long songs won't work either unless you have a shortened radio edit. College radio is a bit more willing to play the less obvious tracks, but then, you can let them pick their own single anyway. For commercial radio, think about what song is going to get listeners to burn up the request line to hear on their drive home from work.

Look to the Live Show

Take a look at the audiences at your live shows. When are they fully engaged in your set? Your fans are telling you which songs have single potential by the way they react. They're the ones who are going to be buying this thing, after all, so take their advice. Get them excited about shelling out for your album.

Solicit Industry Advice

If you have a good relationship with a local journalist or radio person, give them an advance listen to your tracks and ask them what they think the single should be. This kind of feedback is invaluable because these folks usually know the industry enough to have an instinct about which tracks will work for promotion and which won't.

As you'll see, when you're choosing your album's first single, the idea is to make it as easy as possible for fans to fall in love with your release and for new fans to get into your band. It may not always be the song you love the most; in fact, it may the song you're most sick of. But remember, this in an introduction. They'll get to know and love your other stuff after you reel them in your impossibly catchy first track.