What's Up With the Single?:Album Sales and the Malleability of the Promotional Song

03/24/2015 12:33 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

While discussing the ins-and-outs of the music industry, Larry King asked DJ Khaled if singles held more power than full albums. The multi-millionaire record producer responded by agreeing that singles play a bigger role than a full-length album by highlighting an artist or by generating sales. But is this mogul's comment a double-edged sword for some artists today?

You don't need a marketing degree to know that the point of a promotional single is to lure buyers into purchasing the album and attending concerts. Singles are a business strategy as much as they are appetizers for hungry fans awaiting their favorite artist's main course. But, as album sales begin to dip, the purpose of waving the carrot stick is beginning to come into question.

It has become a harder job for the single to advocate the larger project. With the ease of streaming, the consumer can now save time and money by listening to their favorite single without buying a load of extra tunes that may or may not be of interest. Gone are the days when people flock to album shops and purchase CDs solely on the reason that radio hits are on the tracklists.

As a result celebrity-musicians like Beyoncé, Drake, and J. Cole have recently ditched pre-album release teasers. The absence of promotional pieces on the Billboard charts has not negatively impacted the big names. In Drake's case, all seventeen tracks from his surprise album If You're Reading This It's Too Late charted. In the first week of release, J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive debuted at number one in the Billboard 200. From the perspective of the buyer, not knowing exactly what you are purchasing from a well-known artist is psychologically alluring.

This isn't to say that singles are entirely out of the picture. J. Cole in tandem released two singles on the release date for 2014 Forest Hills Drive to mainstream radio stations. As for Beyoncé's surprise self-titled album, five singles were released after the album had already come out. And still no single has appeared for Drake's latest release. So, while singles are not proving to be entirely useless, these examples show that the job of the single has shifted. It's no longer influential to an album's first-week sales.

It can be argued though that for artists still climbing the ladder, the single serves a greater purpose. Whenever a major label is introducing a new signee, singles play a larger role. Last year Interscope signee Rae Sremmurd let loose two certified platinum singles "No Flex Zone" and "No Type." The success of these two songs quickly created a large fan-base for these new faces. There's no doubt that the duo couldn't have released a winning album out of the blue without testing out the waters first.

Some may say that an artist of rising notoriety has greater pressure in maintaining a presence in the public eye. Yet overloading your audience with too much may not be the best advocacy method and may backfire instead of promote. Following a successful run with So It Goes and the singles leading up to it, the New York-based rap trio Ratking came out with an unannounced body of work entitled 700 Fill. But, the new material is not causing much of a ripple.

The power residing in the single is malleable. Perhaps the time has come for musicians and label executives to begin treating singles and albums as two separate entities. But, regardless of its influence on the music industry and the direction of music careers, the single should not be abandoned, for it can herald in a newcomer, advance a career, or celebrate the famous.