Why Don’t Artists Release All The Songs They Record?
Most music fans I know are always excited to hear more music from their favorite singers and bands. Anticipation builds into a giddy frenzy as a new album’s release date approaches. When an artist performs a new song, half the audience films a video of it so fans can search it out on YouTube a few hours later. When an unreleased song leaks into the internet, chaos takes over as fans scour the various torrent sites, hungrily searching for the best quality version of the new song that can possibly be found; meanwhile, those that have heard it proclaim this should have been on the last album, or it better be on the next one, and it deserves to be a single on top of that.
With so much enthusiasm for these unreleased songs, why do these tracks seem to never actually get officially released? Are these songs not good enough? Are they being saved for some future project? Would it be detrimental to their careers or cost too much money to release them? Regardless of the reasons, most fans would argue that we should hear these hidden gems.
Obviously They Can’t Release ALL the Songs
First of all, in most cases, every song recorded for a new album wouldn’t actually all fit on one album. They may have recorded 20 songs or 80, but usually there’s no way they’ll all fit on one disc. Physical CDs can only hold up to 80 minutes of music; never mind that most people seem to buy digital or simply stream new albums these days, thus giving more wriggle room for album length. Because there is a fair percentage of old-school fans that still prefer CDs and vinyl, we’ll stick with this maximum duration for now.
Furthermore, some songs may be too similar to another song on the new album, or even a previously released song. On the other hand, there may be songs that don’t “fit” with the album – thematically, musically, or otherwise. On a dark, moody, introspective album, it might be jarring to suddenly be interrupted by a peppy, joyful tune. Or perhaps a song is too personal and the artist doesn’t want to release it. That’s a fair reason to hold a song back.
Nonetheless, there are usually plenty of great leftover songs that do deserve to be heard. Whether you want to do a longer or double album, a back-to-back release or EP, bonus tracks, or special albums, there are plenty of ways to appease eager fans.
Longer Records, Double or Triple Albums, & Deluxe Editions
In many cases, a singer or band may want to release a longer standard album. While most records average around 11-12 songs, there’s plenty of room to fit in some extra songs. It’s a lie to say people just want a short album – go big or go home!
One of the most generous offerings this decade was Green Day’s 2012 trilogy of albums. They released three records in a span of three months, and between ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, they bestowed an impressive 37 new songs on their millions of fans. While the reception was mixed, I will forever insist that the whole trilogy is amazing and not a bad song came of it. By comparison, Green Day’s 2009 album 21st Century Breakdown included 18 all-new songs. It was acclaimed and won a Grammy for best rock album.
Last week, progressive metal band Dream Theater released The Astonishing, a double album that has been well-received by critics and fans alike. It features 34 new songs, including brief instrumental interludes between some tracks.
Among pop stars, Ellie Goulding is a good recent example. Her new album, Delirium, features 16 tracks on just the standard edition; that’s not including the deluxe edition bonus tracks. The regular deluxe comes with 6 additional tracks, but the Target exclusive edition has 3 more, bring the total to 9 bonus tracks! The Target edition places those 9 extra tracks on a second disc. All in all, Delirium resulted in 25 new songs. Not bad!
Unfortunately, sometimes generous intentions end up not working out. Avril Lavigne had enough songs ready in 2013 that she could have released two records. In fact, she wanted to release back-to-back albums: After Avril Lavigne came out in November 2013, she wanted to release the rest of the songs she’d recorded on a second album. Sadly, that ended up not happening. To add insult to injury, the only bonus tracks that came with her 13-track self-titled record were “acoustic” versions of two singles… except only the instruments were made acoustic; the vocals were not re-done. Luckily, we did get one Avril Lavigne leftover, “Fly,” in 2015.
Tip: When releasing bonus tracks on a deluxe edition of an album, try to release original songs as opposed to boring remixes or live versions of old songs. Some of the best songs (see: Kelly Clarkson’s “The Day We Fell Apart” and “In The Blue”) end up being bonus tracks, and they can make a good album great.
Release an EP – or Full Album – of Leftovers
If an artist – or their label – doesn’t want to release a longer album, can’t do it because of length, or has issues with interrupting the theme, the extra songs can be repurposed as an EP or album of leftovers. This should be released a year or two after the album comes out, and has the added bonus of satisfying fans longer so the artist has more time to work on the next record.
Simple Plan released their fourth album, Get Your Heart On!, in June 2011. They’d written dozens of songs for it, but eventually whittled it down to 11 standard edition tracks plus one original bonus track. Late in 2013, they decided to give fans seven more songs from those sessions, and released their leftovers EP, Get Your Heart On – The Second Coming!
Similarly, Amy Winehouse’s 2006 album, Back To Black, was hugely successful. Just over a year after its initial release, an EP of b-sides was released digitally; Back To Black: B-Sides included 8 new songs.
Florence + The Machine did the same thing, but with a full album of leftovers. After their debut record, Lungs, was released in 2009, the band released Lungs – The B-Sides in early 2011. The new release included 11 additional songs, including one demo, one live version, one remix, and a cover.
Release the Songs on Compilations
Another way to get the songs out there may require a bit of patience for the fans: Save the songs for a rarities compilation. The most common time to do this is in conjunction with a greatest hits release. Back in 2001, Green Day released International Superhits!, containing all their singles to date plus two new songs. Less than a year later, in mid-2002, they released a rarities compilation called Shenanigans. That record included most of the b-sides Green Day had released over the years. Most of these were songs fans wouldn’t have heard unless they already bought the singles on which the b-sides appeared. [This is back when b-sides were a thing; sadly, they seem to not exist anymore.]
No Doubt did a similar thing shortly after: In 2003, they released their greatest hits, The Singles (1992-2003). Then in 2004, they released the rarities album, Everything In Time. This compilation included many outtakes – primarily from Return Of Saturn – and some remixes and b-sides. Again, many of these songs would have undeservedly gone unheard if not for this special release.
Unfortunately, this brilliant idea doesn’t always become a reality. Kelly Clarkson is known for her many leftover songs – dozens of which have leaked over the years, to the joy of eager fans. When her Greatest Hits: Chapter One was released in 2012, people hoped for a rarities album to follow. (She had unofficially promised one during a meet-n-greet, after all.) Fans were happy to get two EPs of covers, but alas, no rarities album transpired. Her amazing leaked demos will have to suffice for now.
Other Sneaky Releases
Alternately, artists can release the rare song here and there on a compilation of some other kind. A movie or TV show soundtrack will work, our perhaps a charity compilation. Twilight proved to be a goldmine of new songs from bands like Paramore and Muse. We’ve also gotten plenty of stellar Lana Del Rey songs thanks to her cinematic style and generosity – see tracks like “Young And Beautiful” and “Big Eyes.”
In 2011, Green Day’s live album Awesome As F**k featured plenty of their latest hits in live form, but they also included a live recording of a long-forgotten song called “Cigarettes & Valentines.” In 2014, Green Day released a demos album called Demolicious; while it mostly contained early versions of the trilogy songs, they did sneak in an unheard track called “State Of Shock.”
Artists can also release random one-off singles, such as Avril Lavigne’s charity song, “Fly,” Green Day’s “When It’s Time,” or Kelly Clarkson’s “Tie It Up.” These in-between releases will tide fans over until the next album is ready, and can be a good chance for artists to flex their creative muscles.
All in all, this is a plea to the powers that be to give us more songs. Not all the songs, but at least some extras. They can be in the form of longer albums, extra EPs or compilations, or other unexpected releases, just as long as we can hear them. Fans – especially super fans – are usually willing to buy or stream any new song their favorite band or singer releases. Digital-only releases are totally fine, too. Why not capitalize on that? Record labels are happy because they earn more with relatively little effort; fans are happy because we get more songs. It’s a win-win situation.
There’s no need to release every song an artist records. As greedy as fans can be, we’re not that demanding. But we all know more songs are out there, and we’d be overjoyed to get even just a few more of them. Leaks are common because fans are endlessly eager for new music, but official releases can be enjoyed guilt-free if the labels and artists think to actually make them available.
2 thoughts on “Why Don’t Artists Release All The Songs They Record?”
Interesting read. Thanks for posting!
Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂