Has the Waterfall Release Strategy Saved or Killed the Album?

We explore a data POV with the example of Raye.
Has the Waterfall Release Strategy Saved the Album?
Vasja Veber

Is the album a relic of the past? Has the waterfall release strategy killed it, or provided it with a lifeline? We explore these questions with the release strategy example of Raye (and a little help from Viberate’s data analytics).

 

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Is the album dead?

For the past couple of years, artists have been forced to rethink the album cycle. The reasons are nothing new. Massive amounts of tracks are being released daily, and the attention span of listeners is getting shorter (the rise of highly engaging short video formats being one of the more obvious signs).

To stay on playlists and the minds of fans, artists tend to release more singles more frequently, instead of relying on an album release every few years (turns out, not everyone can be Adele).

Cue the waterfall release strategy

The waterfall release strategy basically means that an artist drip-feeds the tracks on their new album/EP. Singles are released gradually, one track at a time, at the point when the previous single is at its peak or starting to decline. Finally, the full album or EP is released, combining all the previously revealed tracks. This has a few benefits:

  • Generating higher impressions – with more buzz, there’s a bigger chance of more people hearing your music and converting into listeners and fans.
  • Maximizing the number of streams, increasing the combined total of the final release.
  • Increasing the number of tracks you can pitch to playlist editors (as artists can only pitch one track per upcoming release).
  • And finally, getting on the good side of streaming algorithms that want you to turn out new music regularly.

A data POV

Let’s take a look at the example of Raye. It’s an interesting one, because she went independent to step away from being a featured vocalist on hit EDM singles and release her debut album “My 21st Century Blues”. This is how she went about it:

  • June 30, 2022: Hard Out Here. (Single)
  • August 24, 2022: Black Mascara. (Single)
  • October 12, 2022: Escapism. (Single)
  • October 12, 2022: Escapism. / The Thrill Is Gone. (EP)
  • November 25, 2022: Escapism. (Sped Up) (Single)
  • November 25, 2022: Escapism. (Live At Metropolis) (Single)
  • January 31, 2023: Ice Cream Man (EP)
  • February 3, 2023: My 21st Century Blues (Album)

Raye’s new single releases featured previously released tracks. The two EPs and the album as the grand finale are an amalgamation of all the previously released singles.

This is how the release strategy translated into streams. We’re comparing most of the tracks that were released as singles.

Raye: Compare Tracks

“Escapism.” recorded a remarkable TikTok boost, but we can also see bumps in streaming with each respective release.

Raye: TikTok Views

In November, Raye’s playlist reach starts to increase steadily, same as the number of her tracks that are featured on playlists. See below:

Raye: Playlisting

Also, see the hike in total fanbase size on TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and Spotify.

Raye: Fanbase Evolution

This shows creativity and concept don’t have to be sidelined, but the strategy has to accommodate pre-existing rules of the market. We can look at it as social proofing for the final release.

Marketing dos and don’ts

Based on my experience creating the music data analytics platform Viberate and working with the data-driven record label 1605, these are the main areas where emerging artists tend to be lacking:

  • Thinking about themselves as a brand and considering their comparative advantages.
  • Planning releases and marketing campaigns in advance (roughly around 1–2 months).
  • Including preorder & presave options to build that early momentum.
  • Pitching to playlists.
  • Promotion via short-form videos (clips, BTS, making of, etc.).

With promotion and TikTok specifically, authenticity is key. Not every artist is social-media savvy, but as long as their music is available on the platform, TikTok can serve as a springboard even if the artists themselves aren’t very active.

Creativity and concept don’t have to be sidelined, but the strategy has to accommodate pre-existing rules of the market. We can look at it as social proofing for the final release.
Viberate Analytics: Professional music analytics suite at an unbeatable price: $9.90/mo. Charts, talent discovery tools, plus Spotify, TikTok, and other channel-specific analytics of every artist out there.

Conclusion

With few barriers to entry, the competition is massive. At the end of the day, releasing singles is easier than putting out a cohesive album. To break through, emerging artists need consistency and a solid strategy.

I don’t know a perfect release strategy, but there are plenty of solid ones if done right, taking into account the stage of the artist’s career and their genre – the waterfall strategy being one of them.

 If you want to look into cases like the one analyzed above or monitor release performance, check out Viberate. It’s a premium music data analytics platform, built for every industry pro and available for $9.90/month (plus you can try it out for free).

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Vasja Veber

Vasja Veber

Founder & CBDO at Viberate
A music manager and a tech geek. Vasja is combining his two passions at Viberate, where his main mission as a co-founder is to tell music services that they need us desperately.