I was having an exchange over the comments section with Gwyneth in an earlier post (The Best Source of Learning Korean) when it dawned on me this could be an entry itself.
Whenever I go to karaoke boxes with Japanese people and sing famous Japanese songs by famous Japanese singers, it’s interesting how often many of them (even fans of those singers) have never heard of some of those songs. They’d ask when they were released and I’d be like, “It’s in the Duty album” or “It’s from the Carry on My Way album” and they’d go, “Ah! It’s an album song” and appear content with that conclusion.
It seems that Japanese people consume more singles and almost only singles unlike Singaporeans who purchase more albums and hardly any singles. Which is why they often also sing songs from singles which never made it to any album and which I’ve never heard of, while I often sing songs from albums that were never released as singles and which they’ve never heard of.
It’s obvious why Singaporeans buy more albums than singles as the pragmatic mindset tells us, it’s more worth it to buy the album than the single cost-wise. In the Chinese market, how many singers do you know that releases singles? Debut CD almost means debut album, which is a pretty big risk I’d say given the cost that goes into composing, producing, and recording. If you fail, you fail with one album and a huge loss for the company.
In Japan, things work differently. Any new singer wanna-be has to start with a single because it has fewer songs and is understandably cheaper and faster to produce than an album. The producers would test the marketability of the singers by releasing singles, and if they sell well, they’d go on to release a second one, and a third one, and so on and if they last the run, they’d eventually release an album—with most of the popular single songs and a couple of songs specially written for the album. This is why Japan has a more vibrant music industry because opportunities are abundant. Companies are willing to take a risk with you since it’s just one single. Besides, Japanese singles used to be small with long rectangular packaging unlike regular sized CDs, which are occasionally released and called “Maxi Single.” Many singers also had to sell their own debut single on the streets by hand and a single makes it easier for unsuspecting pedestrians to just jump on the idea and buy as opposed to the more costly album. You don’t just throw in $30 for an album someone you don’t know asks you to buy. $10 is a more reasonable price and has a higher probability of attracting impulse purchase. Since it’s typically only two songs as well, it’s less of a drag to be done listening to the CD and decide if you like it or not. Many of these singers also typically have been active as independent singers/bands for some time and have their base of fans. But since not all your fans will buy your CDs, like not all who attend your rally will vote for you, it’s still safer to bet on a single first. Further, since singles are always released before albums, waiting till the album is released means by the time the album is being sold, those popular songs are already passe.
Singles also allow idol groups like AKB48 to bump up the numbers because for every album, you can buy two singles. That pretty much doubles your sales. Not to forget, the ephemeral nature of the entertainment industry and the lack of singing and dancing skills of idols mean producers want to squeeze as much revenue out of them as possible while they are still popular. Spending one or two years preparing for an album with songs you aren’t even certain will sell well is not the best option.