How often should an artist release a record? In the streaming era especially, this is up for debate. If we look back at some older artists, especially in the 1960s, bands would release multiple records a year; in the early days of the Beatles’ careers, they released two albums a year from 1963-1965, without a noticeable drop in quality. Both of their 1965 records Rubber Soul and Help stand as two of their very best efforts. The Rolling Stones likewise produced a plethora of work in the mid–late 60s, although perhaps the quality gulf is more noticeable in their work.
If we compare this to say, Kate Bush, who may release an album every five years or so, yet can guarantee to sell handsomely once a new record is released. Whilst Bush has only released ten studio albums in a career lasting over forty years, the bulk of these have sold well and she remains a unique figure in pop music; there was also a twelve-year gap between 1993’s The Red Shoes and 2005’s Aerial. David Bowie could be put in this category as well, certainly for the latter part of his career, with just The Next Day released between 2003 and 2013, followed up by 2016’s Blackstar. Conversely, Bowie earlier in his career followed the Beatles-esque pattern of releasing many works closely together, releasing multiple albums in the mid–late 1970s with three albums released between 1976’s Station to Station and 1977’s Heroes. The later part of Northern Irish blues/soul man Van Morrison’s career has seen him release a slew of new material, with four albums since 2015, including two between October and December of 2017 Whilst Morrison’s love from critics has at times outstripped his sales, the majority of these recent efforts have sold well with three of the four albums released charting in the top five in the UK.
Several modern artists do employ lengthy breaks; notable examples including Florence + the Machine, who tend to have a three/four-year break between records, yet continue to sell well when they release a new record (all three of their studio releases have seen great acclaim and thus it appears releasing music less often benefits Florence + the Machine). Likewise Paolo Nutini has seen several lengthy breaks between new music, with a five-year gap between 2009’s Sunny Side Up and 2014’s Caustic Love, which in spite of this, Caustic Love sold well, however it has been four years since that record with no sign of new music. Both George Ezra and Hozier have both taken lengthy breaks from making new music, with both releasing their debuts in 2014 and looking to release their second records in 2018.
different approaches suit different artists
Another notable example of an artist taking time to follow up from their debut is Lorde, having released Pure Heroine in 2013, she followed it up with the acclaimed Melodrama in 2017, again akin to some of the other artists mentioned here, it does not appear to have hurt her sales. Muse seem to be doing something similar, having released the single ‘Dig Down’ in 2017, they have said they are more likely to drop a handful of sporadic singles before the release of their next record.
It appears that different approaches suit different artists, as established acts can generate hype with up to five years between records; Justin Timberlake has had five ears between his records, Glasweigan rockers Franz Ferdinand have also had five years between records, whilst Snow Patrol have had a gap of seven years. In some cases I would say a lengthy gap can increase hype for the next record, and give an artist a chance to reinvent themselves, whilst others releasing lots of work closely together can have a similar effect – Bob Dylan is a good example of this having released three albums of jazz reinterpretations in the last three years, which have sold well and been well received by critics and fans of Dylan’s work.