You ever listen to an album a lot of times?
Yeah, of course you have.
Got a favorite one or two or three albums?
Is your favorite song(s) on the album the most mainstream popular track(s)? The single(s)?
No, of course not.
Singles need to be accessible. They need to catch people listening to a certain genre of music and connect with a significant number of those people.
The 23 year old guy who just had a shit day at work?
The 15 year old girl listening right after school is out?
The people at the bar halfway-listening to the music in the background?
The single needs to broadly appeal to them. They need to "get it" enough that it's enjoyable enough on a first listen that they want to keep listening.
If they like the single, maybe they check out the album. On a great album, a lot of the best tracks are kind of weird. At least, they make you think a little bit. Push you.
You can't do that with a single. Well, maybe you can, if you're really good. But with a rare exceptions, most musicians make more interesting, different, conceptual works with their non-singles.
But singles are what get people in the door. Accessible to a broad number of people, who "get it" quickly, so they can enjoy it quickly, so they want to check you out. If you hit them with something weird right away and they're... at the bar... commuting home from a bad day at work... just got out of class...
...you won't be able to appeal to them. And because singles need to serve the places that distribute them, they won't play a track that's too weird that people "don't get" right away, unless maybe you're already really famous and well-known and desired. Maybe.
Strange, conceptual, cutting-edge work? Great. But without a single here and there, nobody finds your strange, conceptual, cutting-edge work.
It's not lowering yourself. Or hell, maybe it is. But do it anyways. You need to if you want to find new people to connect with your more strange and interesting music.
Follow the formulas, just a bit. Take your weird unique take on things, and bastardize it a little bit into accessible form. A single. Then more people find your weird, interesting, unique, conceptual work. That's good.
Anyways. I haven't written a single in a while. Back to our regularly scheduled imperialism tomorrow.