Can an Artist release too much music?

I started thinking about this when Social Distortion’s spectacular new album, “Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes” came out, it’s Social D’s 7th album in close to 30 years, which is not a lot of product across 3 decades.

In comparison here’s some of the major rock artists and their output of albums and the span of years:

Beatles 12 studio albums in 8 years, plus endless compilations
Bob Dylan 34 studio albums in 49 years, and countless live albums and outtake albums
Rolling Stones 24 Studio albums in 41 years and countless complilations and live albums
Led Zeppelin 9 studio albums in 13 years plus some compilations and live albums
Pink Floyd 14 studio albums in 27 years
Bruce Springsteen 17 studio albums in 38 years plus a handful of live and outtake albums
Tom Petty 15 studio albums in 34 years plus an outtake box set and a few live albums
John Mellencamp 21 studio albums in 34 years
U2 12 albums in 30 years, plus a handful of live albums
REM 16 studio albums in 28 years plus a handful of live and compilation albums
Smiths 4 studio albums in 3 years
Replacements 7 studio albums in 9 years
Pearl Jam 9 studio albums in 20 years and hundreds of live albums
Green Day 8 studio albums in 20 years, a few live ones, and some side projects

If you notice on this list, with the exception of 5 of these acts that are no longer together for various reasons (beatles, zep, floyd, smiths, replacements) The remaining acts are on the touring circuit; but do we as fans of these artists really get representation of the artists full catalog? Or due to sheer volume of material, coupled with setlists that may not vary that much show to show or tour to tour, are we not getting our money’s worth if we support a band on each tour?

It becomes an interesting question as record sales continue to slide and the live concert business takes a hit. Take someone like Bob Dylan, he plays 100 shows a year every year and has well over 500 songs, yet he plays 20 or so a night, but in most cases half are the same as the last tour…or the Stones, as great as Exile is as an album, are there always going to be tracks that will never be heard live?

And are the endless releases and rereleases ultimately the thing that are killing sales? Does each rerelease take away from a sale of a new artist or even that artist’s new material? And does there become a point where you just stop buying? I mean it’s almost impossible to collect Bob Dylan at this point, and don’t get me started on Elvis Costello, there’s like 8 different releases with different bonus tracks of his best albums. Does anyone have any time to absorb and enjoy all of it. And does that come into play when artists do their set lists?

Pearl Jam and Springsteen and sometimes U2 always pretty much play the new album complete within that album’s tour and then sprinkle tracks from it on later tours…other acts not so much, and there’s a few ways to look at that, while people that see Bruce and Pearl Jam might not care about the setlists in terms of hits or popular songs, (I once brought a girl to a Bruce show and afterwards she said she knew 2 songs of the 30 he played and still thought it was the best show she had ever seen) fans of other bands may want to hear the hits over and over again, or at least the artists believe that…

Could Green Day do a show without “Longview”? Based on their rabid fanbase, i believe so, but they play close to 3 hours and do 30 songs so its tough to complain if a song is always on a setlist. Can the Stones get by without “Jumpin Jack Flash”? Yes, I believe they can, but when you charge $400 a ticket, I guess they feel they need to do that every night. Petty without “Running Down a Dream”? Definitely, but Petty has become lazy, despite the wealth of material he has, he’s fallen into a predictable trap and seems like he’s going through the motions on tour. If there was ever an artist at this point to build a show around a complete album, Petty is a top candidate.

I’m not sure there’s a correct answer, but as the traditional music industry is continuing to slide, first the sales crashed down, now the concert business is struggling, can any of it be saved? Is it worth saving? And how does it get saved? Maybe next week’s blog will discuss that. Remember to listen to Anything Anything Sunday nights 9pm at

  • Uncle Freak

    You forgot to include Rush, I preety sure that have over 30+ studio albums also

  • Jim

    You have a good point. For me going to shows hearing the hits then going into the catalog and discovering the other stuff was part of the enjoyment. Maybe this new playing a whole album at a show is a response to this.I like the ask the fans suggestion Jeremy brought up is a great idea. I guess this is why I have maybe just 7 artists I have to see every tour now, as apposed to years past. You couldn't drag me to a Petty or Mellencamp show now, 15 yrs ago I would have been all over it!

  • Paul

    i love the fan selection idea, wilco has done that for a song or two. or maybe something like when Costello did the spinning wheel and whatever song it landed on he played. but the question is now, do the artists even know all of their songs? and how much prep and rehearsal would they need and would they bother to learn a song they might only play once? it's an interesting debate and once artists and managers figure out a way to make money off streaming a live show via youtube or netflix, the touring is over, they could do one show and millions of people see it and pay for it and there's no hotels, roadies, rentals to pay for, artists will clean up on it. I truly believe the u2 Rose Bowl thing was not a "gift" for fans, it was to see test the waters, the next one will be paid, even if's a few bucks…it's getting scary out there..lots of jobs and revenue at stake and it's all about greed.

    • Jeremy

      Paul brings up a couple of important points. First, the extra prep time is most definitely one of the reasons (other than thinking the fans don't want to hear obscure songs) that most acts stick to the hits. But, if you do polling on the artist's site, that tallying could conceivably start even a year ahead of the next tour, giving the act plenty of time to brush up on a few unfamiliar tracks. Doing the selection spontaneously on the night of the show is a different story.

      The other consideration is how technology will affect the evolution of the live show. Will musicians actually gravitate toward a phenomenon by which they don't even tour at all, but just play one live show to be broadcast via the Internet for purchase by anyone, anywhere? They could feasibly do this…if they wanted to kill the music business altogether. I mean, talk about extinguishing the musician/fan relationship completely! It will be a sad day when/if you can't enjoy the experience of barreling into your local club, or stuffing yourself like a sardine into a huge arena or stadium to witness your favorite band rock out. I hope we're not headed there. It's a great idea to use streaming as a supplemental way for acts to bring in revenue. If some people don't have access to one of the tour cities, can't afford the full-price ticket, or otherwise can't make it to a show, this would be a great alternative.

Log in