The Hurray for the Riff Raff singer joins them to kick off a new 45 rpm singles series that does something bands need to do in 2018.

alynda and the special men art
King James and the Special Men and their new 45 with Alynda Lee Segarra

While the question of how to get paid in the streaming era constantly animates musicians and music fans on Facebook, a second question gets asked less often. How do musicians get people to notice their releases at all? One thing’s clear—the old model of releasing an album every year or so clearly doesn’t work in the current environment. That absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder theory suited record labels better than artists as it forced fans who wanted new music from an artist to buy the album that was out because that was all they were going to get for next 12 months. The practice frustrated fans when the albums weren’t good, and it annoyed such prolific artists as Prince and Neil Young, who have vaults full of unreleased music because their compulsion to record ran ahead of the label’s desire to put out new music. And in an Internet-driven ecosystem, a year out of the marketplace is a year when fans’ attention can be focused and refocused in countless other directions. 

This change has been coming. As Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips explained in 2009:

In the ‘80s when we put out a record, no one would have it for two months. That didn’t seem long back then; it seemed normal. Now, you can make something in the morning and people have it by lunch. There’s no waiting for things anymore, and people don’t want to wait. The way our web site and the Internet works, the record coming out is the last thing that happens because you build up. You talk about it, you play shows. When the record comes out, it’s like Christmas. Christmas isn’t like a day, then we party for a week. Christmas is the thing; then we go back to normal.

The album-a-year rhythm is so ingrained in pop/rock music culture that bands treat it like a natural cycle instead of a business one, but it’s one that works against staying present in the musical marketplace, which is the thing most bands need to do. Since electronic dance music really is a singles-based sound, electronic artists have done a better job of keeping a steady flow of music into the world. Rock and pop artists accustomed to thinking in terms of albums find it harder, but the marketplace today requires musicians to remain active and in the public eye.

One of the most promising efforts along these lines is the Special Men Industries’ 45 rpm singles series. A couple of weeks ago, King James and the Special Men released “Don’t Tell Me That It’s Over” featuring Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Lee Segarra in an Irma Thomas-like role. The song is a winner in every way—a tribute to the era that gave the band its musical center, and an on-brand way to present the music (which is also available digitally through Bandcamp). It’s also a new way to hear Segarra, who sounds like she has been singing songs like this all her life. Her songwriting and singing with Hurray for the Riff Raff often seems so driven that it’s a pleasure to hear her sing a song with no often ambitions that extend beyond the running time of the song. 

The Special Men will also back The Lost Bayou Ramblers’ Louis Michot, Leyla McCalla, Topsy Chapman, Young Seminole Hunters, and more on upcoming releases, and the tracks show the band’s range, from Cajun music to second line music to R&B. King James—Jimmy Horn—saves the B-sides for himself, and they too show his range, from a blues track on what sounds like a one-stringed instrument to, an electric guitar meltdown.  

King James and the Special Men have become a go-to show for people who want to hear classic New Orleans R&B. With the singles series, Horn has extended his musical reach and created an album’s worth of collaborations, and it’s easy to imagine that many artists would hold them, collect them, then put them out as an album that would make a two- or three-week-long splash. Instead, we’ll hear the project unfold throughout the remainder of 2018. We’ll get tracks that are satisfying at a basic level that further the band’s musical concept in a way that makes sense in the 2018 marketplace.

Earlier this year, we reconsidered Hurray for the Riff Raff's 2017 album, The Navigator.