Friday Discussion: Delivering Just What You Need - Album Release Strategies
Over the past few weeks, we here at PropertyOfZack have brought you a lot of new album announcements. And while we’re certainly excited by many of the artists releasing new music, we’re just as intrigued by the variety of ways in which they’re approaching their releases. In this week’s Friday Discussion, we’re taking a look at some of the creative ways bands unveil new recordings to the world. What other possibilities are out there? Reblog and let us know your favorites!
The “Fall Out Boy”
As one Tumblr user quipped in the site’s vernacular (John Green paraphrases), “Fall Out Boy came back the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” Rumors of a return from the infamous “indefinite hiatus” ran hot on the web for months, and we brought you the first official confirmation ten days before the band’s announcement, but even we weren’t prepared for just how momentous that announcement would be — not only were the band back, but with a full album already in the can, a full tour scheduled, and a new single and video live at the time of the announcement. Coming from a band whose prior M.O. involved playful teases and complex, slow-building viral campaigns, the tidal wave of goodies was both shocking and overwhelming, in the best of ways.
See also: David Bowie, who recently emerged from eleven years of musical seclusion with the surprise announcement of an album, the making of which had been so tightly guarded that all involved were required to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Like the above, teen-idol-turned-plain-old-idol Justin Timberlake recorded his upcoming album in secret. But he seems to be in no rush to let us hear it. JT began his lengthy tease with a countdown clock; when it hit zero, we were treated to…a video. Not a music video, mind you, but a video of Timberlake announcing an upcoming music video. It was nearly a week until we finally were treated to “Suit And Tie”, and even then, it wasn’t via the song’s true video, but merely a lyric video. (The David Fincher-directed real deal is still in the works). He debuted two more new tracks live at a pre-Super Bowl party thrown by Dallas Mavericks owner / internet gazillionaire Mark Cuban, to a room packed full of Hollywood heavyweights who could be relied on to Tweet, Instagram and YouTube the event, relying on the free cele-buzz for an extra push. The trickle of info continued yesterday, as Timberlake dropped the album’s cover image and track listing on his Twitter feed. And remember, we’re still a month away from actually getting our hands on The 20 / 20 Experience.
Of course, for a lot of acts, the goal isn’t to hide the recording process but to make it as visible as possible. In a world where contact is only a tweet away, where audio and video production is cheap and easy, where blogs are hungry for new music to call “first” on, and distribution is as simple as an upload to Bandcamp (or YouTube, or SoundCloud, or…you get the picture), it’s possible for an act to be in their fans’ faces — and on their minds — 24/7/365. “Scene” bands, in particular, seem to be especially adept at this. Daily updates from the recording studio. Instagram photos from the sessions. Video clips of songs in process. Acoustic performances of newly-recorded material. Twitter and Tumblr Q&As with band members during their downtime. There’s no need for an elaborate marketing push with this strategy, because the band is in constant contact with their audience. Instead of selling with surprise, these acts slowly build anticipation over a matter of months; when the final product has finally been mixed and mastered and readied for distribution, they know they’ll have cobbled together army of folks clamoring just to hear the damned thing already.
“Be Patient. Heatthing.com.” That simple, cryptic tweet, issued from a succession of artist Twitter accounts (including Thrice, Manchester Orchestra, Balance & Composure and Vinnie Caruana) on December 21st, launched the scene into the most frenzied viral marketing campaign in recent memory. Through a series of eerie videos, backmasked sound clips, and even mailed letters, the secret missive was gradually decoded over the next few weeks — Heat Thing was the title for the debut album by a band called Shone, which appeared to include Brand New’s Brian Lane as well as Andrew Accardi, vocalist for Robbers and brother of Brand New guitar-slinger Vin. There’s no question that Shone’s campaign brought a flood of attention that the band would never have garnered otherwise. But as the music finally emerged, it quickly became apparent that Shone sounded nothing like Brand New or their friends-in-virality, and when Heat Thing (the album) didn’t match the high expectations that stemmed from Heat Thing (the marketing campaign), that tide began to turn against the band. At this point, it’s not clear whether the elaborate effort was even a net positive for Shone.
Kevin Shields, mastermind behind shoegaze primogenitors My Bloody Valentine, went the exact opposite route from Timberlake. Shields took to the band’s Facebook page to announce that not only was the outfit’s long-rumored new album — generally regarded as the Chinese Democracy of indie — complete, but that the entire thing would be for sale on the band’s website in a matter of hours. No marketing, no video, no single, no wait: and yet the demand was intense enough that the band’s servers buckled under the crush of a ravenous fan base eager to download the first My Bloody Valentine release in two decades. Oh, and did we mention that this all went down on a Saturday night, right around midnight in the band’s native UK?
It may not be exciting, but the traditional album release plan works, or at least it did for a long time, and for most bands (especially older, established acts) the tried-and-true method is still seen as the way to go. Get a label on board, hire a publicist, send out press releases, announce and release a single, announce an album preorder, send out advances to reviewers, head on a press junket, record a video, worm your way into as many radio station morning shows as you can stomach (and then some), and hit the road hard. This map is well defined, but there’s still an art to crossing it; factors including the band’s genre, their target market, their preexisting popularity, and their willingness to be run ragged in the name of moving units can all affect where time and money is best spent, and the best teams tailor their plans to guide their artists to success. But even on the traditional route, there are never any guarantees.
Of course, these are just some of the possibilities when it comes to marketing a new release; the rise of the Internet and digital distribution dumped the music industry on its head, and while that’s bad news for the type of entrenched acts who only know one way to go about their business, it also means that there are opportunities for folks with a burning in their gut, creative idea or three, and a handful of luck (though, let’s be honest, a dash of privilege and the right connections never hurt either).
This is where you come in! Do any of these strategies really work for you? Do any of them get you extra excited for a new release? Do any make you angry? And what other creative ideas have you seen your favorite bands try?
by Jesse Richman
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