Pierce Morton asks, “How did you like your band’s latest promotional strategy?”
Consuming music that comes with the baggage of a release strategy is not only a novelty, but potentially something memorable shared between artist and listener. There is something special in this idea; that a musician has decided to labour over the nature of their release in order to bring the most excitement to their listeners. At the same time, for the listener, it is perhaps also a little like being in the early stages of a relationship: even though you believe that everything your partner does is golden, you’re still nervous about how it will turn out, and whether your perception of them will hold true.
Vince Staples’ recent GoFundMe campaign, to raise $2 million for him to “shut the fuck up forever,” was accompanied a few days later by his single ‘Get the Fuck off My Dick,’ which brought his name to the attention of many prospective fans. After the pledged amount remained stagnant just above $2,000, Staples decided to cancel the campaign, refund his donors, and make a donation matching the amount to the Michelle Obama Library. The correlation between this promotional campaign and the song’s message automatically immersed new fans into Staples’ artistic narrative. Even those that pledged money for him to shut up would have trouble discrediting the “nice guy” move.
How often do we find enjoyment from these playful additions to an artist’s narrative, and how many times can we associate unusual release strategies with a particular artist before the excitement becomes banal?
However, the results aren’t always positive. How often do we find enjoyment from these playful additions to an artist’s narrative, and how many times can we associate unusual release strategies with a particular artist before the excitement becomes banal? Thom Yorke, earlier a pioneer of the pay-what-you-want release with Radiohead’s In Rainbows, released his 2014 solo album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, through BitTorrent. Despite a massive number of downloads, Yorke has stated that he considered the experiment to be unsuccessful. He has since dismissed obscure release strategies. Having tried multiple routes of releasing music it seems that even the artists themselves can become fatigued by the notion of creating new platforms upon which their music can be released and consumed.
Is there a level of sincerity that must be displayed or is it a case of ‘any publicity is good publicity?’
So, why is it that some strategies work better than others? Is there a level of sincerity that must be displayed or is it a case of ‘any publicity is good publicity?’ Is it that the more outrageous the strategy, the more beneficial it will be economically?
Beyoncé has been an innovator in the release strategy game, dropping her self-titled album in 2013 without any promotional build up at all, surprising her fans with the bold gift just before Christmas. Remarkably, it yielded the biggest debut week of her solo career to that point. Both album and release are a correlated testament to Beyoncé’s artistic power and her unyielding connection to her fans.
SOPHIE, pop revolutionary and PC Music associate, took the artist-fan relationship to the next level when she released what was undoubtedly a sex toy to accompany her single compilation, appropriately titled PRODUCT. The toy, simply called a “silicon product,” sparked something between SOPHIE and her followers, in addition to a multitude of curious observers, and pushed the boundaries of artist-fan intimacy through the physical release of music and merchandise.
Keeping in mind what the fans want, it is also important to consider intertextuality. Logic recently promoted the release of his mixtape, Bobby Tarantino II, with some help from the characters Rick and Morty. The semi-self-deprecating promotional sketch was able to reach a large cross-section of fans, debuting at number one on the US charts. Run the Jewels similarly tapped into this idea barely a week later, utilising the grandpa-grandson duo for the release of their music video for ‘Oh Mama.’ However, there is the potential here to alienate those that feel less excited about certain fictional characters than they do about their favourite musicians, and it is possible that a source like this could become exhausted.
Arcade Fire’s 2017 album Everything Now was discredited by critics and fans alike for its extensive, “ironic” promotion, which critiqued product placement (see also: Wayne’s World) and corporate involvement in the music industry. Among other things, the band issued pre-emptive reviews of their work prior to its release, and marketed individual songs as ‘Everything Now Corp’-branded commodities. It could be that the relationship between fan and artist here has reached a point where attempts for marketing innovation have evolved into heavy-handed gimmickry. The recent release of the music video, ‘Money + Love,’ was, for many Arcade Fire fans, the proverbial nail in the coffin for this musical venture. Nevertheless, the parody promotion creates an interesting arena for new fans to become involved within the band’s mythology.
Whilst these release strategies do not immediately affect the musical product, they form a narrative lens through which the music can be interpreted.
As it often is with art and business, you cannot please everyone. In any case, creating new methods of releasing work will broaden the audience for popular artists. Whilst it may seem tedious to those who have experienced the novelty too many times, or fans that simply don’t want to see their favourite acts change, it will no doubt stir up musical connections with new listeners. Whilst these release strategies do not immediately affect the musical product, they form a narrative lens through which the music can be interpreted. The power of innovative, over-the-top, or simply strange promotional strategies will continue to be adopted within music. It’s something to add a little extra spice to that artist-fan relationship.