An Endless Tease
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Is the Modern Promotional Cycle Draining the Suspense and Excitement from Music?
I realise that there is nothing new about artists...
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drip-feeding material and teasing work but the issue has become more pronounced over the past couple of decades. I feel that the more the Internet takes over and the more we become initiated with social media, the more that takes over. I think a modern artist cannot do without social media but I do wonder whether, in many ways, many promote in a very structured and business-like way. I get a lot of requests and, although I have covered this subject before, you find that everything is meticulous and timed. Artists have impact dates for their singles and, before an album comes out, there are teasers in video form. We might get a few singles and posts; there will be endless little bits of information parcelled out before the actual product comes along. Every time a big album celebrates an anniversary, I am keen to study it. I find that, compared to music and the industry now, there was less in the way of the machine and the business side. Look at records from the 1970s and 1980s and, of course, there was the act of bringing out singles and doing the whole promotional circuit. Now, because the competition is hot and all over the place, there is this need to up the game and utilise technology. Even if music itself has not become over-processed and technological, the act of promoting music definitely lack a lot of naturalness and spontaneity.
I understand that, whether you are a rising artist or someone big, you need to have some form of organisation and plan when it comes to your material. I am interested seeing how artists unite with P.R. agencies and the fact there is so much happening behind the scenes. So much of my daily social media viewing involves singles being teased and artists ladling out photos, videos and information regarding their latest campaign. I guess it adds to the anticipation and gets people ready for what is to come. It is also nice to see artists excited about music and not willing to give everything away right at the top. Would it be too much of a risk for artists to just put an album out and not expend too much effort? By that, I mean giving short announcement and catching people off their guard. Maybe the risk would be too great for newer acts that rely on engaging all their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to get their music heard. Is the greater sacrifice of the social media age the lack of human contact and the effort needed to succeed? With every album/song release, there are radio interviews and media attention; there is the expectation and build coupled with the hard work needed to get the material heard and shared. I think the problem exists when we talk about the bigger acts; those that are getting onto the popular radio stations and a bit further up the ladder.
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I listen to stations and you tend to hear someone’s single over and over again. Then you get the same thing with the next one or two singles. By the time you have experienced all those songs, the album is not yet out and there is a wait. I do wonder whether the fact we become so aware of a few singles from an album distorts our perception as albums as a whole. Do we gravitate towards those tracks or skip them because they are firmly in our heads? There is a certain romance linked to just having an album ready and, with a few announcements and cool promotionals, putting it out there. Maybe there would be the one single a few days before or some cryptic posts that get us excited. Then, with little warning, the album arrives and we have to experience it all at once – without all the business, endless tease and the wait. Some might say that putting an album out without warning and suspense means that artists are creating gimmicks. There have been a few cases of big artists putting out material without all the circus and festival of the modern promotional vibe. Beyoncé’s eponymous album of 2013 was one occasion of an artist getting tired of doing things the same way. This Guardian article tells the story:
“Beyoncé has released her fifth solo album, with no warning, straight to iTunes. The album – called Beyoncé – was announced on the morning of Friday 13 December, along with the news that it was already available.
"I didn't want to release my music the way I've done it," the singer said. "I am bored with that. I feel like I am able to speak directly to my fans. There's so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans. I felt like I didn't want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out. I just want this to come out when it's ready and from me to my fans."
In the statement announcing the album's release, some bold claims were made: that this was "an unprecedented strategic move", and that this was music "stripped of gimmicks, teasers and marketing campaigns". In fact, the surprise release of music has become in recent years the gimmick of choice of pop's superstar class. In 2007, Radiohead gave just 10 days' warning of the release of their album In Rainbows, for which fans could pay what they wanted. The following year, Jack White's Raconteurs project announced their second album, Consolers of the Lonely, with just a week's notice. And this year has seen surprise releases from David Bowie – who premiered a new single to the complete shock of the music world, following it with the album The Next Day – and My Bloody Valentine”.
Not only have artists like Beyoncé and Radiohead stepped away from the process and usual manner of promotion but, at the same time, offered something unique regarding purchasing. Maybe, again, one walks close to gimmick territory by doing a pay-as-you-like scheme or releasing a visual album. For smaller artists, this might not be possible but I do feel people need to shake it up.
I do think it is a problem that approaching artists need to spend so much time engaging in promotion and spending so much time online. With every song, there is this plan and point-by-point agenda; the singles all come and then there is the need to ensure there is adequate tease and mystery. I do like as bit of build-up and, to be fair, an artist like Madonna is the master when it comes to the slow campaign. She has been putting out cryptic Instagram photos, messages and everything else all building to this as-yet-untitled album – although many say it is going to be called Magic. Maybe it is not possible for her to just bring an album to us out of the blue but I do wonder whether an album is more impactful and bold if there is no real warning. I know that so much of modern music is about numbers and popularity. If you have millions of Instagram followers then posting sporadic photos and clues will get more attention and following than a single message that announces an album. The same goes for other platforms. Many of us are experiencing these singles and having them put in our face and, by the time an album comes about, are we bothering with the other songs? I tend to find that the less revealed – within reason and logic – means we are more likely to explore an entire record.
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Maybe I am being a bit old and crusty but I do sort of miss the days where albums used to be promoted by T.V. adverts and there was the odd bit on the radio. There was not the same explosion and mass of images and messages and, as such, there was intrigue and genuine excitement. I do think that social media has helped bring music to new corners of the world and helped give careers to those who, years ago, would not have had that opportunity. The flip-side to this vast world of information is the fact music has become more about business and numbers than anything else. I mentioned Madonna just now but, actually, I kind of want the album out. There is also the expectation that comes with tease and gradual revelation. Can the finished product ever match perception and excitement? I think that, in many ways, the more overt and revealing artists are the less substance an album has. It is hard to explain but I feel the power and place of the album will increase when we take the foot off of the gas. That is not to say we need to ignore promotional campaigns and all go rogue but it would be nice to see a bit of change and surprise. Maybe artists releasing albums with little fanfare would create a bigger impact than this bit-by-bit campaign. I would be much keener to explore an album by someone like Jack White or Madonna if there was little notice and hardly any information out there. It is a big risk but I think it can pay off big. I do think we are all getting overloaded by information and the act of promoting an album/single is exhausting. Maybe, if we give the listener more suspense and less information it will rekindle something in the music industry that has been lost or compromised to an extent. Perhaps it is a gamble but I would like to see artists take this leap...
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ONCE in a while.