Lost in the Machine
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Do Album and Single Campaigns Need to Look to the Past in Order to Move Forward?
I have been inspired by a tweet…
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that asks whether modern albums and singles are marketed to death. Essentially – and what the tweet was getting at -, is that we hear so much about certain records months in advance of release. Look at social media feeds and artists are promoting their songs and albums with teaser videos and a few singles; by the time the actual album comes along, you have been exposed to onslaught of marketing, timed posts and teasers. Radio is the same when it comes to acts: they will hammer a single to death and, as often artists release another single or album in the meantime, you have this one song playing endlessly. It means that, when the album comes out with that track on, you are avoiding that over-exposed track; you wonder why stations do not play more album tracks. I do feel that, even for big artists, the modern album promotional campaign is too much. Maybe I am repeating myself but think about artists and the fact we hear so much about an album before it comes out. I like Lana Del Rey’s music but, today, there are two more singles out from her new album, Noman Fuckling Rockwell – it means we have had a load of build and a few songs but, I wonder, does that take the momentum and album away? Streaming services are so keen to ramp up a sense of anticipation long before an album has come out and, when the thing arrives in the world, they sort of mute and retreat – wouldn’t it make sense to be heavier on the promotional side when an album is actually available?!
I might be showing my age, but I do feel like thing are excessive these days. Once was the time we’d get a single before an album came out and, once it was released, there would be a healthy smattering of singles and spins. It was more balanced and top-heavy; we did not have things shoved down our throats long in advance and, because of the lack of hype and social media attack, the listening experience was richer. I can understand why labels and artists adopt a certain approach: they have a lot of competition and people need to be informed and kept in the loop. There have been ‘surprise’ album releases – from the likes of Beyoncé – but, unless you are a huge artist, that gamble does not often pay off. People might miss the album coming out and, as it is so unexpected, you risk losing a lot of money and attention. It is a hard balance these days because of how much is naturally promoted. It is hard for newer artists to get a footing so they need to utilise social media as much as they can: teaser posts, regular updates and videos brings more people in and ensure that, when a single/album is release, as many people as possible are listening – do they keep that pressure on for a few weeks after release to make sure people are still invested/buying?
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If an album or song is not played for a while before release then stations are not aware; record stockers need that warning and artists suffer because reviews are not going to be as forthcoming. Maybe the sheer size of the market now means we cannot simply have albums announced and then, after one single, released into the world. I do think there is a line we can draw between overly-excessive tweets and posts – designed, I feel, with popularity and likes in mind rather than doing what’s best for the music – and making sure people are not being bombarded with information and little clips from an album that is a long way away. Also, returning to what I was saying about albums when they come out. So few tracks are played after the fact and the promotional machine sort of dies. To me, you need to keep some focus on an album for a few weeks after release so that stations/fans and the press know what is happening and can be ready. I also think so many singles are released before an album comes out. You do not need to hear four or five songs before release date. Artists rarely release tracks after an album has arrived and it seems there is this plan to make an impact right to the day of release and, when it is out in the world, take your foot off the gas. Surely having a couple of singles held back for a few weeks/months after an album comes out means it remains longer and gets more coverage? Are we living in a time when artists are already moving on to the next new thing after an album/single comes out?!
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There are industries – such as film and literature – where we are told about a work a year before it arrives. I guess, unlike music, we do not have so many reminders…and I suppose these industries are more money-driven – trying to maximise profits by letting people know about a film that far ahead. Money does limit music marketing, too. Labels and artists have a set budget so they cannot necessarily afford to promote an album a few months before its release and then do another round of promotion a few months after. I do think a lot of artists underestimate how attentive will be. I find that some of these exciting albums that are put out there months before release lose some of their potency on release date. One has had to ensure all these adverts and reminders; maybe we have heard the same singles over and over that, by the time the album does actually get here, we are less curious. Also, if artists are giving so much away ahead of time, what is left of the finished product upon release? Are factors such as metrics and streaming figures dictating when artists should start promoting and how relevant streaming success is? I posed a few different questions on Twitter regarding album campaigns and the fact we have this excess. If an album has an inventive and fun marketing concept and niche then it can stand out and become interesting but I am curious whether artists need to step back a bit.
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I am not sure whether we need such a long gap between a first teaser and an album release. I do think artists can release a couple of singles and still have people hooked when the album comes out – this stream of songs and posts does seem a bit too much. Maybe we cannot fully return to older days when there was a shorter wait for albums and we were exposed to less material from it ahead of time. I do feel like streaming numbers and statistics rule too much. I do think most listeners would appreciate an album or single more with a bit less build-up; a degree of mystery perhaps: now, I do feel like a lot of potentially great albums are being affected by rigorous and relentless campaigns. From current artists such as Bon Iver and Lana Del Rey to some of the older guard, there does seem to be a bit too much emphasis on campaigns and targets rather than considering the album as a whole and maximising its impact. I would like to see some of these hotly-tipped records getting some promotion after release and hearing new material then. It is difficult to get a balance so that artists gain maximum attention and do not overdo things. It would be interesting to know what people think and whether a look at the past is the way to move forward. Maybe we cannot entirely step back in time, but I do recall the days when albums were so exciting because we had to wait but were not sure exactly what we’d get. Having only heard a single or two, there were all these questions we wanted answers. Now, I never feel quite the same rush when an album is released. There are so many great albums out there, don’t get me wrong, but there is this pressure to promote and highlight them a long time before release – giving little thought to the days and weeks after release. It is going to be hard changing the system so that it is more effective and less intense and, for those who are a bit cold on the album, maybe a rethink would help people…
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