The new new album campaigns
How David Bowie, Daft Punk, Kanye West, The National and Jay-Z are changing the nature of promo campaigns around new album releases
The weekend news that Jay-Z will have a new album out in a matter of weeks puts a (Nets’) cap on it: 2013 is a year of change in emphasis when it comes to album releases. In previous years, the noise about a new album was deafening. You’d know that a new album was coming months in advance thanks to advertising, promotion and PR.
The record labels and management companies, the masters of micro-management, would leave absolutely nothing to chance in case you didn’t know a new album was on the way. U2 were masters of this kind of promo shock-and-awe, as if they had to tell everyone in the world that they had A BRAND NEW ALBUM with BRAND NEW SONGS on the way. In fact, by the time the album came along and before you even heard it, you’d often be as sick and tired of it as you are by those radio ads for shows which didn’t sell (at least you won’t be hearing ads or paid-for plugs for Bon Jovi or Neil Young on your radio for a while).
Now, it’s a little different. When you parse some of the bigger campaigns of the year, you’ll find that what they have in common is that they didn’t do things in the accustomed fashion. David Bowie started the year by sticking out a new song and announcing that he had an album on the way too, an album very few beyond his close circle knew was even in the works. Daft Punk kickstarted their “Random Access Memories” campaign by simply releasing the best tune of this or any recent year. Kanye West’s “Yeezus” has also been a bit of a promo slow-burner by his standards, though he had other matters to occupy his mind. And now comes Jigga with his newbie, aided and abetted by a company flogging phones.
They’re not alone in this regard because the promo campaign window is getting shorter and shorter. Acts are delivering albums to the label much later in the day than before – The National’s latest album “Trouble Will Find Me” is a case in point – and so there is less time to roll out the big, all-encompassing promo campaign. Indeed, there’s often very little time to even sort out reviews.
Instead, the album comes out, the band go on tour and the campaign lasts for as long as the band can keep touring. All that palaver in the past about frontloading the promotional campaign by having all the press and ads around the release date is becoming a little redundant.
It’s also a sign of the wilting reach of music magazines. One of the reasons why there used to be such long lead-ins and campaigns was because of print deadlines. Many of these magazines will already have decided on the main features they’ll be running in their September or even October issues at this stage.
But when even news of a big album now only comes a month or a few weeks out from release, this knocks that well-oiled system and those gatekeepers out of synch. Magazine editors won’t be happy, but what can they do? The acts and their managers know they hold all the aces and they also know that the sales or profile bump offered by those big features is not as big or as important as they once were. Instead, it’s a case of building longer campaigns and making sure there’s a story around the album well into the touring cycle. Expect even more event albums in the future to land on your radar with a surprising bump rather than the all-guns-blazing incoming noise of old.