Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

10 things we’ve learned from the new Beyoncé album campaign

Beyoncé’s no-fanfare new album threw traditional music industry thinking on its head in more ways than one

Surprise! It's Beyoncé

Wed, Dec 18, 2013, 09:32


(1) Forget ESRI reports, the Beyoncé figures show that the Irish recession and austerity are over. It came as no surprise that her forthcoming Irish shows sold well, but a blink-and-you’ll-miss-the-Ticketmaster-captcha sell-out was probably not expected, especially given the album sales numbers in the last few days. You’d have expected cash to be tight, but this didn’t prove to be the case. Of course, Christmas presents throw a wobble on the stats, yet it’s impressive all the same that Aiken Promotions have now added a fourth show next March, which is twice the amount of shows she played at the same venue last May. That’s 84,000 or thereabouts tickets sold in Dublin in 10 months. It seems fans will find and spend the cash when it comes to Beyoncé and are very happy to spend €14.99 on a download album, even at a time of free streaming. Wonder does this mania extend to sales of her perfumes in the battle of seasonal present scents?

(2) It doesn’t matter when you release an album if you’re a superstar pop act. The music business take on “sell in May and go away” is that you release a big album in October or November at the latest and then plug the bejaysus out of it until Christmas. But in less than a week, Beyoncé will have shifted nearly a million copies of her latest album and that’s on just one platform. We now have a two-track record industry: the one for the superstar acts with the established audiences and the one for everyone else.

(3) There’s still money to be made from album sales. Stuart Dredge points to “a cool $13.3 of gross revenue” already based on 828,773 sales in the first three days. That’s a mega take, especially when you put it against a zilch spend to date on promo and the money to come from CD sales and streaming. Again, one rule for the superstars and one for everyone else.

(4) People don’t talk that much about the music with these event albums. It was a really pleasant surprise to hear an excellent, quite brilliant in places, album when I got around to listening to it because I’d read and heard so little coverage of the music on it. While most of the music business press coverage naturally gravitates towards a forensic breakdown of the album’s campaign (as in this piece), there was little social media word of mouth about the quality or otherwise of the album. Instead, social media went alomg “OMG!!! A NEW BEYONCÉ ALBUM!!! OMG” lines. There were also copious amounts of selfies of people listening to the album. OMG indeed.

(5) First week sales rule OK. As Mark Mulligan points out, Beyoncé’s overall sales trajectory was on a downward slope until this album came along. The huge first week splurge, which will easily break a million by tomorrow night, means the label and artist have a big marketing tool to wield for the long-term album campaign.

(6) You don’t have to keep traditional retail on your side anymore if you’ve a big sales platform from iTunes to work with. The fuming from Target about how they’re not going to sell the Beyoncé album (and this from a retailer who has done exclusive deals with the act in the past) smacks of throwing their plastic made-in-China toys from the pram. It also smacks of rank stupidity at this time of year – not having the CD in the racks in the days leading up to Christmas when people will be going crazy (not crazy in love, just crazy) for presents does not not strike one as a good business decision.

(7) Album reviews and airplay do not matter a jot when you’ve a superstar act releasing an album. Those huge sales figures after just three days are down to fan appeal and casual curiosity, not reviews or traditional publicity. All of that was done years ago, of course, when it came to establishing the Beyoncé brand, but there’s no need to waste time or money or effort on that kind of thing any more. Just release and tweet.

(8) It has been a very good year for Sony. Whatever about the individual out-of-house teams who came up with the initial plans and kept things schtum for so long, the Daft Punk, David Bowie and now Beyoncé campaigns shows major labels definitely have their uses. You can apply caveats to this – superstar acts, big existing audiences and all of that – but it’s Christmas and we’re going to be kind to our friends at Sony Inc.

(9) Imagine if U2 did something similar with their forthcoming big-ass all-bells-and-whistles new album? Imagine an album just thrown out there with no pre-match palaver, no “leaked” tapes, no Riefenstahl-like campaign, no takeover of every media surface known to man. Can you imagine it? No, me neither.

(10) That said, 2014 will be the year of the “surprise” album. “Surprise” albums coming out of every crevice and orifice. “Surprise” albums from “surprise” acts. Surprise!