As the internet becomes increasingly saturated with freely available music, artists are coming up with more creative ways to market and sell their work.
Here are seven inventive ways to boost a brand.
MAKE EXCLUSIVITY YOUR DRAWCARD
The US hip hop group Wu-Tan Clan revealed last week they’ve spent five years secretly recording a new album, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, of which only a single copy will ever be produced.
The 31-song double album, now locked away in “a hand-carved nickel-silver box” inside a Moroccan vault, will be toured in museums, galleries and music festivals before being sold to a single wealthy fan.
Visitors will pay for admission and then be permitted to listen to the songs on closely monitored headphones.
“We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the sceptre of an Egyptian king,” group member RZA told Forbes of the bold new marketing plan.
The experiment seems to be paying off, with the rappers saying they’ve already been offered almost $A5.4 million for the disc.
BLAST YOUR ALBUM INTO SPACE
For former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, Earth simply didn’t provide a high enough platform anymore. One could say Frusciante launched his latest solo album in style – given he’ll be streaming it from space.
The rocker had the album, titled Enclosure, loaded onto a satellite and rocketed into space from a remote Californian desert.
How does it work? Fans stream the tracks directly from the satellite by downloading a free mobile app, which will track the location of the aircraft in real time. When it hovers over the users’ geographic region, the tracks will be unlocked for listening. The stream’s available until April 7, when the satellite will cease transmission just before the album’s release.
GO TO WEE WAA
What do you do when you’re already practically the world’s biggest artists? Release an album in the tiniest, most inconsequential place possible. Like Wee Waa, a northern NSW town with a population of 2000.
In May 2013, the French electronic duo Daft Punk launched their ninth studio album, Random Access Memories, at the annual Wee Waa Show. Thousands of obsessed fans descended on the small cotton-growing hub to hear all 14 tracks played at a strobing spotlight party. Locals were happy to be distracted from the drought, and Daft Punk was happy because its album promptly climbed to No 1 on iTunes in 39 countries.
LET FANS DECIDE WHAT TO PAY
On October 10, 2007, the English rock outfit Radiohead released their 10th album, In Rainbows, under a pay-what-you-want pricing scheme. For more than two months it was available for digital download only via the band’s website.
With no label or distribution partner there was nothing to cut into the band’s profits – but there was also the potential for no profits at all.
It was the first time a major band had gone for the honesty-box approach, and the move was widely lauded, with Time labelling it “easily the most important release in the recent history of the music business”.
Sales figures suggest Radiohead were right on the money. On the week of the album’s December 31 retail release, In Rainbows peaked at No 1 on the UK album chart.
A year later the band’s publisher Warner Chappell reported that although most people paid nothing for the download, it still generated more money before it was physically released than the total from the band’s previous album, Hail To The Thief (2003).
DO A DEAL WITH A SMARTPHONE COMPANY
In another you-can-have-it-for-nothing move that was rather more strategic, Jay-Z pioneered a cross-promotional deal with Samsung for his 2013 album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. The company bought a million downloads of the album for a reported $US5 each and made them exclusively available to Galaxy smartphone owners via an app a few days before its official July release date.
Did Jay-Z sell his soul? Yes. Is it genius? Probably. It hit platinum status before it even arrived in stores. But the Samsung app also irked users because it asked for a substantial amount of personal data, and the right to post on their Facebook or Twitter account.
It made sharing of the 15-track album far from organic and prompted The New York Times’ Jon Pareles to ask: “Does Jay-Z really need to log my calls?”
SURPRISE-LAUNCH YOUR ALBUM ONLINE
In a move aimed at stopping the kinds of leaks her husband deliberately went for, Beyonce surprised fans in December by releasing her previously unannounced fifth solo album exclusively on iTunes. Featuring guest appearances from Frank Ocean, Drake and Jay-Z, the “visual album”, simply entitled Beyonce, was “a fully designed preventative plan” against leaks.
It’s a pretty safe risk for a pop star as entrenched in fame as Beyonce to pull off without pre-promotion.
Since then, US hip hop artist Kid Cudi and electro stalwart Skrillex have both chucked a Beyonce, suggesting it may catch on.
PRETEND YOU’RE JUSTIN BIEBER
Electronic musician Paz piggy-backed on the 20-year-old pop singer’s cred to get CD sales. He meticulously planted 5000 copies of an album that appeared to be Bieber’s Believe at Los Angeles retailers on April Fools’ Day, but actually contained copies of Paz’s work.
The wrapped CDs resembled Believe right down to the barcode, complete with Bieber portrait. But the 25-year-old’s own synth-heavy independent release is inside the back cover, and the disc itself is slathered with images of cats, pizzas and a dog stuffed inside a taco.
The reason? He wanted to use “big-box retailers” as his artistic canvas by “droplifting” his music into the hands of consumers.
BREAK A RECORD
The smallest release has already been achieved by the Wu-Tan Clan and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante has already succeeded in launching an album from space, so musicians need to come up with other record-breaking strategies.
Former White Stripes star Jack White is chasing speed: on America’s Record Store Day (April 19), he hopes to put out the world’s fastest-released vinyl.
In the morning White will perform the track Lazaretto at a gig at his Third Man Records headquarters in Nashville. Immediately afterwards, the masters will be taken to a local record plant and a limited edition single, featuring photos of the recording session as cover art, will be printed.
The records will then be rushed back to Third Man Records, where, with luck, throngs of fans will line up to collect a copy hot off the presses.