FEATURE: The Promotion Game

FEATURE:

 

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PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

 

The Promotion Game

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I have been thinking a lot about the music of the ’60s…

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and how much simpler it would have been then. If you consider an album from, say, The Roiling Stone or The Beatles, there would have been hype and excitement but consider how it would have been marketed. I know technology and media outlets were more limited when compared with today – does that mean it was better or worse, perhaps? To me, I feel the media/Internet age has its good sides but it does seem to make the art of promoting a record needlessly complex. If one considers a big artist then you invariably have those rumours starting and the initial speculation. There will be whispers and this and that – getting the fans excited and starting that wave of build-up.

After that, there is the series of Instagram posts that show recording coming from the studio; some ‘making-of’ snaps and little teasers for the fans.

On that point, you might – nearer the time of an album release – get videos and thirty-second trailers for the record. Then follows the Tracklisting and before/after, you will get that FIRST single. After that, before the album comes out, you might get a few songs and endless interviews and performances. By the time the record is actually out, it feels so familiar and comes with little surprise. Contrast that with music even a decade-or-so ago and it seemed like a much less complex and hectic process. I am one of those people who like to get the album announced and then wait for it to come about. I can’t knock it because, for new musicians, I get a lot of interview requests coming through; helping them promote their music and getting it to new audiences. My concern is less towards the new musicians and geared at the mainstream stars.

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I suppose, for those starting out, they need to get a jump on promotion and building their campaign in layers. In terms of timing; journalists are asked to interview (the artist) within a set time limit of an album/single/E.P. release and not allowed to release it until a specific date. The same goes for reviews because, for those P.R. companies they time blocks of promotion and ensure it is evenly spread. It is a tiring and never-ending campaign to simply ensure that artist gets their music out as far as possible and does as well as it can. I understand the need to do this because there are so many other rivals/artists out there – all doing the same thing – you have to put that much work and effort into campaigning. For me, it is good, because I keep very busy, but feel there is an excess when you look at the bigger, established artists. Not naming any names but are those (the majority) who have that elongated, protracted P.R. assault and those who prefer a different, more direct method of releasing. I love a musician who can record an album and, rather than endless photograph/Tweet about its every stage; release the thing in a traditional, sensible way.

With social media and the Internet dictating so much of what we listen to and how that is done – it seems music releasing and promotion has become a business and lost the physicality and traditions we saw long ago.

I am not sure when the moment was album/music releases became so regimented and full-on. As much as I love an album like, say, Beyoncé’s Lemonade; I feel it got a pretty rigorous and brutal campaign. Beyoncé could shift millions of copies releasing Lemonade without a circus but, the way it was built up and then ‘dropped’ (sorry to use that word!); it sucked so much of the human element. We would see announcements and interviews; little snippets and song title suggestions. Then, certain songs would get those teaser trails and, even before the album was released, it has songs out and so much attention. Even after the fact, there was this immense volume and work put into ensuring every facet and strand of the album was unravelled and highlighted. In retrospect, one wonders whether Lemonade needed that structured and business-like electioneering. If Beyoncé released the album with no fuss – maybe out of nowhere – I argue it would have made a bigger impression.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jack White

I can’t remember if it was Jack White, when The Raconteurs released their second album, but it sort of ‘happen’. There were no announcements in NME and YouTube videos promoting the lead single. It was released, it was bought and reviews came forth. It sounds, in this decade, a huge risk and a potential sales disaster. I argue, naïve as it might sound; the strength of the artist/music makes the difference and the travelling festival or teasing, promotional gambits and slow-building revelations sucks a lot of energy, emotion and mystique from a record. Look at a typical 2017 and, this is based on actual albums coming out this year, we see so many different announcements on music websites. Take Royal Blood, for example. I have been hankering for an album from them for years and relieved they have finally got back to it. On their Facebook account, months ago, we were getting these weird, all-too-brief videos of a song being performed. It was almost indistinguishable and undetectable but was, in essence, the boys making a noise. Not long after and we get these enigmatic photos and curiosity-making statuses across social media. Even before the album’s first single has been released, there is so much faff and palaver. Last week, How Did We Get So Dark? saw its second single, Hook, Line & Sinker, released: the record is not out until June but it feels like we have heard so much already.

In fact, most bands might release up to four songs before an album has been official released but it all feels a bit too much.

I am looking forward to Royal Blood’s album but I worry whether their promotional strategy – so many different stages and elements – is hindering the impact the album is likely to make. Critics already have a good sense of what it is about and are not going to be hugely surprised by its sound and direction. In this age, before a big artist reveals an album/song/whatever, they have told its story and done so many interviews. The listener and reviewer is told so much – and subjected to so many sides to it – by the time it comes out it has stripped so much of the surprise away.

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In fact, looking at most of this year’s biggest albums and this rings true. London Grammar are doing it; Queens of the Stone Age have been teasing and, one suspects, there will be a hugely drawn-out promotional junket before we get the, as-yet-untitled, album. I am a massive fan of the Californian band but wish they’d sequester themselves away; produce a kick-arse album and then, you know, put it out – no fuss or announcements beforehand. Again, it might be risky but they are an established band who will get, I feel, bigger respect and reaction if they subverted expectations. I have mentioned Jack White and he is someone who is innovative and traditional as they come. He is finding new ways to record albums and always looking to push the envelope. I guess, in his White Stripes day, as part of the uniformity and discipline of the duo, albums and songs were released in a more ‘ethical’ and less calculated way. Now he is solo, he has to react to the changing nature of the game and is free to promote and campaign how he feels fit. What I miss are those albums that are released and promoted in an innovative way. Radiohead’s pay-as-you-wish approach to In Rainbows was hugely inspirational and was the big talking-point. Not only was it an innovative approach to releasing an album but was not accompanied by endless promotional interviews and video snippets here and there.

Now, by the time an album announcement is even rumoured; we know there will be months of slow-reveal and marketing subterfuge before any record is in our hands. Even after that; future singles will get their own whirl or publicity and bled to death.

If it were not bad enough we get so much exposure to an album’s seduction and itinerary; an artist might spend the next few years making their next record. I won’t bash London Grammar – as I do love their music – but it has been four years since their debut album, If You Wait. Aside from subsidies and attention from Australia – hearing their music on soaps and the trio getting lots of gigs there – it has been an interminable wait for new material. Truth Is A Beautiful Thing is out in a few weeks and has already had four singles released from it. The fact we have waited so long has left some wondering whether the guys could genuinely sustain interest.

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I am not sure why there was such a long absence in London Grammar’s case but I, if I were part of the group, spent that long outside the spotlight, I would release an album straight off and get it out there. The fact it has had such a build-up and gradual unveiling have taken a lot of the potential away. By the time the album comes out, one wonders how much more we will learn from it – it seems the promotion and campaign is more important than the album itself. I know this is not a modern construct but the intricacies and machine-like imperiousness of promoting an album have intensified over the last few years. Even as recent as the early-‘00s, there were fewer big artists having to undertake this ridiculously long-winded striptease. We, consumers, are programmed to expect an album here and now and will often get restless – if an artist has not produced for a while, there are other options out there. I feel the ‘event’ that is album promotion risks seeming rather self-important and needless.

I know every artist has to promote their E.P./album but it can be done in a more subtle and immediate manner.

What is wrong with setting a date and then releasing a single from the album – nothing else until the actual day?! The stomach is not full and the appetite hankers for the finished product. If you are drip-fed and full before the dinner gets to the plate; how much room are you going to have for it?! It might seem like a sloppy analogy but it has a point.

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It would be nice were albums and music go back to their roots. I know the world is more technological and the competition is tough. An artist has to ensure they put as much effort into their records as possible. It seems like a lot of the mainstream’s best and taking promotion too far and concerned more about popularity than credibility.

The best albums from last year would have got the same response and sales were they released with comparatively little fanfare – maybe more, in a lot of cases.

Think of a group like The Beatles and, in their early days, would turn an album around in a few days. There was such a hunger for the music, the guys had that urgency and need to get the album out there. Because of that, an album was released and there was very little in terms of speculation and build-up. Sure, there was no Internet so fewer options but I’d like to think, were they available in the 1960s, they would have rejected them and concentrated on getting that album released. It is nice to know when an album is coming out and what it is called but I question whether we need the months-long show that gradually feeds us nuggets here and there. It is all so orchestrated and meticulous it becomes gaudy and crass. Take away all the announcements and the need to release so many singles and think about music’s past. The consumer is going to be much more surprised and awed if more artists bucked convention and put a record out. They might give a little bit of cleavage but not give everything away. That will inspire other artists to do the same and take a more personal and bold approach to music. Maybe there are different rules for new musicians – the necessity to gain as much attention as they can – but there are differences when you look at the mainstream. As a passionate music-lover, I am getting a bit tired of the big stars being subjected to/subjecting us to the indefatigable monster that is promotion. If those ingenious album releases – Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Jack White releasing an album without warning – it is how impactful and enduring they can be. I want to hear the music and not the endless online words and heavily-promoted singles. Take music back to a time when it was simple is, ironically, in an ultra-modern time…

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HOW you get people talking.

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