In a society where music streaming and (heavens forbid) music piracy reign supreme, it is terrifying to watch what extremes musicians now need to go to sell their albums and make an income. With an absolute bombardment of music in every corner of our busy lives, it may be difficult to imagine how hard musicians and their publicity team work. Yet, it now takes a huge publicity stunt to get sales rolling for even the musical legends of our era. Long gone are the days of poster advertisements and a good review on Countdown. Artists are resorting to unusual and ridiculous measures to sell their musical products to you.
Surprise albums have been a popular response by artists to these circumstances, with big name artists like Beyoncé and Radiohead using this approach earlier this month, with ‘Lemonade’ and ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ respectively. Whilst the minimal warning, “open the floodgates” approach has worked well for these big name artists, it has failed with many other groups who have more of an indie following. For Queen B, this is her second consecutive surprise album release, and has seen her attract huge sales. One can only wonder what her success would’ve been like with a typical publicity build up…
Then comes the publicity stunts taken to sell albums. ‘Lemonade’ was accompanied with an hour long HBO special film, featuring Beyoncé reacting to infidelity within her relationship. (See the Rolling Stones explanation here – <http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/beyonces-lemonade-everything-you-need-to-know-about-video-album-20160423>). This turned out to be a raging success for her, with her controversial lyrics being questioned, in particular the possible inferences of her potentially unfaithful partner Jay Z. Nevertheless, Queen B reigned supreme once again with this approach, with the hour video being a global success.
However, there have been absolute flop stunts. U2’s collaboration with Apple to release their album ‘Songs of Innocence’ for free to 500 million iTunes users faced huge backlash, when the release was automatically downloaded to many users’ devices. Compared to “junk mail”, this forced distribution of album was heavily criticised and had a negative impact on many of the album’s reviews. Both Apple and lead singer Bono apologised for the method of release but the damage had already been done. It shows that even rock superstars have to employ drastic measures, in the fear that they are losing relevance and traction in an evolving medium.
Isn’t it terrifying that one of the world’s most successful bands had to resort to forcing music upon their listeners to try to regain an impact over the music sphere? What happened to writing powerful music or impressive singles to gain and maintain fans?
I don’t truly understand the enormity of many big name artists’ publicity efforts, but, as a musician, I understand how important selling music can be. But has it now reached the stage where common sense and respect of the listener have been thrown out the window? Or is it the pathetic attitudes of consumers, who have decided to pay both the music they love and hate equally, being nothing? No longer do our favourite artists sit at the top of the charts, because few people properly purchase their music from reputable sights. I think consumers must take the brunt of the blame for the suffering of musicians, and the horrifying measures they take to sell their music.
But I believe a band’s publicity stunt earlier this year has pushed things to a worse extreme, and I think it is safe to say that publicity efforts have gone too far. Musical duo YACHT faked a sex tape leak in May 2016 as part of a stunt to release a music video. Making it look like they were the victims of an individual’s distribution of their intimate video, they then offered their video for sale on their website for $5. When it was revealed that there was in fact no sex tape, and it was merely a promotion for a scary “alien sex” music video, the music community who had gathered support for these “victims” quickly turned on them. Accusing them of being unsympathetic of victims of revenge porn and cyber sexual crimes, YACHT was positioned to very quickly post an apology on Facebook, but just like U2, the damage was done.
As for myself, I’d never heard of YACHT, and following this incident, I don’t think I’ll be listening to their music, because they appear callous and unthoughtful. But surely this drastic situation can demonstrate how far musicians have to go to make an impact to sell their music. Faking a crime, that is already criticised heavily in the media, is a whole new extreme for the music industry.
I am very concerned about music publicity, with these “creative” release schemes having very mixed results. However, I think the duty is on us as listeners to help resolve these issues. If artists could generate the same sales through an ordinary, or at least moral, campaign, these extreme measures would not be taken. So when you see The Temper Trap or Flume preparing to release their new album, support them and purchase it through iTunes, their website or as a hardcopy, even if it’s not as good as their previous material. After all, I think we’d much rather have our favourite musical artists producing great music for decades, then see them force mediocrity down our throats.
There is something drastically wrong if it takes a faux sex tape or a spontaneous album release to generate sales. We all love our music, and it would be a shame to see our favourite artists dissipate from the music industry. So, do musicians a favour, and go and buy their material!