Being a Star Before You're a Star, Part II: The Rollout

By L. Michael Gipson

See also “Being a Star Before You’re a Star,  Part 1

Once upon a time in a Music Wondertime that wasn’t that far, far away, artists had a winning formula for releasing a new album to an eagerly awaiting or unsuspecting public. One could release a single a few weeks to a few months in advance of the album to terrestrial radio, work the single with DJs, retail, and tastemakers, drop a video supporting the single once it proved to have some legs, and then release a much anticipated album. A second single generally followed, the timing of which was always a point of contention among fans (how long did Bad Boy Records run Carl Thomas’s “I Wish” before finally following up with “Summer Rain?”…yeah, I’m still bitter), with labels sometimes overly relying on stats to tell them when the first single was waning and a second single was due.

Then came the Internet and Napster, a carefully cultivated youth (and some elders) culture used to getting music for free, the consolidation and conservatism of radio (eliminating niche and limiting adult-oriented formats), the rise of blogs and the fall of music retail—so many dominoes collapsing all at once. Suddenly, a music marketing and promotional rollout dependent on  traditional radio and retail no longer made sense.  And yet…there are people who are still using the old major label “pop” model for launching a project -- minus the street teams, label sponsored national tours, multi-million dollar videos and marketing resources of those glory days. The fairytale is over and some of those winning at this new marketing and promotions game are recognizing the difference.

Today a full-length album needs to have a two-year rollout and maintenance plan to stay relevant and prominent in the public eye for the life of the album. Eric Benet has figured that out, having released three in six years. Our memories are just too short. Note how quickly even pop artists like Rihanna - stars who are still dependent on the old way - are now churning out a new album every 18 to 24 months (also partially why Adele’s label is still riding 21 into the ground following her announcement that their diamond RIAA star was taking a break for a few years). Nowadays, an indie album that meets with great fanfare in February is all but forgotten by July. So dropping a single a few months before the release of your project and sharing a trailer of your EPK is old hat. Lots of strategies are being employed by artists major and independent to rouse a fickle audience from apathy and then keep folks engaged. We’re going to cover some of them and rationales for a few more.

Keeping the Blogs Happy

The difference between a blog versus a mainline news site is nearly indistinguishable in today’s tech savvy times. Both have 24-7 entertainment news and cycles that need fresh content all the time. Averaging at least 60 posts a week is an awful lot of information about an awful lot of musicians. While it’s easy to get lost in the pile of information overload, not having anything in the pile at all is as good as being dead. Entertainment media of all stripes are ravenous for fresh, quirky, visually and aurally compelling content; “content” being the operative word. Content can be a series of new pieces of information, each of which can operate as a fresh post. For instance: the release of a Kickstarter campaign for an aspect of completing a project, a press release calling for naming an album, the announcement of a pre-album release contest, a post of a producer and track listing, album cover art release, a behind-the-scenes video of the project creation, the leak of a buzz cut, dropping a lyric video for the buzz cut, the debut of a single, the release of a lyric or live performance video of the single, the release of an three to five song EP of songs both on and not on the album, the release of acoustic or remixed versions of songs shared with DJs for them to play with—have you noticed we haven’t even dropped the full-length album yet? (Psst! I just gave you something like the new rollout plan. See above for mo’) Artists need to work in recognition of those needs and create new content on a regular basis for pre-release, release, and post release and then feed it as a steady stream of information getting that to the blogs/sites, making it a win-win for both media outlets and the artists themselves (but see “Don’t Annoy” below). It should go without saying that the content needs to look and/or sound good. The goal is to capture and sustain attention, and nobody wants to see a picture of paint drying or worse—hear a Casio production.

Some interesting pushes recently underway have been the rollout of Tweet, Luke James, and Austin Brown. In a strategy that mirrors the YouTube and blog rollout of Eric Roberson’s Mister Nice Guy last year, Tweet has launched Tweet Tuesdays, with a new song release to fans and entertainment media every Tuesday for the last several Tuesdays, teasing fans with talent and building anticipation for her first release in years.  For his part, on a steady release schedule, Roberson released every song on Mister Nice Guy via YouTube until his album release date, giving a snippet of the song as well as background on each song, from producer shout-outs to inspiration for the lyrics—each video giving an inside view of Roberson’s family life and winning personality (he’s since launched a weekly songwriters series where the Nice Guy songs get the highlight treatment, keeping his rollout rolling along). For his part, Luke James followed a bit more of the ‘90s model of release with a contemporary twist, with guest appearances on several videos and mixtapes of artists with hipster followings, nailing a star-turning performance at the BET Honors, and dropping a series of buzz cuts both before and after his hit retro-soul single, “I Want You.” Most recently, the team behind Austin Brown - the Jackson tribe’s latest hope for sustaining the Jackson Family legacy - has used leaks and video snippets to not only establish the artist in the public psyche, but also as a meta-focus group for the best sound and styling for their would-be soul pop star. With Brown, each purposely leaked cut has been completely different from the last and each accompanied by a fresh photo that presents Brown in various lights. For a pop star seeking to dominate a broad cross-section of potential fans, Austin Brown’s approach may be among the smartest. 

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SoulTracks Choice Cut - Toni Redd - "Underneath My Skin"
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