Almost everyone remembers where they were when Beyoncé released her self-titled fifth studio album. It was one that made a significant impact, albeit having been brought upon the world without any sort of warning. Following its release, many artists repeated Beyoncé’s method and put out projects with little to no prior notice. Within the first three days of its release, Beyoncé had sold over 828,000 digital copies worldwide and topped the iTunes charts in 104 countries. Despite not being accompanied by any sort of promotional campaigns, Beyoncé broke records and forced record labels to change the way they market albums.
Was releasing an album without any prior notice a risky move? At the time, yes. Before Beyoncé pioneered the art of the surprise release, artists would announce their album titles and release dates months before the release would take place. During the time between the release date announcement and the release itself, the artist’s record label would allocate money towards campaigns and promotions to build up anticipation for the album. For example, Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz album had come out two months before Beyoncé. The album’s title and release date had been announced earlier that summer. Promotional campaigns for Bangerz included a scavenger hunt across Los Angeles to find puzzle pieces of the album’s artwork, an MTV documentary, and a Saturday Night Live performance.
Lorde, Eminem, and Drake had also released well-received albums that year, the latter of which having had announced Nothing Was the Same’s title seven months prior to the album’s release date.
Following its release, Beyoncé proved to be a game changer and immediately left a legacy within the industry. The album inspired many artists and record labels to make changes in their promotional strategies. In 2014, Kid Cudi, U2, and D’Angelo & The Vanguard all followed Beyoncé’s suit and released projects without notice. In 2015, Drake surprise-released If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, and Kendrick Lamar also released his classic album, To Pimp a Butterfly a week prior to its proposed release date. All of these Beyoncé-inspired release methods forced record labels to change new music release dates from Tuesdays to Fridays, and albums would now have to be released worldwide.
Since the release of Beyoncé, record labels have also changed the way they market their artists’ releases. Beyoncé was released when streaming was beginning to overtake traditional music sales. At the time, the only major streaming outlet was Spotify, and Tidal and Apple Music wouldn’t be introduced until the second quarter of 2015.
Now, streaming is the most popular method of music consumption and the leading source of music revenue in the United States. While consumers love being able to stream and download music at a low monthly cost, many musicians and producers have vocalized stances against it, noting that streaming brings in to the artist less money than traditional record sales.
Perhaps a decrease in revenue is why record labels have stopped giving artists extravagant promotional campaigns for their albums.
Last Monday, rapper Cardi B announced via social media that her debut album, Invasion of Privacy, would be released this Friday, April 6. Despite the fact that she only gave the general public ten days notice, fans on social media were riddled with anticipation.
Cardi B isn’t the first artist to give such short notice prior to the release of a project. Last year, rapper Kendrick Lamar announced the release of his album, DAMN., a week prior to its release date. Despite having a rather short promotional period, DAMN. debuted at number one, having sold over 353,000 copies within its first week of release.
Will Cardi B be able to achieve the coveted number one spot on the Billboard 200? It’s quite possible. Last fall, her single “Bodak Yellow” was able to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 after fans of the former “Love & Hip Hop” star took to social media to campaign for everyone to stream the track.
While the surprise release method has proven to be fruitful for some artists, it is mostly only effective for artists who are already well established. Such is the case with The Weeknd’s latest EP, My Dear Melancholy. My Dear Melancholy was released last Friday, with The Weeknd giving barely half a day’s notice. It is currently sitting at number one on iTunes and Apple Music and is on track to debut at number one on the Billboard 200. However, The Weeknd has already achieved the feat of a number one album with his last two projects, therefore, My Dear Melancholy was immediately expected to be promising.
Meanwhile, singer Hayley Kiyoko also released her debut album Expectations last Friday. She announced its title and release date back in January and had released a lot of buzz singles and music videos. Kiyoko had also built up a large fan base on social media, mainly within the LGBTQ+ community. Despite having built up so much anticipation, Expectations is currently sitting at number four on iTunes, and hasn’t even cracked the top 10 of the Apple Music charts.
Perhaps Kiyoko should’ve released the buzz singles without associating them with an album so early on. After generating hype with the buzz singles, perhaps she should’ve announced the album’s release date and title two or three weeks prior to last Friday.
Rather than paying $9.99 for an individual album, a subscriber to a music streaming service can stream and download as much music as they want for a relatively low monthly cost. Therefore, once they finish an album, they can download a new one, then repeat the cycle. Although this sounds revolutionary, the downside of streaming is the fact that the hype around an album doesn’t last very long, as fans are easily able to move on to the next one once they get bored.
Luckily, Kiyoko doesn’t appear to be concerned with charting and numbers. She is living out her queer teenage dream and is over the moon, as are her fans, who have been showering her with overwhelming support.
Are traditional music marketing methods dead? Unfortunately, it appears this is the case. However, artists are now able to sell albums by simply relying on social media and invested fan bases. As consumers, we’ve come a long way from using cassette tapes to record songs as they play on the radio. Consumption methods are quickly changing, as are marketing methods; therefore, artists and record label executives must keep up and move along with the times.