Back in 2008, after their split with major label EMI, Radiohead decided to implement the radical “name your price” model for their next independently released masterwork, In Rainbows. Since then, a culture of one-upmanship seems to have infected how artists market their albums, using the Internet as their primary tool to provide a spectacle bigger than Miley Cyrus humping a wrecking ball.
Since In Rainbows the fan has become as close as they’ll ever be to the artist. They are able to engage with their idols on social media, access and buy the music directly from the artist via Soundcloud and Bandcamp, and even have a direct telephone conversation with them. We’ve seen the rise of the YouTube viral sensation in acts like Die Antwoord, PSY and Baauer. Behind-the-scenes footage initiatives like Intel’s “Creators Project” have also seen an enhanced closeness between fans of all artists, not just the usual major-label EPK fodder.
The previous model held getting music onto the internet as its objective –ultimately servicing a strategy put in place to accrue maximum hits and hype about the videos uploaded. These mostly took the form of ‘teaser trailers’ – videos that often contained snippets of the songs to come off the forthcoming release. More often than not, by the time the actual release was out, fans were familiar with the material, lessening the effect of the drop itself.
Fast-forward to present day and the list is no longer exclusive to Radiohead. 2013 includes Kanye West, No Age, Boards of Canada, Aussiephiles Daft Punk, Cut Copy and Arcade Fire to name but a few.
The release of Yeezus was prefaced with a string of guerrilla projections of his single “New Slaves” onto various buildings across the world – including Johannesburg. No Age, decided to take the phrase ‘make an album’ to its most literal extent, while Boards of Canada sent the fan boys into a head-spin. They utilised Record Store Day as a means of planting a seed, and Reddit saw to it that that small seed would bloom into bona fide hype: a flurry of secret codes and speculation made sure you knew the duo were about to release their fourth full-length album, Tomorrow’s Harvest. Daft Punk utilised every last cent RCA were willing to cough up in providing the sideshow that was Random Access Memories, which infected every TV show, website and radio station from here to Wee Waa.
In the past few days though we’ve seen Arcade Fire and Cut Copy go to even more extraordinary lengths to generate hype around the release of their respective singles “Reflektor” and “Free Your Mind” . Cut Copy placed billboards in a few locations around the world where you could go to experience an exclusive stream of their new album’s debut single. Arcade Fire’s 9/9/9 campaign is evidence of why they are considered one of the biggest bands in the world and renowned as the pioneers of this new wave. Without actually giving much away prior to release, “Reflektor”, the Vincent Morisset directed interactive music video experience straight outta Haiti, took the world by storm this week. It was preceded only by 30-second teaser videos that appeared here and there without any official verification that they were actually involved. In addition guerrilla marketing broke the barrier between URL and IRL, with the then-speculated album logo popping up in various locations.
This new form of drip/mystery marketing has left the music press in a veritable spin of speculation – at least, we’re lead to believe this is the case. Pitchfork editor Brandon Stosuy tweeted in the midst of all the chaos this week “Are Arcade Fire a band or a Mystery novel?” Perhaps they’re required to be a bit of both nowadays.
2013 has been the year in which the internet has shifted from being a tool for exposure to functioning rather as a means of controlling what people know and, more importantly, what they don’t. In addition, it’s providing artists with an additional platform to articulate their creativity, bringing their vision to life in more than one dimension.
Today, it’s clear that major league artists are trying to re-establish their personae and, by extension, the power that has been eroded by the age of the internet. They clearly don’t want to alienate their fans too much, however. People that really are in-the-know appear to be regaining their edge – sorry, James Murphy – leaving fans in a particularly interesting place of manufactured exclusivity. By having access to the net you can be a part of the legion of die-hard fans who dress up in full theme-appropriate costume to go watch Arcade Fire perform in a Montreal Salsa club, papier-mâché heads and all.
Experience Arcade Fire’s alternative take on the music video for Reflektor here.