Music Marketing: Five Album Promotions That Truly Disrupted The Music Business

From Michael Jackson to Thom Yorke, these marketing campaigns got creative
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From Michael Jackson to Thom Yorke, these marketing campaigns got creative

The music business is notoriously competitive. Not only are brand new artists doing their best to be discovered, but already-established acts must still work hard to remain relevant and interesting, lest they become simply yesterday’s news.

The internet, despite some artists no doubt cursing its creation as a hindrance due to illegal downloads, has brought with it many benefits. New album news, updates, or tour dates, can be accessed instantly, and word of mouth spreads extremely quickly online. Also, domain names like .music or .band found via these providers – are becoming far more popular, and are designed to help both users and search engines alike to better identify the site’s content, thereby assisting online promotion.

That said, there are still fun and interesting ways to promote yourself and a new album other than classic online and print methods. These are some of our favorite examples.

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes Album Cover

Thom Yorke

Having already attempted something distinctive with Radiohead’s 2007 album In Rainbows, which was released as a pay-what-you-feel digital download due to a record contract dispute with EMI, Yorke again tried something different with his solo album Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. TMB was released in 2014 via file sharing program BitTorrent for $6, which Yorke explains was a way to try out new methods of delivering music. "If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of Internet commerce back to the people who are creating the work," he said.

Once Upon A Time In Shaolin

Wu-Tang Clan

Most artists do whatever they can to make sure every man, woman, and dog listens to their music, but this evidently doesn’t apply to Wu-Tang Clan. Their 2015 album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, was one of the most unusual releases in recent times. Only one physical copy has been made, and was auctioned off to the highest bidder in the same year. The catch? The buyer cannot sell the album until 2103, yes, 2103. It can however, be released for free or can be heard during listening parties.

Michael Jackson History Album Cover

Michael Jackson

The late King of Pop’s 1995 album, HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, was promoted in a way that perhaps only Kanye West could pull off nowadays – creating several 30-foot statues and placing them in city centers across the world. Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Paris, and Milan were among those metropolises that received a Jackson statue during the album’s promotion.

NIN Year Zero

Nine Inch Nails

NIN’s 2007 album, Year Zero, had some espionage tactics tied into its promotion. USB drives containing songs from the forthcoming album, were concealed in bathroom stalls and other nooks and crannies at several NIN shows. What’s more, hidden messages on T-shirts spelt out a website URL, which lead to more info concerning Year Zero.

Arcade Fire Reflektor

Arcade Fire

For their 2013 album, Reflektor, Arcade Fire went with an interesting guerrilla marketing campaign. A logo started appearing on the walls of cities across the world, which featured the word 'reflektor' in scrambled letters. Several weeks later, the band put up a mural on a Manhattan building, which featured the symbol next to the words 'Arcade Fire 9pm 9/9'. On that date and time, two songs were released from Reflektor.

Bonus round: U2

U2’s 2014 album, Songs of Innocence, while not the worst album ever, received an overwhelming amount of negative reactions due to its automatic insertion into the accounts of every iTunes user in the world (well over 500 million users). Lead singer Bono has since apologized for the stunt, in the aftermath of iTunes users becoming irate at the forced receiving of U2’s music. "I had this beautiful idea and we kind of got carried away with ourselves. Artists are prone to that kind of thing. Drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard," said Bono. "There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it."