Daft Punk, Kanye, and Boards of Canada: The Gimmicky World of Music Marketing
It's the Internet age. Music is the art form now that's consumed to the point of gobbling. Between free programs like Rdio and Spotify, and advance streaming services including Pitchfork Advance and the recently launched Press Play (via The New York Times) it's truly never been easier to listen. Why schlep to the record store when you can listen to virtually anything for free and from the comfort of your bed?
See also: Why Daft Punk Have to Keep the Masks on
Yet two 40-something French robots are the most wanted men to unmask. The most infamous rapper alive projected his face onto sixty-five city walls around the globe last week, shattering the sphere between public and private space. Obscure coordinates rewarded the ears of those fortunate enough to retreat to the California desert, revealing a shadowy electronica group's newest work eight years in the making.
This is what we talk about when we talk about music in 2013.
But how is it that these anomalies exist? By pure statistics, they shouldn't. Streaming programs convenient for the listener aren't exactly conducive for the artist. As detailed in a New York Times article from January, services like Spotify and Pandora give artists a fraction of a cent every time a song is played. Unless you can afford to live off a $1,500 check for every 1.5 million listens, you can't expect to make a living from the meager cents earned.
Still, the divide between artist and audience is rapidly shrinking. With a program such as Ableton, you can now record your parakeet Nancy warbling over your tap-dancing niece's fancy feet, and sample your apartment's gurgling radiator too. So how are artists and labels -- who have the "death of the industry" storm cloud already pouring over them -- fighting to capture listeners' ears and shortened attention spans? How do you find ways to make people care about new music? Excited to the point of exerting effort to achieve it?
One of the cornerstones of marketing is obvious: hype sells. So does mystery. Something about the helmeted Daft Punk gives you a sense of unease and excitement -- because who the hell knows what they'll do next? Kanye is an outrageous person by definition, but "New Slaves" has reignited a series of conversations about race, appropriation and modern slavery. The elusive Boards of Canada could afford to send fans on a rat race -- hiding fragmented clues inside of Record Store Day vinyl releases to piece together a source code revealing details about their new album Tomorrow's Harvest.
In an effort to keep listeners craving information, music marketing is also using the Internet -- but to actually guide listeners outside of the online sphere. Scavenger hunts are classic camp activities, staples of company bonding retreats and now apparently the premiere way to ensare listeners. Earlier on Wednesday, English math-stompers Foals tweeted: "Portland, we've hidden 2 tickets for tonight's show here: 45.52229, -122.67034." Similarly, last Monday, Boards of Canada tweeted the coordinates for a location near the desert town of Yermo, California, indicating that "something" would occur there at five o'clock PST. For the lucky sixty people who showed up, Tomorrow's Harvest blasted from start to finish from a set of speakers attached to a trailer.
Then, there are the strategies that test audiences' abilities directly. "Win a Date With Marnie Stern" accepted willing gentlemen's applications for an afternoon with the smart songwriter in promotion of her latest The Chronicles of Marnia, while the cryptic Daft Punk ads on SNL, wheat-pasted ads and soundbite "collaborator videos" tested sanities.
But that's the thing: These artists can afford it. They've have built their notoriety gradually, and now boast a widened fan base that borders on cult. For up-and-coming rappers, homegrown means of grassroots marketing and social media can only do so much when you're competing with sixty-story projection schemes.
Are today's music marketing strategies are either a.) just gimmicks, or b.) gimmicks that actually get listeners roused up and off the couch? Perhaps both, but billboard secrecy and building projections are just the beginning for a widened palate for music marketing strategies to come. However, the real answer might not come till 2014, when conspiracy theorists claim Tupac is supposed to re-emerge, and he'll look his hologram straight in the eye. Now that's something I'd watch projected on a building.
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