2013 was an interesting year for music - dramatic comebacks from David Bowie and Daft Punk, the live return of The Rolling Stones and game-changing albums from the likes of Kanye West, Vampire Weekend and Arctic Monkeys made sure of that. Besides all that, you also had a ton of exciting new bands honing their craft and releasing tantalising glimpses of what to expect from them, with the likes of Lapsley, THUMPERS and MANSIONAIR all ready to makes waves in 2014.
However, the standout trend of the year had to be the the contrast in how major artists decided to promote their new releases. Whilst the majority elected to pursue the familiar channels, some of the biggest names in the business shocked the world with their novel promotional campaigns.
The year was bookended by surprise releases from two artists. On this day in 2013, his birthday, David Bowie brought the internet to a standstill by unveiling the video for new single 'Where Are We Now?' without any prior warning. Whilst rumours of ill-health circled in the years prior to the release, the abrupt return to action meant Bowie was rewarded with his first number one album in twenty years, since 1993's Black Tie White Noise.
Perhaps the ploy influenced another global popstar, for on December 13, 2013, Beyonce dropped her fifth studio album without warning. Despite spending the year rejecting claims that the album was in progress, the bombshell caused 1.2 million tweets in just twelve hours and propelled it to the top of the album charts all over the world, selling 600,000 copies in three days. Two unorthodox album releases with no promotion, and two remarkably successful records.
But in between these two releases, other artists elected for a different approach. Canadian band Arcade Fire embarked on a two month-long campaign to promote their fourth album, Reflektor. It started with cryptic graffiti appearing in cities across the globe, with the messages slowly unveiling a more and more details about the album. Then, going under the pseudonym of The Reflektors, they released a 15-second snippet of a song on Spotify in September. By October, when the album finally came out, the promotional campaign had been as meticulous, ambitious and successful as any seen before it.
Daft Punk elected for a similarly-grandiose approach to their campaign. After three months of snippets of the new album, including clips on Saturday Night Live, Coachella Festival and the duo's website, lead single Get Lucky was finally released in April 2013. Their approach to the campaign had been inspired by the past: the gradual rollout of material and large Sunset Boulevard Billboards. Like all of the other albums mentioned here, Random Access Memories shifted thousands of units and debuted at the top of album charts across the world.
The difference between the promotional campaigns of the four of the biggest-selling records of the year was huge, and it's a contrast that hasn't been seen before. Although we saw a huge variety of different styles and genres trouble the mainstream in 2013, one thing remained consistent: albums aren't selling as well as they used to. The apparent determination of artists to break the mould of traditional promotional campaigns is a striking change from previous years.
Whilst we're unlikely to see million-selling albums again, something that was commonplace until the 90s, what is clear is that artists are having to find new and enterprising ways to deal with the proliferation of music piracy. To sell more records and be a greater success, some have plumped for massive marketing campaigns, others have chosen to do absolutely nothing in the way of promotion. Sometimes, less is more.
It's a promising sign that artists aren't resting on their laurels and are reacting accordingly to the slump in the music industry. 2014 may tell us whether the biggest artists on the planet decide to continue this trend and avoid the traditional marketing techniques, or go down the well-trodden path once again.
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