Creating music that resonates is a trapeze act―a teetering walk across a tightrope. Fan opinion is the wind that shifts unpredictably as artists hang in the balance. Add the weight of an entire industry and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen. Despite the whimsical nature of what defines a dud and a hit, however, many have insisted on making an art into a business, a balancing act into a display of stability. The proposed solution?: the almighty dollar.
For Music Marketing Campaigns, How Much is Too Much?
It seems that more money than ever is being poured into the endless void of marketing campaigns. Hyperbole aside, the strategy does work… sort of. Let’s run a test. Did you know that Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga have released albums this year? What about Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, and Arcade Fire? If the answer was “yes” to any of them, then the money spent on massive campaigns was justified from a business standpoint. From the perspective of the fans, though, it may not be so straightforward.
What major record labels haven’t accounted for is something much more ambiguous (call it “overkill” or “fatigue”), simply because it doesn’t exist in their terms; it’s too arbitrary, and it can’t be measured with a metric. Nevertheless, it’s a problem that I’ve noticed more and more.
Take Justin Timberlake, for example. His return to music after a long hiatus was a “sure thing.” The anticipation was at a boiling point, but instead of the follow-up to FutureSex/LoveSounds, fans got a commercial for Target (and Bud Light etc…) under the guise of a music video. They got a multi-million dollar ad campaign and an artist with a trademark stamped over his name, instead of the only thing they wanted―music.
From a business standpoint, Timberlake’s record(s) this year did great. They charted well, and for a while, you couldn’t leave your house without hearing “Mirrors” playing somewhere. You couldn’t turn on your television or go on the internet without seeing him, either. At the MTV VMAs, he played a neverending medley, handed out awards, made speeches; it got to the point where I found myself wondering when his next musical hiatus would be. Don’t get me wrong, it had nothing to do with his music. It was simply sensory overload.
The same can be said for Lady Gaga. When she released her single “Applause” this year, the song was already in various advertisements as soon as it came out, even before fans could memorize the words (or even decide if they liked it). Despite its name, nothing about her new album Artpop felt artistic. Again, that’s not a dig against her music, but the whole release felt like an advertisement for Lady Gaga, not a celebration of new music. Ad agencies got their hands on her music even before fans could hear it. Lady Gaga was asking for an applause before the show even started.
The list doesn’t end there, unfortunately. Unless you’ve been living in a sheltered community in the Amazon, you’re familiar with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” I can happily admit that the first few times I heard it, I thought it was wonderfully catchy. But after all the media coverage, the appearances at award shows, the controversies, and the overkill, the thought of hearing that song again makes me feel nauseous. And that’s not even considering the heavy-handed misogyny, or the rhythm that was lifted from a Marvin Gaye song.
Moreover, anyone with a pulse has heard about Miley Cyrus’ antics this year, whether it was the VMA performance, the sudden penchant for hip-hop and wearing no clothes, or the (shudder) well-documented love for twerking. But, by a show of hands, how many have heard her album, Bangerz? Anyone? Bueller? Cyrus’ calculated marketing campaign, a blatant rebranding veiled as a sudden transformation, is all anyone could talk about for months, yet once her LP came out, the conversation stopped. Isn’t that what all this hoopla was for―to sell albums?
Lastly, there’s Arcade Fire. The band, like Timberlake, had everything going for them―building anticipation, mass appeal, and remarkable talent. After their 3rd LP won “Album of the Year” at the Grammys, someone on their marketing team decided it was time to get serious. Although Arcade Fire are still on an indie label (Merge), their campaign had the backing of Universal Music’s wallet, and it showed.
The marketing front started in a very mysterious and interesting way, with strange symbols pasted around cities all over the world. This eventually led to “secret” concerts and their single, “Reflektor,” being released to the world simultaneously through a web event. This all was done charmingly well, and allowed the band to keep their mystique. Plus, their album is, admittedly, fantastic.
After the LP was finally released, though, the media onslaught didn’t subside. It’s been over a month since the world has heard it, and still, Arcade Fire has continued appearing on virtually every media outlet imaginable. They’ve given us no space to simply enjoy the new music on our own time. It’s like their campaign is still emptying it’s pockets with nothing to gain or promote―fans have already heard the record and know full-well who Arcade Fire is, yet the sensory overload continues.
In the end, perhaps this phenomenon is an indication of the state of the music industry. When the record label fat cats find something that works, they cling to it, because (let’s face it) times are tough. However, the aforesaid business strategy doesn’t approach music like an artform, as it should; it treats it like a product. Music requires time to digest and mull over. It can’t be shoved down your throat, and you can’t force fans to enjoy it. This is precisely why the distinction between what resonates and what doesn’t is such a fine line, or if you will, a tightrope.
There’s nothing wrong with marketing something to try and raise awareness, but after a while, enough is enough. These endless campaigns serve no purpose if they completely distract from the only thing that matters―the music.