For the last five decades, there was a protocol for releasing an album. Billboard looks at the way things used to be and the way things are now.
For decades, album releases were rigid and traditional: Artists and labels picked a Tuesday launch date and built up to it with a marketing campaign involving radio, TV and press in an effort to maximize first-week sales figures. But throughout 2016, superstar artists and music streaming companies have been obliterating that model, reinventing the way albums are released — some without a snag, others full of glitches and flip-flops. These aren’t cult acts trying to make themselves heard, they’re A-listers choosing new paths, unsure whether they’ll sell millions or potentially cripple their career. Views was a deft marketing collaboration with the world’s biggest technology company; Beyonce’s April 22 Lemonade launch arrived alongside an hour-long HBO video album; West’s run-up to The Life of Pablo included a Feb. 11 Yeezy Adidas event at Madison Square Garden in New York — complete with performance artists, models and Kardashians — streamed online in real time; and Rihanna’s Anti was backed by a $25 million Samsung sponsorship deal.
This fundamental shift in strategy has happened, in broad terms, because of the ongoing transition from owning music to renting it. Streaming clearly represents the future, but for now, artists frustrated with their minuscule royalty payments have turned to tech giants for big-time marketing dollars for video or tour funding, even if it means their music is limited to users of just one service. And labels, which lack the bottomless ad budgets of Apple and Samsung, are often the beneficiaries of these kinds of money grabs. “If you look at what’s happening in the film and TV world with Amazon and Netflix and Apple, there’s an incredible war over good content,” says a major-label source. “We’re in a very good position that way. It’s going to escalate in the short term.”
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