Tag Archives: marketing

Remembering the Real Napster

For me, Napster was never about the music being free.  It was all about the music never having to be purchased.

There is a big difference.

For music fans such as myself, the process of walking up to a music store register (when such still things still existed) was not just a transaction– it was a declaration.  Here I am, here are my purchases, here is who I am.

But there was a significant hitch to this approach to life.  There were times (and we’ll keep the number of such instances as a secret amongst us) when you wanted to buy an album that you didn’t want to declare.  That little pop hit that tapped into the car-singer in you.  That bit of folk that tapped into the college student in you.  That guilty pleasure that you were tempted to slip in between two other more reputable purchases as you snuck up to the register when nobody else was there.  Though these songs called out to you, there was no way to bring yourself to reach out to them.

Until there was Napster.

At the moment when Napster arrived, you didn’t really have a problem paying for music.  There actually wasn’t some pent-up pounding that you were waiting to wreak upon record labels (maybe Ticketmaster, but not really the labels).  What you did have was a pent-up itch for records that you didn’t have a problem paying for if only you could just find a way to buy them without shame.

But then Napster appeared and, well, Def Leppard tracks soon followed.  And shortly after that came experiments that you wanted to make but would never leap to in public.  And once that the music industry allowed you to realize that you really could sample music for free (and in private), soon you were able to come to the conclusion that all songs were little more than ads for other revenue sources (that the record labels needed to identify), the levee broke.

So, thinking back, the beauty of Napster was that you were able to freely and secretly see what would come from the next incarnation of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros… even though you’d prefer not to answer to why you wanted to do so.  Even though Napster is now relegated to a glancing reference to movies about Facebook, I will afford this private indulgence: without having to tell anyone (least of all a judgmental cashier), you can discover that the new Edward Sharpe song does indeed involve what sounds like a gourd half-way through.  But let’s keep it between us… no need to declare.

No Prayers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Another Incognito Duo

Sung in secret by two mysterious members of otherwise well-known bands, Rhye is the newest member of the witness protection school of marketing.  In the same vein as The Weeknd and One Room, the building buzz around this song is more proof that in a world where everybody knows everybody’s business, nothing fuels fame better than enforced anonymity.

Other than the disclosed facts that this duo lives in LA and is of European origin, nobody knows who they are– and everybody is guessing.

Open, Rhye

Waiting for Cole, not Godot

J. Cole has been on the rise for so long that you had to start to wonder if the climb would become a true take off.  I’ve written post after post about how he is re-writing the playbook on music marketing by becoming the hottest thing out there before he’s ever even released something you could buy other than a concert ticket (see also: Frank Ocean).  But, with year after year passing without the arrival of an actual album, you had to wonder whether he is re-writing the playbook or if he just didn’t read it.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for take off.  Here comes the second song that is single-worthy (listen to the as yet unfinished but still-infectious first here).  With a luxury rap lyrical vibe reminiscent of Watch the Throne, Cole storms the stage with an explosive verse from his boss leading the way.


Cole world, out at last on September 27.

Mr._Nice_Watch_Clean, J. Cole

The Global Throne

The most anticipated album of the year has arrived.  Here’s one of the most striking tracks, with Frank Ocean joining Ye and Jay.

And here is the sales position of the album in the following countries, as of this morning…  Continue reading

Just Add Vodka


With a killer string section, a well-recorded performance, and Aloe Blacc looking photo shoot fresh, this is the slickest vodka ad you’ve ever seen.  Except it’s not an ad (yet).

Props to MADE.

J. Cole, KOF, and the Receding Relevance of the Album

Let’s say that you have a song (or a few) that are spreading like wildfire online.  You’re getting interviews, you’re getting written up on blogs (like this one!), you’re even logged some minutes as a trending topic.

When this kind of lightning strikes, every bit of muscle memory in the record business would scream that it’s time to leap into the studio and get a full album recorded ASAP so that you can cash in on your popularity.

But, well, that was then.  Beyond the singular spectacle of Lady Gaga, two more examples provide yet more evidence that the last thing many popular musicians want to do these days is bother putting an album out for sale.

Though he has yet to release a commercial album, J. Cole has been in the game for so long that he is releasing sequels to his own songs.  Nearly two years ago, in his breakthrough mixtape, Cole dropped “Grown Simba”: a remarkable track that was prescient enough to declare “goodbye to the bottom, hello to the top.”

Grown Simba, J. Cole

And now, the “Return of Simba”:

Return Of Simba, J. Cole

It’s easy to think of J. Cole as an outlier, given that he has the financial luxury of having a record deal with Jay-Z (note: a record deal that for two years has involved no actual records).  But the indifference to commercial albums extends all the way down to scrappy up-and-comers, as evidenced by this quote from a new artist who goes by the moniker of KOF:

“An album suggests that this is the best music that an artist has to offer between the date of his or her last, to the date of his or her next.  The way music is being distributed these days, to me, the concept of an album doesn’t seem as important as, just making good songs.”

And a good song it is…

Looking At Me – KOF

These days, LPs are enjoying a nice little resurgence as a way for devotees of a particular artist to immerse themselves in a very tactile relationship with an album.  It has become a well-loved, though tiny little indulgence within the world of music.

Are albums in all forms heading toward the same fate as LPs?

Song = Album = Spectacle = Advertising

Now that the dust has settled a bit on Gaga’s gigantic first week, I wanted to peel back a few layers to get to what I think is really important about this release.

First of all, though many have said that the album’s remarkable success (1.15 million copies sold in the first week) is due to Amazon selling it for 99 cents, this isn’t exactly the case.  Amazon is said to have sold about 400,000 copies of the album: a remarkable amount (at a massive subsidization cost to Amazon), but not near the 700,000 copies that were sold at full price in that first week.

Much too has been made about Gaga saying that the digital copy of the album wasn’t worth more than 99 cents: making the digital album economically equivalent to the price of a song download.  Now, behaviorally this is true: as you can see from the chart below, the simple fact is that when people buy music now, they buy songs.

What a chart like this makes clear is that music has become advertising for the record  business.  By this, I mean that prerecorded music, long the cash cow of the industry, has now become a way to advertise the ways in which the industry actually can make money.  Like it or not, songs have become marginally subsidized promotional material.

And, if there’s one thing that Gaga knows, it’s that if something is going to be promotional material it is best done as a spectacle.  And that’s the true idea in her album launch, and the lesson to be learned by all marketers.

In today’s social media landscape, a contemporary marketing campaign is best served to have a spectacle as its cornerstone.  Something that other media can serve to amplify; something that can propel the momentum for the more mundane elements that will likely still pay the bills.  This spectacle could be a massive film (think Nike Write the Future or Heineken’s recent films), it could be a new kind of interaction with your audience (think Burger King’s subservient chicken or Old Spice’s audience responses), but in any event the spectacular nature is what matters.

So, when many are fretting about what should be the price of an album or what should be a price of a song, I’d suggest that marketers of music or anything else ask instead: what should be the spectacle?