The anti-marketing marketing angle

Blame Bowie. By issuing a single and album that few people even knew was being recorded he started a trend that we now seem to be seeing a lot of, the ‘stealth-release’. For once in his illustrious career he wasn’t the first to do this but the PR splash he created is one that others are ultra-keen to replicate.

It is a trick you can only consider attempting if your fanbase is already huge and your reputation mature enough to survive it. Everyone else is already releasing material into the ether without much fanfare, now it seems that the famous think that they can also get away with it.

It’s a risky business. By easing back on the marketing you are essentially only reaching those who are actively engaged with you, those who are likely to see the Facebook updates or the shared tweets. You may rely on the hardcore to do the work for you but there is a potential that you may not reach the unengaged mass, the normal fan, the casual participant, basically most people.

In doing this any artist, particularly those who fail to tweak the interest of the press, increases their potential to fail. A Billboard columnist recently made a reasonable point that we are all too keen to dismiss successful projects for failing to measure up to their predecessors. It is true that we are all too willing to be negative, this is the nature of the beast and these artists who fail to actively promote are effectively provoking that beast.

When a movie is released into cinemas without review consumers and critics are often rightfully suspicious. What have they got to hide? Music differs in that most people can hear it freely on their radio station or streaming service of choice and the likes of Beyonce and Coldplay know that some stations are eager to play their new songs whether they’re crap or not.

Where the fault lies is that by going without traditional hype it is easy to miss those casual supporters, those who’d say they like you if pressed but are not so avid that they follow your every move. Very risky for a band of Coldplay’s stature I’d assume, do they want to maintain their status and fill stadia for years to come or not? This may only be my perspective of course, the viewpoint you’d expect from someone involved in music marketing. Of course I could be clutching at straws for the failure of guitar music to sink its hooks into the current generation.

It is that failure that poses an additional threat to some acts. If a band as established as U2 can’t get traction at UK radio for their current single (one play on R1, none on local commercial radio) it should worry every other indie/rock band in the world. Mainstream UK radio is in the grip of a pop/RnB stranglehold, they have enough new music to play without pandering to some old farts, particularly if those old farts heavily courted the BBC with their last promotional spurt. Coldplay have fared somewhat better in terms of spread if not frequency for a song that is not quite the equal of U2’s, not that either are classics.

The truth is that those of us in the rock business and, to a lesser extent, those of us in the live music industry need Coldplay and U2 to thrive. They provide the platform for emerging artists to clamber up on; they hold the ladder for other like-minded guitar enthusiasts if I may labour the imagery. We also need them to be filling arenas and stadia in decades to come as The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac still do over 30 years after their defining eras. They may not feel that they need traditional media and old-fashioned modes of support for their singles; quite clearly it seems to me that the opposite is true.


Of course you could always release a single without a video and instead put out a video for an album song which has yet to be released.
At least U2 seem to appreciate that YouTube is the home of streaming and put some effort in.