What’s Next for the Evolution of Album Releases?

I recently read an article from Rolling Stone that discussed 15 Innovative Album Releases That Shook The Music Industry. If you take a look at the article, it reviews fifteen different album releases from fifteen artists/bands over the past two decades that were ‘out of the ordinary.’ There were certain aspects I found varyingly interesting from each album release listed, and here are my thoughts…

1) Guns N’ Roses: what Guns N’ Roses did for their 1991 album release was very much what we saw in anticipation of the Harry Potter book series. Of course, it was 1991 and this idea of releasing an album at midnight, enticing fans to camp out outside the record stores to wait for the stroke of midnight to purchase the album was entirely new at the time, but it quickly became a popularized marketing tactic after the fact. It is now most commonly used for the loathsome holiday of Black Friday; a day where Americans wait outside department stores to save big bucks on that plasma TV they are so desperate to have. All in all, I think this was an incredible idea for its time, and also for even our time right now for things such as movie premieres (lookin’ at you, Twilight Saga The Hobbit saga), book premieres & media of the like.

2) U2: I personally think U2 just got damn lucky on this one. 2004 was a time where we were all trying to figure out which technology would take off next, and I truly believe this could have been an epic fail or a fantastic win. Luckily enough, it was a fantastic win for U2 to partner with Apple to release their album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Along with that, there was the brilliant marketing campaign by Apple with the commercials of shadows dancing holding the iPod with the earbuds and U2’s “Vertigo” playing…it was extremely effective and really only helped boost the idea of this album release.

3) NIN: Well I’m no NIN fan by any means, but I am a Trent Reznor fan. What a brilliant marketing ploy he had—especially for the year 2007. Only a band with a dedicated-hardcore fans like this could pull something like this off. I think it’s pretty impressive that someone found it and took the time to put the puzzle together, so to speak. Once the secret had been leaked, it was bound to blow up. Trent obviously really knew and understood his fan-base—knowing that they would take well to the idea of an interactive online universe to figure out more about the upcoming album. I think that’s really all you can ask of the creator of your music. Fans love the feeling of connection and understanding between themselves and the artist, and I think Trent really proved himself here.

4) Radiohead: Pay what you want?! What a scary idea for its time. In my opinion, this idea is only bound to work so many times for so many bands before the idea dies out and fails, but because it was innovative and new, it worked. I think we’re all getting to be a little greedy unfortunately, and I think the number of people who are willing to pay are a lot less than they were.

5) The White Stripes: I bet all of this made Jack White so furious. Having his grand scheme leaked before it was supposed to, and then the epic fail of iTunes for releasing the album before the street date…eish! Despite the failures of his plan, I think this really could’ve worked out for him if he’d rolled with the punches.

6) NIN (again): Pay what you want, again! And “this one’s on me.” Smart, but here’s another opinion. Rappers have been doing this since…well, day one. Most rappers start of their career making free mixtapes, and even after they are established continue to create, create, create content for their fans at no one’s expense (except their own). I’m not as impressed by this idea in that sense. By no means do I think music should be free, but I think everybody could take a lesson or two from hip hop…those guys have some dedicated fans.

7) Smashing Pumpkins: This idea just seemed…too complicated and reach-y. And it obviously was—the project has yet to be complete. Yawn. The clock is ticking and we don’t care to wait anymore. We live in the time of immediacy, and waiting gets old.

8) Prince: What a diva. Interesting idea, but what about the fans?

9) Kanye West: Well now, I’m biased because I love me some Kanye West, and despite his greatest efforts at being a douche-canoe, I still think he’s one of the smartest businessmen in the industry. GOOD Fridays were a genius idea, and the idea of GOOD Music has only expanded in the past six years. And he got Beyoncé to give music away for free? Genius.

10) Death Grips: Again, divas. Why sign with a label if you knew y’all wouldn’t agree? I think this was more of a “stick it to the man” game plan more than anything. No one hates free music though.

11) Godspeed You! Black Emperor: I have to be honest, I didn’t even know who this band was until reading this article (oops), but this was a pretty impressive ploy to pull off, especially for 2012. Most things were most easily accessible online, but because of their fan base, this worked for them. Sometimes being a dedicated fan and showing up to that show after 10 years works out for you. Cool.

12) Boards of Canada: WHAT. I don’t know how this worked for them, but I think it’s pretty awesome. I’m not super tech-savvy or hardworking when it comes to things like this, so my laziness would have made it impossible for me to get ahold of this album. My reaction: **claps** and nothing else.

13) Jay Z: While this idea was innovative and cool, part of me still thought “meh.” Now maybe that’s because I’m a little brainwashed by my Apple products, but I still got my copy of Magna Carter Holy Grail without the “technology” of Samsung. I’d rather pay for Jay Z’s album than for a Samsung Galaxy, to be perfectly honest.

14) Beyoncé: Again, another time I’m completely biased. When I woke up December 13 and checked my Twitter feed, and next my iTunes Store and saw the words BEYONCÉ in all caps and powdery pink letters, I knew I had to have it. The Beyoncé brand is on top, and we’re all bowing down (get it?). But to be fair, I think almost any huge pop star today could pull this off: Justin Bieber, One Direction…they could all do it.

15) Wu-Tang Clan: Next to the fact that Wu-Tang Clan posted an internship position for their band on Craigslist this past summer, this is also pretty wild. I also think it’s stupid. I personally wouldn’t bid very much to see Wu-Tang Clan at a stadium, let alone a museum. I don’t think this a good idea for their fans because I think it excludes a lot of them, which I think is a bummer, and exclusivity isn’t always a good thing.

I guess the only question left is what will the next big album release scheme be? What will work and what won’t? My guess is that we’ll see a few big failures while we see some impressive successes. We’ll just have to wait and see who goes for the gold next…


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