The Album Rollout Is Shrinking
Do you remember the days of waiting months for your favorite artist’s newest record? Do you remember the build up? What about waiting for their newest music video to debut on MTV, or first hearing their singles on the radio? Those days are long gone. Brevity has permeated throughout the music industry in a way that, for the most part, has made these archaic methods of album promotion inefficient. In response, artists have turned to spontaneity, oversaturation, and snippets. You’ve had to have noticed; it’d be impossible not to, but do you realize how we got here, or where exactly we are?
“Hello everyone. Well, the new album is finished, and it’s coming out in 10 days; we’ve called it In Rainbows.” That was all the warning Radiohead would give before the release of their 2007 album, In Rainbows and, in turn,help redirect album promotion for the next decade. They ignored making the traditional rounds on TV, radio, and print, instead, opting only for the internet. They delivered the succinct announcement in a blog post; nothing more, nothing less. This wouldn’t be the only unusual aspect to their release; they also sold the album with a “pay what you want” model. This allowed users to get the album for whatever price they’d like and was intended to compete with the unstoppable force that was music piracy. In a sense, this model predicted streaming services but, at the time, it was considered an acceptance of defeat in the battle against piracy and a devaluation of music.
Beyonce performing during the 59th Grammy Awards, 2017 - Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Beyoncé took brevity and made it her mantra with the way she released her eponymous fifth album. At one instant, there was nothing, then next, there was an entire Beyoncé album for fans to consume. The album hit iTunes in the wee hours of the morning on December 13th, 2013; a complete surprise to fans and critics alike. Excluding leaks, this was virtually unheard of. Beyoncé sold over 800,000 digital copies in its first three days after hitting streaming services.Its success is proof that spending months going through a circuit of promotion is no longer necessary for big artists.
Artists took note. From 2013 on, releasing albums with little to no warning has almost become the norm. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Blonde, and more all used this strategy to surprising success. The influence of concision didn’t end with just announcements and releases; the way with which artists promote their album in between was bound to change as well.
Snippets are the pinnacle of brevity. Artists now distribute-- although sometimes leaked unintentionally-- brief bite-sized rations of a song to their fans; in effect, leaving them starved, begging for more like Oliver Twist until the full track is released. This model can be traced back to iTunes previews, but it truly gained steam as a marketing force during the height of the SoundCloud era with artists like Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert and more. It’s further bolstered by the format of platforms such as Instagram and Twitter which limit users content to one-minute videos or character controlled tweets.
Lil Nas X performing at 2019 Stagecoach Festival - Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images
For a time, Playboi Carti’s career was, in essence, a personified song snippet. He existed as an enigmatic figure behind the curtain of Soundcloud loosies. No one could predict the power of snippets; his official mixtape was so far off, it was considered mythical. Now, snippets have grown into something more. They have become one of the most effective ways of marketing, not just an album, but even a single. Look to the number one song in the country right now, “Old Town Road.” This song found its virality after fans on TikTok used a snippet of the track as the basis of the "Yeehaw Challenge” way back in December of 2018. Yes, the number one song in the country, rode its way to the top off the power of a (viral) snippet.
All of these moments have led us here, but where is here? To find out, look no further than Tyler, The Creator’s Igor, and it’s battle for the top spot againstDJ Khaled’s Father of Asahd. Tyler knows exactly where we are; in fact, Tyler has such a tight grip on marketing an album in 2019, that Igor won the fight against Father of Asahd, landing the number one spot on the Billboard charts. Igor dropped on May, 17th, but we only have to turn back seventeen days, to May 1st to find the inflection point, where Tyler, yes literally transmogrified into another character, but also began promoting his album. Igor was officially announced on May 6th, in an even more curt fashion than In Rainbows, with a post reading simply, “Igor - 5/17.” The announcement gave fans (almost) the same number of days to prepare for the album. Throughout the next eleven days, Tyler would abandon singles altogether, instead opting for snippets (all of which garnered at least two million views on Instagram) to promote the album. The first official single, “Earfquake” was only released after the album was available.
DJ Khaled and his son Asahd Khaled at the 2018 MTV Video Music Awards - Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
Compare Tyler’s strategy to that of DJ Khaled. You’ll have to dig last year’s calendar out of the trash (ironically where you’ll find Father of Asahd as well) and turn back to March of 2018 to find the announcement for Father of Asahd. While turning back, take note of what you find in between. Over the course of thirteen months, Khaled released five singles for his album, teased an endless number of collaborations and even released a trailer for the album. This all sounds great, and even just ten years ago, it would likely have been enough to earn him the number one spot regardless of how terrible the project is; however, spontaneity garners excitement in 2019, snippets garner excitement in 2019, and most importantly, brevity garners excitement in 2019. Khaled failed where Tyler succeeded. Where Tyler transformed into Igor, Khaled transformed into an old man yelling at a cloud.
It’d be impossible to determine exactly why the trend towards concision refuses to slow down, but it’s undeniably had its impact on the music industry. Perhaps it’s a shorting of attention span worldwide, or the allure of refreshing ways to engage with music; regardless, the music industry, as we know it today, exists within a zeitgeist dominated by brevity.