Marketing has always been a complex profession, but the Internet has made it downright difficult. This is especially true for marketers in the music business. The disruptive juggernaut that is the Web has all but nullified the prevailing business model for musicians and music marketers. It’s a situation not unlike what we’ve seen in other verticals in the retail sector. Marketers in the music space haven’t quite cracked the music-monetization nugget, but many of the artists that they represent have. Through experimental distribution practices, partnerships, and pricing, several artists have found success in this chaotic retail environment.
These artists’ audiences and sonic aesthetics couldn’t be more different, but they all share a common element beyond their categorization as “urban music”: boldness. It is this emboldened, unyielding pursuit of innovation and prioritization of the customer experience that drove these artists to produce some of the most critically and financially successful music of the last year. There are lessons here, marketers—lessons instrumental to prosperity in this era of the empowered consumer.
As one half of the most influential couple this side of the Obamas, Beyoncé is nothing short of a household name. Her star power is dwarfed only by the ferocity and quantity of her fans. Few contemporary acts could produce a hit album with absolutely no marketing, promotion, or singles leading up to release, but that’s exactly what Beyoncé did with her fifth studio release last winter. Through the strength of her brand, the loyalty of her fan base, and a pervading curiosity, Beyoncé sold more than 800,000 copies of Beyoncé within three days, with more than 3 million records sold worldwide to date.
The Wu-Tang Clan has worked for more than 20 years to build one of the most recognizable brands in global hip-hop culture. Late last year, the collective began teasing a one-of-one double album titled Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, a project that features music the group worked on over the years as well as unique packaging. Wu-Tang plans to “tour” the album through festivals and museums as an audio art exhibit before auctioning it in the million-dollar range. It was an insane concept at the time, but around April 2014 the group confirmed it received multiple offers for the relic-styled LP, one as high as $5 million.
— NIP HUSSLE THE GREAT (@NipseyHussle) October 8, 2013
Last fall, Nipsey Hussle proved that you don’t have to be a household name to make bold moves in the music business. Hussle, a relatively unknown West Coast rapper, released his free mix-tape project Crenshaw last October. The tape quickly gained viral notoriety; not because of its content or quality, but because of the price attached to the hard copy edition. As part of Hussle’s “Proud2Pay” campaign, the burgeoning rapper sold 1,000 physical copies of the digitally free project for $100 each. Few took the offer seriously. However, Hussle went on to announce on twitter that he made $100,000 selling the $100-mixtapes, $10,000 of which came from Jay Z’s Roc Nation record label, which purchased 100 copies of the tape.
Sean “Jay Z” Carter’s partnership with Samsung last summer stands as one of the most ambitious partnerships hip-hop has ever seen with a technology brand. The storied electronics manufacturer teamed up with Carter for an exclusive free mobile download distribution deal for Magna Carter, Holy Grail, Carter’s 12th studio album and one of the fastest selling albums of 2013. Through the partnership, Samsung gave out 1 million free copies of the album via its Android-only mobile app, earning Carter a platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. The album went on to sell more than 500,000 additional copies in its first week on the market.
Run The Jewels
— Killer Mike (@KillerMikeGTO) October 24, 2014
Run The Jewlels, a hip-hop duo that consists of Michael “Killer Mike” Render and Jaime “El-P” Meline, released one of the most acclaimed albums of 2013 with their self-titled Run The Jewels LP. Fans were fervently awaiting the release of the group’s follow-up project, Run The Jewels 2, up until October 24, a full four days before the album’s scheduled release. Through twitter, each half of the group leaked digital download links to their forthcoming album. The downloadable file contained PDF’s filled with touring information and other promotional materials. It’s unclear whether Run The Jewels leaked the album to stave off illegal downloads or in response to 2014’s lukewarm album sales. Whatever the reason, the group’s Twitter hasn’t stopped buzzing with hysterical fans raving about the album.