The Changing Music Marketplace

By Fayola Perry

In 2013 Beyoncé released Beyoncé, her fifth solo album on iTunes without prior announcement and it debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200. The album went on to sell five million copies worldwide and it became the fastest selling album in iTunes history. The album sold over 430,000 copies in the first 24 hours of its release. Beyoncé posted a 10 second video from the album on Instagram with the caption: “Surprise!” Within 12 hours of the post, 1.2 million tweets were posted about the album.

Drake released If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late this year with little prior announcement as well. On Feb. 12 Drake posted to Instagram the now infamous and intentionally scribbled handwritten album art bearing the words: “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” and released the alluded-to album the following day. The album was streamed over 17.3 million times,  breaking Spotify’s first week streaming record. The record was previously held by his prior album Nothing Was The Same.

Drake and Future have a combined 18.6 followers on Instagram. Drake’s first post confirming their joint album’s existence and scheduled release date was a simple photo of the album art on Instagram with a caption that read: “WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE available at 8 p.m. EST, Sunday on Itunes @future @applemusic.” The post received 288,698 likes. The album debuted at number one on Billlboard Top 200 as well and was released without marketing except for the posts on Instagram.

Many artists are employing very few traditional marketing strategies like using street teams to handout and post flyers throughout certain neighborhoods, in-person networking and actual television commercials, and instead use social media apps almost exclusively to share their content and keep fans abreast of new music. All of these projects broke the internet and highlighted the effects of social media and digital releases on hip hop and popular music. They also forced data analysts and record labels alike to look at the role of the internet on consumers of music.

Even analysts who deal with numbers outside of the music industry have taken notice and have contemplated how this new wave of marketing can be use in other businesses with other projects. Data analyst for Peterson Cat, Azhara Osborne has combined her traditional knowledge of data analytics with some of the marketing strategies employed by hip hop artist to propel her own company Azhara Hanan Design Collective and understands its effectivity.

“I like the creative marketing tools that are arising, like the promotion-less route Beyoncé took. It caused a spectacle, wonder, emotion and uproar from her fans and media alike. She’s not my God or anything but even I was jolted by the surprise of it all,” Osborne said.

Osborne, like many college students of her time is an avid consumer of music. Her love of music coupled with her penchant for number crunching led her to notice that what Beyoncé pulled off was a major feat and could set a precedent for other artists.

“I think people will follow for sure. Artists already have to be creative about how they go about releasing their music, but what she did was pretty ground-breaking to have went unleaked and unnoticed,” Osborne continued.

In 1999, Napster hit the internet and allowed people to listen to their favourite artists’ music for free. It was followed by Limewire in 2000, which worked on multiple interfaces, allowing people to download and stream music for free as well rip music from artists whose music was on the Internet.

Now is the age of apps like Spotify and Tidal. In the last six years Spotify subscribers have surpassed the 25 million mark. More subscribers means more listeners with access to entire discographies.  These apps put the entire catalogue of virtually any artist right at users fingertips for little to no cost. You can listen to music for free on an ad-supported version of the app or pay a monthly fee for uninterrupted streaming. Paying $9.99 per month for access to almost every new album of almost every artist is substantially less expensive than purchasing one album at around $12.99.

Since these apps and many others hit the market, a lot of emerging artist now take to streaming platforms like Soundcloud, Datpiff, Spotify and Tidal to release music for free. They use their social media clout and influence to get fans and potential fans to check out their work as well as the work of their collectives via these different apps. Apps like Spotify even allow and suggest that you sync your Facebook account to your Spotify account for a more customized experience. Another perk of streaming apps is that they allow you the option to decide beforehand how to spend your money.

“Spotify and Youtube give the option to sample and check out artist before I commit to buying. That’s pretty player,” Osborne said.

Social networking sites like Tumblr and instagram are largely responsible for the fame and success of so many artists. The ASAP Mob, a hip hop collective from Harlem, New York,  took Tumblr by storm in the early 2000s. They used their social media notoriety as a platform to launch the careers of two of their most famed rappers: ASAP Rocky and ASAP Ferg. One of the group’s style mavens, ASAP Jiggy Josh credits the Internet as a part of their success.

“It’s a big part of the movement. If anything, tumblr was our forefront for us to be introduced to the world,” Josh said.

Shawn William, an Oakland based, poet and rapper who many know by the name N Er City has created an Internet persona that has a large following and is usually one of the first people to post an opinion about any and everything regarding Hip Hop and popular culture.

“As an artist, social media has made me realize that marketing and creating a strong brand is just as important as your art,” William said.

Having a substantial Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook presence is key for Willam. All of these elements go hand-in-hand to create that perfect artist package.

“IG (instagram) illustrates my life visually while SoundCloud provides the soundtrack,” William said. “The access to fans makes it easy for anyone to post a link to their mixtape.”

The internet transcends geographical borders. The Internet allows for rappers like Gnucci Banana from Sweden by way of Belgrade, Serbia, to get the video for her song “Coolie Fruit” on little American girls Tumblr pages.

“I’ve been in the game for 15 years and to get your work overseas with a simple retweet or repost is priceless,” William added.

Bay Area rapper Bryce Savoy, better known as Int’l Hay Sus, has seen the positives of marketing and branding himself on the internet.

“I feel like social media and digital media consumption gives artists the opportunity to promote themselves and their brand without any money or a machine behind them,” Savoy said.

Some artists that have been making music for many years have mixed feelings about the D.I.Y. style of self-marketing through social media. Many seem to praise this new model for allowing artists to speak and advocate for themselves. Artists like Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds applauds Spotify for its capacity in delivering a legal substitute to piracy with a pay-per-play model.  Hip Hop legends are praising the new model for allowing artist to create a brand for themselves or their collective.

The iconic “Golden Era” rap classic, “93 ‘Til Infinity” is one of the most widely recognizable Hip Hop songs of all time and to this day has over 1.6 million views on it’s official post and over 150,000 views on countless other uploads of the song. Imagine what those numbers would be like if the internet and it’s new wave of artist marketing existed then. Imagine how easily that number would increase in today’s market.

“Smart, aware artists will find their job easier. Artists who just want to deal with the art and either do not have a team or label or group or other artists who are willing to help them with their business will most likely suffer,” Tajai Massey of legendary rap collective Hieroglyphics and one of the founding members of Souls of Mischief said.

It’s still up to consumers which artists break the internet. No matter how accessible music is, the total package still seems to matter. Artists now require a large social media following and ability to market and cater to an ever-changing industry.