What happens when one of the biggest pop stars in the world covertly releases an album in the middle of the night on a random Thursday in December? They sell a shitload of albums, that’s what.
Beyoncé announced on Instagram close to midnight EST last night that “Surprise!” her new “visual album” was currently on iTunes, and then went right back to posting vegan meals. Well, it worked, because, according to Billboard, 80,000 copies of her album were sold on iTunes last night, in just the three-hour sales window between 9pm and midnight PT. With three full days left in the sales week she is expected to land the #1 spot on the Billboard chart next week.
In essence Beyoncé is selling her leak, a trend started by her husband Jay Z and his partner in crime Kanye West with Watch the Throne in 2011, when they released their album on iTunes a full week before the physical copies would be available in stores. This clearly was the beginning of something bigger, as those three artists from there on attempted to completely revolutionize the way music is released for consumption. It may sound like hyperbole, but this is so far against the grain that that is the only way to describe it, and Beyoncé took it even a step further, releasing a full retail album, void of all traditional promotion.
Not to say this album is without any promotion; it’s just a promotion more keen to the way music is released and consumed in this day in age. With the constantly shrinking attention spans of consumers, these artists are releasing their music in bursts, and on platforms that are easily accessible. Loose songs are lost on iPods and more temporary full albums are easier to find, more enjoyable to consume and less likely to be forgotten. It’s much easier to go to iTunes (or the Internet) and buy (or steal) and download a full album via wi-fi than it is to start your car and drive to your nearest retailer.
Releasing the album via social networking was genius, and completely in tune with the way information is gathered and spread in 2013. Beyoncé has eight million followers on Instagram, and her followers have millions of followers, and they have Twitter and Facebook accounts and everything else to spread the word, because this is how people talk now.
If she were to buy a premium TV spot for an ad on say, The Walking Dead, a smash for AMC that averages nearly 20 million viewers per week when including seven days of DVR playback, she won’t have that type of reach. Sure it’s more viewers than her number of Instagram followers, but not all of those viewers are necessarily Beyoncé fans or are they going to sit around and watch the commercials when they can skip past them.
On her social networking accounts she can hone in on her fan base, the people who care enough to see and hear about her mundane (although not much is mundane for Bey) daily occurrences and thoughts. These are the people most likely to consume a Beyoncé album at the drop of a dime, and her and Jay and ‘Ye’s handlers have figured this out and ran with it.
Beyoncé’s release was a tad more daring that of Hov or ‘Ye, who also released albums this year choosing to use viral marketing in lieu established mediums, but even those two conformed a tad. Jay let us hear something, even though he literally changed the way album sales are counted. Kanye at least gave us a video, even though it was made out to be an event with broadcasts being projected onto walls and buildings throughout the world.
There were inklings of Beyoncé having something in the works. “Grown Woman,” which appears on the album via video but not as an actual song, was on her Pepsi ad that we’ve all seen way too many times by now, which in and of itself is an example how traditional promotion has grown tiresome. The song “Flawless” features the verse from a song that was previously called “I Been On” when it was released in March, again suddenly and without warning.
Screenshots and behind the scenes photos from what would become the videos included with the album have been posted on her Tumblr and Instagram account throughout the year, so it’s not a total surprise. We just didn’t notice.
But this isn’t quite a game-changer. You can’t really release an album like this, void of all traditional promotion, unless you are Beyoncé, Jay Z, Kanye West or an artist of that stature. Even greater, a budget is required and Beyonce reportedly has $50 million to play with for creative endeavors, courtesy of her Pepsi deal.
A less established, but still popular artist like J Cole, or Kelly Rowland, or anybody in that bracket of relevance needs promotion, a hit record/song getting radio spins, a nice feature and a solid video to build buzz for a release. Beyoncé only needs a 15-second video on Instagram. In the words of her husband, “It aint for everybody.”
Also, this type of release hasn’t been a complete rousing success. Kanye had his smallest first week sales of his career, and because of the small window Beyoncé’s will likely be lower than her typical output. But for artist of this stature, this may be a go to means of release in the future, mainly because it’s cheap. Like free cheap.
The money saved on typical promotion was likely spent on the product we got instead of means of convincing us to buy that product. The 17 total videos are all high quality, the names attached to them are all expensive, and are likely a result of money saved when promotion costs were voided. Even still, with the lower sales, Kanye still debuted number one on the Billboard charts, still got nominated for two Grammys, and Beyoncé could end up with another number one album on her hands.