It’s been called a revolution in music PR: a brave new world that involves sitting around doing naff all. When David Bowie released his comeback single last January, with no great strategy beyond “Look! I wrote a song!”, his “anti-marketing” approach seemed to be a one-off.
The whole world applauded his cleverness and the record industry’s marketeers resumed their usual work. But by the time the rapper Angel Haze did the same a few weeks ago with her debut album, the landscape had already shifted. In mid-December Haze leaked Dirty Gold online, three months before it was due for official release. It had been ready for ages, she said, and “since [Island records] don’t want to put it out this year, I will”. This prompted Island to rush-release the album, officially, last week. And, last summer, MIA similarly forced her paymasters’ hand when she threatened to leak her long-delayed fourth album; a November release was confirmed the same day.
Meanwhile, further up the food chain, Beyoncé released her new, self-titled album last month with precious little preamble having denounced the hard sell of today’s music business and proclaimed herself “bored” with the process that “gets between the music, the artist and fans”.
From new artists defying record company politics to super-rich pop stars dropping bombshells, it’s clear that the rules are being redrawn when it comes to when and how music is released, with the musicians taking matters into their own hands.
So, is this the end of the long-lead marketing campaign? We can but pray.
The pre-publicity surrounding a new release has long been a deadening process, involving strategies as complex and costly as a political election campaign. First come the online teaser vids and album trailers, followed by drip-fed news stories about track listings, guest collaborations and so on. Next up are the inevitable press rounds in which the media-trained artist will declare this latest work their boldest and finest yet. Finally the album itself arrives with all the fizz of a damp firework.
Marketing still has a role to play – most obviously when promoting new talent, rather than merely stripping big names of any remaining mystery. But we live in a world where musicians are able to commune directly with fans without the need to jump through PR hoops. The power is shifting at last. It’s time to let the music do the talking.