Who knew that creating a successful top-selling album would entail ditching the ole’ rule book and dismissing the typical release of an album?
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, synonymously Beyoncé, stirred up a commotion in the music world making the music cosmos realign when she secretly released her surprise visual self-titled album. Without notice & publicity, Beyoncé showed she “runs the world” by deciding to do things her way — breaking barriers and spearheading what may be a future trend.
At 12 a.m. December 13, 2013, King Bey dropped a bomb that would fuel massive excitement. Unexpectedly, Mrs. Carter introduced her self-titled visual album, “Beyoncé,” via a short 15-second clip from her Instagram with the tagline— “Surprise!”—but wait, there was a twist. The visual album was only available via iTunes download until a week later, Dec. 20, when it was unleashed in stores. The option of store purchase was not announced right away.
The “Diva” instantly created a musical frenzy, making the universe “Bow Down” with salivating mouths to their computers and digital devices hungry for honey from the “BeyHive.” It was as if the nectar was sucked dry from their lives since “4,” her previous album, and they were anxious to taste that sweet nectar once again.
Fans went wild and even those who thought the 17-year veteran was overrated had to commend her keen stunt. The visual album, packed with 14 songs and 17 videos, created a pause in the universe making any other groundbreaking news subordinate the day of its release.
Let’s take this album as a play-book play by play.
First, let’s look at the traditional way of promoting an album versus an nontraditional way (Beyoncé’ edition):
Now, let’s look at some statistics from the “Beyoncé” visual album release with no warning, publicity or lead single:
In just three days “Beyoncé” sold almost 829,000 copies internationally totaling to more than $13 million in sales just on iTunes alone. Fastest album to ever hit iTunes breaking first-week digital sales record for an album in the U.S.(Beyoncé’s biggest sales week EVER).
— Debuted No. 1 on Billboard Top 200.
— No. 1 in over 100 countries across the world.
— Release generated over 1.2 million tweets on Twitter in 12 hours.
Has Beyoncé created a new trend in music marketing? Is no publicity now the new publicity?
Culture is always changing and someone must be brave enough to depart from traditional ways to captivate and exceed old results and goals. If you dare—here are five ways to promote a successful R&B album learning from the release of “Beyoncé.”
Anticipation is often an overlooked tactic that creates eagerness and excitement for your project; and creates an increased level of involvement or participation. The less people know about something, the more they want to find out about it.
How do you create anticipation? Do something where people feel that they must have it now—not later. Do something different.
Apparently, producers and Bey’s label, Columbia Records, were stumped on what direction to take Beyoncé’s music after her “4” album because it didn’t reach the success of its predecessor “I Am…Sasha Fierce .” Every time someone inquired about the progress of her music it was pretty much the same answer—“it’s being delayed” or “there is no set date.”
Whether done intentionally or not, this created anxious fans who were anticipating on hearing a solid date when they could expect new music. This effortlessly had fans on edge gritting on the enamel of their teeth.
Once the anticipation stirred and thickened like cake batter, Bey dropped a ‘birthday cake’ surprise—which is a form of anticipation within itself. For most artists the surprise would be the revelation of a short snippet of a track or an early release of a video revealing the lead single, but for Queen Bey, it was an entire album.
Once the anticipation is built, it sets up the alley-oop for a slam dunk reaction of “I want it now, I need it now, later isn’t an option.”
Here is where “exclusivity” comes into play. If you create something only available in a certain format, creating exclusivity, people fall into the mindset of wanting to have it now and wanting to be a part of that movement as if to say “It’s an exclusive and—I—have it.”
By only releasing “Beyoncé” digitally on iTunes (only available as a whole unit, singles could not be purchased individually), it made fans not only jump from the anxiety of waiting so long for new music, but because it made them feel “special.
Beyoncé made every penny of the $15.99 iTunes visual album download worth it. She exceeded expectations and presented us with a carefully articulated package which consisted of 14-tracks each with an accompanying video. Stretching our coins a bit further, Bey included two videos for the two-part tracks, “Haunted” and “Partition,” and another bonus video track, “Grown Woman” providing us with 17-videos total. Wow, Bey! Mrs. Carter delivered more than an album, she created an experience—a movie.
“I see music,” the 32-year-old diva explained in her part one of her “Self-Titled” documentary series, which explains her vision for “Beyoncé.”
“It’s more than just what I hear. When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion…and they’re all connected to the music…and I think it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do a visual album.”
“I wanted people to hear the songs with the story that’s in my head because it’s what makes it mine. That vision in my brain is what I wanted people to experience.”
Beyoncé filmed videos for the album within an impressive six month span between June and November 2013 in locations ranging from Paris to Coney Island in New York.
When promoting a successful album, you want to create a movement that people feel they want to be a part of. Make it an event.
Soon as “Beyoncé,” was released, the “Halo” singer created energy around the album. Here are a few things she did:
— She released the beginning of what would be a five-part documentary series the day the album was released giving a glimpse into the creation of the album. Each part of the series was released between four to eight days apart.
— Made capitalized pale pink lettering on a black background (album artwork) a consistent common theme which took off past the realms of the album.
— Utilized catchy phrases or words from her music lyrics (i.e. “Surfboard” “Flawless”) that people caught on to and made them into merchandise with black crew neck sweatshirts inked with pink lettering.
— Created an Instagram Q&A where fans could post a video question with the hash-tag #ASKBEYONCE to ask questions about the album. Answered Instagram questions at The Director’s Screening in New York City Dec. 21, eight days after the release of the album.
Beyoncé took a risk and created this organic experience where everyone could be a part of to some degree. It’s almost like she created a culture that fans, directors and so many more could embrace.
4. Utilize social media.
By now, it is a known theory that social media is a powerful promotional tool. It creates free publicity with the touch of a button in a matter of minutes—even seconds. More importantly, social media builds and maintains relationships. Without Beyoncé’s fan-base this effort would not have been as successful.
Social media bridges the barrier between fans and artists allowing them to have access to one another within an instant. Artists are able to relay information to the fans directly and the fans the same.
With Beyoncé’s decision to release her surprise album through this platform, all the Queen had to do was sit back and let viral marketing run its course.
Bey’s decision to release her album online and announcing it on social media logically made sense. It created a heightened level of convenience for the buyers as they didn’t have to travel to a store and everything was provided right at their fingertips.
Yoncé’s visual album beamed through cyberspace and had many instagrammers posting morning selfies with the tagline—“I woke up like this.” “Beyoncé” was shared, re-tweeted, commented, hash-tagged, liked and every other social media jargon you can think of. This is testament to successful use of social media.
You can’t do the same thing expecting different results, right? You must do something different to stand out and make your mark.
“I didn’t want to release my music the way I’ve done it,” states Beyoncé definitively. “I am bored with that.” She created her own script and followed her own rules. Sounds more fun, right?
Instead of creating anticipation by slowly releasing information bit by bit, she created it by withholding every detail. The surprise album even had a code name, “Lilly,” known only to those working on the project.
When creating the music videos, Beyoncé and the producers used ear buds so that the music would not get leaked. Music videos were candid and organic unlike the usually planned and thought-out music videos of her peers.
With no real promotion like ask-all tell-all interviews or morning show appearances, it was not until the album was unleashed that she did her version of promotional activities.
Instead of a buzz single before the project, her lead single in the U.S., “Drunk in Love,” wasn’t released until three days after the album on VEVO and a day later to urban contemporary radio stations. Beyoncé also released “XO” simultaneously as a lead single for contemporary radio.
To celebrate the success of a ground-breaking endeavor you must have an album release party. Most artists either have a listening party or a release party the day of the album’s debut at a nightclub venue. Taking the road less traveled, Beyoncé’s album release party was held Dec. 19 (five days after album dropped) at the adventurous Dave and Buster’s in Time Square right after her “Mrs. Carter Show” concert at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center. She created a fun environment, appropriate for her electro-R&B album.
This is what you call different.
Beyoncé successfully sold an album by rewriting the playbook herself. She elevated to another level of success by taking risks and letting down the outer walls of the complex layers of her artistry. She created anticipation, delivered a ‘bang for the buck,’ created a movement, used social media and most of all—did something different. Here she devised the menu for selling a successful R&B album.