Case Study: Surprise Albums

beyonce vs u2

In a world that is saturated with over-hyped projects, even the world’s biggest artists are looking at new ways to create, distribute, and market their latest releases.

And surprise albums seem to be popular as of late – in the last 12 months Beyoncé and U2 have each released full-length records to the amazement of fans.

I love the idea of a surprise album – it’s fresh and exciting.  Fans will follow and support anything you do, but if you can do something out of the box, you stand the potential to gain new fans purely from curiosity.

U2 released their album free to all iTunes accounts – over 500 million to be exact.  As much as everyone loves free, the downside of an artist like U2 releasing not just a single, but an entire brand new album for free is that they run the risk of devaluing their music.  I am pro-free music, especially for new and developing artists – which will be a post for another time.  But U2 is not a developing artist.  This may open them up to new listeners, but will the music be good enough to turn casual listeners into fans?

Beyoncé’s album was paid, and available exclusively (for a time) in digital retailers.  Because it was packed with content – digital booklet, and music videos for every song on the album, Beyoncé added additional value to her record.  Purchasing the record was the only place you could hear the music, or watch the music videos – and just like U2, Beyoncé created an opportunity to engage a new audience eager to investigate what she had released.

Ultimately, true fans are what every artist should be going after.  Fans support your art no matter what.  Fans are the reason you’re able to make a living doing music.  Artist’s like Beyoncé and U2 clearly have lots of fans – but will releasing surprise albums help them turn people on the fringes - the casual listeners - into dedicated new fans?  Only time will tell.

Thinking about surprising your fans with new or free music?  Let’s consider first what you’re trying to accomplish with your brand.  Email me here.