Jay-Z, Kanye and Bowie draw up the new blueprint for releasing albums


When Jay-Z put out “The Blueprint 3” in September 2009, most of his fans had known about its arrival for the better part of a year. And in the months leading up to the release, the rapper would gradually share the title, track list, artwork and names of guest appearances to slowly and steadily amp up expectations for the album’s eventual release.

Four years later and Jay-Z is using a totally different blueprint. Earlier this month, during the fifth game of the NBA Finals, he appeared in a commercial promoting “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” a brand new album that fans were hearing about for the first time, scheduled for release on the Fourth of July, less than a month after the announcement.

“The Internet is like the wild west,” he says at one point during the three-minute spot. “We need to write the new rules.”

He is just one of a growing number of major artists this year writing new rules. In January, David Bowie broke a decade of musical silence with a cryptic video that appeared on YouTube on midnight of his 66th birthday. Then, in March he released “The Next Day,” a full-length album that reportedly not even all of the top brass at his publicity company knew about until just days before its arrival. And Kanye West only made fans aware of last week’s release, “Yeezus,” when he tweeted about it at the beginning of May. What these albums share is secret hard work behind the scenes, with a rushed approach and artwork that appears to just be dashed off the night before. Bowie’s album cover is just a white square covering the album jacket for his 1977 album, “Heroes.” West’s album cover is just a picture of a compact disc with a piece of red duct tape on the case.

“To be able to announce, ‘This is now,’ I see it as part of music marketing today that is on crack cocaine,” says music industry veteran and author of the upcoming book, “The Artist’s Guide to Success in the Music Business,” Loren Weisman. “Because if you’re telling me it’s coming in six months, I don’t want to hear it.”

Mike King, a former product manager at Rykodisc, who teaches music marketing courses at Berklee College of Music, says the sneak attack approach is not just due to the instant gratification of the Internet. It’s also the personal nature of social media.

“If you look at the things that labels used to use to market music, like commercial radio and MTV, all of these places that labels used to spend their way into don’t exist, but what does exist are these communities of hardcore fans,” he says. “If you sneak it out to those people, they will be your absolute best ambassadors.”

Steve Knopper, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone, and the author of “Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age,” says perhaps the music business has almost come to a place of acceptance with today’s consumer culture.

“In the record industry this wasn’t really possible before,” he says. “Ten or 15 years ago it wasn’t possible at all technology-wise, because they couldn’t rush out an album that quickly. And then, up until the last few years, nobody wanted to do it even if they could because they were so scared of the Internet. They were so scared that, ‘If we release something too quickly and we don’t have the whole thing completely under control then people are going to pirate this!’ But now it seems like no one cares. It’s like, ‘I have an album! Let’s just get it out!’”

In the commercial for “Magna Carta Holy Grail,” Jay-Z shares his marketing strategy, and it doesn’t sound much more complicated than the last clause that Knopper outlined.

“The idea is to really finish the album and drop it,” he says, “giving it to the world at one time and letting them share it.”

This sneak attack approach isn’t exactly brand new. Mash-up artist Gregg Gillis built up a big word-of-mouth following with the 2006 Girl Talk album, “Night Ripper.” For the two Girl Talk albums that followed — 2008’s “Feed the Animals” and 2010’s “All Day” — he just quietly leaked them online and watched the reaction spread across the worldwide web like wildfire.

“Everyone gets to hear it at the same time, before reading any reviews or forming any opinions,” says Gillis. “I think it’s worked out great for me in the past, but for future releases, I have been actively thinking about giving it some short advance notice. Doing it in a strategic way can be helpful for giving it proper context.”

So does that mean we can expect a new sneak attack from Girl Talk soon? If we told you, it wouldn’t really be a sneak attack, would it?



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Man dies trapped in elevator shaft at Bronx…

A man in his twenties died after being trapped in an elevator shaft of a Bronx building early Monday, police said.

International

Sierra Leone Ebola patient, recovered from family, dies…

An Ebola patient whose family sparked a nationwide hunt when they forcefully removed her from a treatment center and took her to a traditional healer has died.

Local

VIDEO: Cop reassigned as NYPD investigates alleged head…

An officer alleged to have stomped on a Brooklyn man's head last week had his gun taken away and placed on modified duty.

National

New York Times calls for legalization of pot

The New York Times editorial board on Saturday endorsed a repeal of the federal ban on marijuana, becoming the largest paper in the nation to back the idea.

Music

Newport Folk Festival: Photo gallery of 35 moments…

As has been the tradition since Bob Dylan plugged in a bajillion years ago, the Newport Folk Festival embraces more musical genres than its name implies.

Music

MKTO: Behind the bromance

MKTO's Malcolm Kelley and Tony Oller talk about the American Dream tour, Demi Lovato and getting turned down by girls.

Arts

James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne head to…

Two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones returns to the New York stage next month as an eccentric grandfather in a revival of the 1930s comedy…

Movies

Box office: Scarlett Johansson wins battle of brains…

Scarlett Johansson's "Lucy" handily dispatched with Dwayne Johnson's "Hercules" over the weekend.

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

MLB

Yankees GM Brian Cashman breaks down art of…

The action frequently accelerates as the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, as it will on Thursday.

Auto racing

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Jeff Gordon captures fifth title at Brickyard 400

Wellbeing

This Week In Health: Friends share similar DNA,…

Friends share similar DNA, study finds Location: U.S. Study subjects: Nearly 2,000 people Results: When it comes to our social networks, it seems that birds of…

Education

Are liberal arts colleges turning away from the…

Bryn Mawr College, a small women's college located just outside of Philadelphia, announced last week that it would be making standardized tests like the SAT…

Education

Recent grads discover school superintendent plagiarized parts of…

  Two recent high school graduates made a surprising discovery about the commencement speech their school superintendent delivered at their graduation: portions of it was copied…

Career

Feeling stuck? Get out of the entry-level job…

Television and movies may be littered with 20-something characters who seem directionless when it comes to their careers, but author Mary Traina says she finds…