Tuned In To Social Media
How artists use the internet to create hype prior to an album release
By: Collin Renfro
I’ve always enjoyed listening to music and I’ve recently become infatuated with how artists carefully use social media to maintain their relevance and creatively roll out their work. It's no secret that megastars have huge teams of people behind them to manage their careers and promote their music. Afterall, music is a business and social media marketing is essential for making an artist stand out in such a competitive industry. As a Gen Zer, I recognize that the internet allows artists to communicate directly with listeners which can help them accumulate a massive following. In fact, superstar musicians including Ariana Grande and Beyoncé are among the most followed people on Instagram. Successful artists of the 21st century largely have social media and the internet to thank for their ability to obtain fame.
The Model Rollout
A lot of pop artists in particular aim to build a marketable concept, called an “era,” in order to garner more attention for a project. They may change their appearance or social media image to mark the beginning of a new era, and thus the beginning of a new album cycle. Their goal is often to create an immersive world in which listeners can live, with the visuals working in unison with the music. Social media content, performances, interviews and music videos help tell a story and mirror the mood of the album. In an ideal album rollout, artists will typically begin by posting snippets of songs, song lyrics and pictures or videos that reflect the theme of the music. The Weeknd’s 2020 studio album After Hours might provide the perfect example of a flawless album rollout, becoming defined by the recurring red suit and Las Vegas imagery. He curated a unique listening experience by matching the songs’ lyrics and tone with stunning visuals. His use of social media was incredibly strategic. All of his content was deleted before the rollout, and he slowly began posting cryptic photos and videos that set the scene for the upcoming album. He drew influence from Las Vegas nightlife and the perils of fame to form a cohesive theme. One of the singles from After Hours, “Blinding Lights,” went on to break the record for the most weeks spent on the Billboard Hot 100.
The Teaser Method
Some artists, including Drake and Kanye West, have been guilty of teasing new music and postponing release dates on several occasions. Done purposefully, this can be a good way to create anticipation and excitement for the upcoming release. But it can also be incredibly annoying for fans who have been expecting new music. Drake and Kanye’s latest projects, Certified Lover Boy and Donda, respectively, fell into the trap of teasers and postponed releases due to the pandemic and an ongoing feud between the artists. Nobody seemed to know for sure when these projects were going to be released because the artists’ social media pages provided very few concrete clues. On multiple occasions, they would post information about their albums before immediately deleting the content. Drake’s album eventually came nine months later than originally planned while Donda was delayed for over a year. All this time, the artists were sending mixed messages on social media. It can be hard to tell when this is done to produce suspense or if it's the fault of poor planning. Regardless, Drake and Kanye’s albums both reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 without much difficulty the weeks they were released. With Certified Lover Boy, Drake became the only artist to hold as many as nine spots in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Maybe good things do come to those who wait.
The Random Drop
Instead of methodically releasing singles or dropping hints on social media, there are times when artists release an album without any warning. It seems counterproductive, but removing yourself from social media can be a powerful public relations approach. Fans are quick to notice when an artist has been too quiet online or has erased their social media content entirely. Singer-songwriter Frank Ocean is known for being reclusive and having a limited social media presence. His Instagram page has only been public since 2018. In 2016, Frank Ocean released his visual album Endless with little promotion and after months of speculation online. A day later, to the surprise of fans and the record label he had a contract with, Frank Ocean released Blonde under his independent label, finessing Def Jam Recordings out of $20 million dollars. The album was met with critical acclaim with The Guardian’s Tim Jonze calling it “one of the most intriguing and contrary records ever made.” Dropping a project at random is risky and should be reserved for established artists. Loyal fans are always willing to wait for great art.
There’s not technically a right or wrong way to roll out an album. Different methods work for each artist--some choose to be active on social media while others have almost no presence online. As an artist, you ultimately want people to be sharing your content and talking about your music online. Social media is a powerful tool that artists can use to raise anticipation and buzz or an album. Personally, I see the value of mixing these methods to produce cohesive and attractive social media content that makes fans eager to hear an artist’s upcoming music.
About the Author: Collin Renfro is a journalism student at the University of North Texas with a concentration in public relations. He is interested in pursuing music management or influencer relations upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree in May 2022.
This material was written for and provided by AGENZ PR, a student-led PR firm specializing in matters of diversity, inclusion, and the Gen Z perspective. AGENZ teams are comprised of PR students from the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism, all of whom are dedicated to providing clients with insightful and digitally innovative work products to enhance business practices. Students learn and excel by getting hands-on, professional experience in the public relations industry.