How Artists Sell Albums in the Middle of a Pandemic

by Briana Herrera

As small businesses and large retailers started to shut down due to the growing fear of coronavirus back in March, music venues also found themselves having to shut their doors. With shows being forced to cancel, the touring crew had no idea when their next gig would be. The worldwide shut down put a halt on the biggest way artists promote their music. 

Artists take years to produce an album and the pandemic was another obstacle to go through in terms of pushing it out to the general public. Aside from concert venues being shuttered and their ability to perform the songs they worked long and hard to produce to a crowd hindered, they also lost the ability to create gatherings to promote their new project. 

In the past artists like Katy Perry have done some unique marketing campaigns for their upcoming songs. For example, Perry served fans cherry pies in the middle of Times Square in 2017. 

COVID-19 was changing the way the world operated quickly and rituals in every industry had to change quickly in order to conform. 

Zoom

Just like schools many artists turned to video communications like Zoom in order to promote their new heavily produced songs. 

Back in the beginning of May of 2020 Katy Perry was set to unveil her lead single, “Daisies” from her fifth upcoming studio album, “Smile.” She created a fun way to promote the song while still abiding by the social distancing rules and interacting with fans. 

“IN 24 HOURS, I want to be crashing your #Daisies Zoom watch parties…Download some backgrounds and send me your party info at http://katy.to/zoomsubmissionTP and I’ll try to buzz through,” the California Girls popstar tweeted on May 13th. 

A screenshot of Katy Perry's tweet showcasing her use of Zoom to promote her new single.
A screenshot of Katy Perry’s tweet showcasing her use of Zoom to promote her new single.

 

Many fans, including myself, stayed up together in hopes of Perry popping into their Zoom calls while also enjoying the new lead single. 

Another band, Haim started hosting weekly dance classes through Zoom in order to teach their fans choreography that played with their upcoming 3rd studio album,
“Women In Music Pt. III” 

Limited Merchandise Bundle Runs

Recently songstress, Taylor Swift surprise dropped her eighth studio album, Folklore on July 24th, 2020. Marketing is constantly adjusting throughout the years and as one concept catches on others will follow. 

During the beginning of her Folklore drop, Swift posted a new set of merchandise every week on her web store with a countdown clock at the top of the page. The countdown was a reminder to shoppers that the merchandise was limited which caused many to purchase more than they could afford. Many of the merchandise posted for purchase included a purchase of the album which counts towards their sales. 

Swift isn’t the first to implement this business tool as many other artists have joined the bandwagon as well. The US music industry standard record chart, Billboard started taking notice of this and have decided to change their chart guidelines. New guidelines stating that albums that are attached to merch bundles will not be counted towards sales. Billboard as not posted a date for when these new guidelines will be put in place.

Live Streams

In the music industry, a major part of your career, and subsequently income, is performing live, albeit in one off performance dates or world wide tours. In 2019 alone,  the top touring income earner Elton John raked in 157.4 million dollars of gross revenue, with other acts such as Ariana Grande making upwards of 82.6 million dollars.

As streaming takes over the landscape, and album sales decline, touring has become the major way all artists make the brunt of their income. With social distancing guidelines and World tours being out of the question til at least Fall 2021, artists had to find new ways to perform. Artists took many different approaches. To promote her new single Daises, Katy Perry performed a live streamed concert in tandem with Amazon to perform classics such as Roar, and give her fans a taste of what her new songs like Never Really over would sound like live. 

Other artists such as Travis Scott and Marshmello teamed up with Fortnite to provide virtual concerts in real time to over 12.3 million players who took the time to log on. 

Other major outlets such as Rolling Stone would provide live streams for free via their Instagram, while smaller bands who had tours cancelled mid run, and risked losing out on merch sales and touring income got inventive and provided live streams behind the paywall. Philadelphia group, The Wonder Years had their spring tour cancelled a quarter of the way through, and risked losing thousands on merchandise already printed. The created a one time event called the Live in Your Living Room series, behind a 10 dollar paywall, or giving consumers the chance to buy spring tour merchandise and receive the concert series for free. Live streaming has become the main currency behind live music in 2020.

Different ways to purchase the album, CD, vinyl, etc.

As previously mentioned, Taylor Swift surprise dropped her eighth studio album, Folklore. Taking advantage of the changing media landscape, in a year where vinyl outsold CDs for the first time in two decades, the “Dear John” crooner seized on the moment by releasing 8 different alternative covers with different limited edition vinyl variants and feature types. 

A screenshot of a fan from a Taylor Swift Facebook group that purchased every variant of the new album, Folklore on vinyl and CD.
A screenshot of a fan from a Taylor Swift Facebook group that purchased every variant of the new album, Folklore on vinyl and CD.

Turning an album release into a collectors item sent some fans to purchase all 19 different physical versions for upwards of 765 dollars, helping to supplement the loss of funds from no longer going on her worldwide arena tours

Many artists partner up with nation-wide retailers for an exclusive edition of their album. For example, Troye Sivan partnered up with Target to release an exclusive Target edition of his new EP, “In a Dream.” These exclusive releases motivate fans to venture out to purchase more than one copy of an album.

 Increase interaction with fans over social media 

The combination of the world needing to stay socially distant, with the entire world being at the tip of our fingers via the internet, artists saw this as an opportunity to increase their engagement, as well as stay connected with fans in a time that was uncertain for everyone .Rappers Tyler the Creator and A$AP Rocky hosted a join IG live at the beginning of California’s lockdown to preview new music, talk about their uncertainties over this period, as well as host a Q & A with fans.

Roar singer Katy Perry routinely held Smile Sundays, held once a week until her album dropped, to keep fans updated on what she had in store for the album, as well as provide fans updates about her personal life and answer any questions ranging from anything to the new album, or her life with movie Star Orlando Bloom and their dog, Nugget. Providing fans with an intimate view of her life that might not otherwise have been shared.

Other artists kept in touch via twitter , starting Twitch channels, and Reddit AMA’s where they could stay in touch with fans on a more personal level than time previously allowed.

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