Culture //

Guerilla marketing

Adam Disney writes about the strategy of online music releases

David Bowie
A scene from the new David Bowie video ‘The Stars are Out Tonight’

Some weeks back the internet was abruptly embroiled in a king-hell ruckus as David Bowie released a video and single online, heralding his first studio album since 2003.

The music press scrambled for deets but found them scarce. The man himself kept mum, leaving it to collaborators to recount the album’s long, and strictly secret, gestation. Then the net was dealt the similarly stealthy drop of indie monolith My Bloody Valentine’s first album in 22 years. And this wasn’t a teaser – within hours of the announcement the album was available in decent digital form, at least until the server crashed under the weight of customers.

Here were two artists sitting on the long-anticipated releases and those crafty fuckers had managed to surprise us. Oh internet, your limits are none!

None indeed, and as I sat in my swivel chair and waited for the download it seemed I stood on the cusp of a new and blessed cultural landscape. No more publicity kids – the release is the publicity, the shock of its existence the proof of its quality. Radiohead had dipped a toe in but now we were headfirst and plummeting. As that green bar stretched eastward on my monitor I stirred my Milo and thought about the future. The increasing ease with which one may stream high quality content has seen the delay time between anticipation and gratification approach zero. No slow drip-feeding: the whole enchilada as fast as you can guzzle it.

Unfortunately though, the yolo-hashtag-shock-release-insta-download doesn’t advantage everybody. You see, this anti-publicity digital thing only works for those who don’t need publicity anyway. These albums came from artists with obsessive fanbases, who were known almost as much for their inactivity as for their talent.

For the nobodies, it’s not much good. While Lady Internet no doubt grants aspiring musicians a cheap and simple means of content distribution, this is useful only if others will listen. Imagine the resounding silence if you were to suddenly, and without publicity, release your own lovingly crafted album. Every shithead and his mother are in a band nowadays and with just an audio interface and some pirated software they’ve got a studio. So when you spam Facebook, desperate for someone to listen to your abstract post-rock masterpiece, the stony silence that greets you should not be unexpected.

We get a little excited when something is done online that could never have succeeded otherwise, but it may not always be the turning point it seems. Remember the hubbub over that Twitter/Arab Spring love-in? It was a neat party trick but the jury is most definitely still out with regards to whether new boss = old boss. For now, it’s a little easier for the big boys to sell their stuff, and a little easier for the little ones to give it away.

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