It’s hard to believe anyone looking at this article has been able to live in a world where they are connected to the internet without having heard the news that Kanye West has a new album. The Life Of Pablo arrived later than promised, hitting the net shortly after midnight on February 14 instead of Friday, February 12, as originally planned, but that did not stop fans from consuming the album as quickly as possible. The hours that followed the record’s release found social media filled with hot takes from critics and fans alike, and it didn’t take long for the first album reviews to begin appearing online. Pitchfork, for example, gave the record a 9/10 after being able to enjoy it for less than forty-eight hours. We didn’t review the record ourselves, though we have had it on repeat since release, but we did take a hard look at Kanye’s album rollout out and everything that did and did not work during his one-of-a-kind promotional run. We might not all be able to live like Kanye, but we can learn from his efforts, and that is exactly what we aim to do with this post.
The promotion leading up to The Life Of Pablo’s release was unlike any marketing efforts we’ve seen previously from Kanye West. This was an album that, at least for a while, seemed like a figment of everyone’s imagination. The world knew Kanye was in the lab, but the world famous producer and rapper never made much effort to offer clarity to fans as to when his material would be available. When that silence was broken, right around the beginning of the new year, everyone expected some large scale experiment in line with the global videos premieres that occurred when “New Slaves” was released in advance of Yeezus. Though a moment quite like that never came, West did manage to keep people on their toes for better and for worse. He would reveal information about the album one day, then changed his mind the next, and in doing so make the previous announcement irrelevant. He also set a release date, held an album listening party at Madison Square Garden on the day the album was meant to drop, and then failed to make the album available for another day and a half.
We respect Kanye’s desire to be unique, but we believe The Life Of Pablo deserves better promotion than what it has received so far. The album’s current success speaks more to the world’s obsession with Kanye than it does to the quality of the material, and that is a shame because the music West is creating right now should be able to speak for itself. We know no one can tell Kanye what to do, but if we had the opportunity to do so these are the 11 things about The Life Of Pablo’s release that we would have changed:
Pick a release date and stick to it. Period.
You do not have to have a master’s degree in Business to understand that there are few things worse for a new product launch than missing your deadline. No one told Kanye his album had to come out on February 11. he chose that date, just like he chose to share that date with fans almost a month early. People planned their day around Kanye’s album release, including making time to skip out on work or school to see his album reveal be broadcast live from Madison Square Garden, but once that event was over so was Kanye’s output for the day. TLOP did not arrive until nearly two days after its intended release, and even then accessing the record was not as simple as visiting any digital retailer. Tidal had the exclusive stream, but Kanye also put the record on his site for purchase. Then Kanye decided to close the sale on his site and only stream the record, but not until after several people had been able to purchase the album. Are you confused by all of this? If so, you’re not alone.
Tidal is not going to happen. Stop trying to make Tidal happen.
Everything Kanye does is ultimately intended to benefit Kanye, so it makes sense that he would share his new album with fans through a company he has a vested interest in, but that does not mean choosing Tidal as the exclusive home of TLOP was a smart decision. A year ago, Tidal was considered a failed experiment, and though several big names have contributed exclusive content to the streaming service over the last several months public opinion has been largely unchanged. Forcing users to signup for a free Tidal trial in order to access TLOP takes focus away from Kanye’s art and places more barriers between his fans and the content they seek. Signups only take a few minutes, but that fact is beside point. Fans want TLOP, not a new streaming solution, and Kanye should have catered to that demand.
Make your album available easy to find and purchase as soon as possible.
Exclusivity in the digital age is a recipe for unnecessary piracy. People who either hate the idea of joining Tidal or those who simply cannot be bothered to sign up would likely rather download a pirated copy of the record than wait for the album to be made available elsewhere. After all, a download of TLOP is only a google or Twitter search away at any point in time, so why should they give their credit card information to a service they don’t plan to use after getting to hear the one album they may or may not end up buying? Downloading the record is easier and quicker than joining Tidal, and it also does not require listeners to share personal information with a third party. We hate the idea of piracy, but it’s not hard to understand why some might choose this route if they feel the wait for TLOP to be made available elsewhere is taking too long.
The solution for this problem is simple: Make the album as easy to find as possible. It should have gone on sale via iTunes, Amazon, and Kanye’s website at the same time as Tidal. Kanye could still encourage people to use Tidal, but fans wouldn’t feel they were being forced to try something they might not like to experience an album they don’t know anything about.
You should have a single
Kanye made it a point to share several songs with the public in advance of the album’s release, but he never mentioned whether or not the songs shared would make TLOP or how/if they would be marketed further. Most, if not all tracks did end up making the album, but here we are days after the record’s release and there is still no single. Radio does not care about TLOP, nor does YouTube just yet. Word of mouth is the only thing driving awareness for TLOP, and considering how short most attention spans are these days that hype won’t last very long. If Kanye wants this album to have legs he needs to choose and single and start pushing it to the public. That way, people who may have been turned away from earlier releases due to changes in sound or controversies related to Kanye’s private life may have a chance to rediscover the rapper’s immense talent. Who knows? He might even reach some new listeners who have never made time for his music before.
You should also have a video
This goes hand and hand with the reason why TLOP needs a single. Study after study has shown that video is one of the biggest contributors to awareness when it comes to marketing new music. Kanye’s name can bring a lot of attention to his work, but having a creative video that showcases the album in a unique light can go even further. West has a long history of strong video work, including his memorable short film for “Runaway,” but so far he has yet to show us anything visual for TLOP. We hope that fact changes in time, but ideally a video would already exist. After all, the album is here and people are consuming it as you read this post. Interest is already beginning to wane, albeit slowly, so Kanye would be wise to act fast and get some kind of video out sooner rather than later.
If Practice. A lot. And don’t take gigs unless you are able to perform at your best.
Did you happen to catch Kanye’s performances on Saturday Night Live over the weekend? The taping of show occurred while West was busy putting the finishing touches on TLOP, so he literally had to leave the studio in order to make it to the stage in time to perform. When he arrived, accompanied by Young Thug and others, he hit the stage to share two new songs that he had clearly never performed before. This could have been an exciting reveal that further impressed upon viewers how great TLOP really is, but his presence on the show could not have looked less planned or rehearsed. West couldn’t lip sync well, and not a single person in his posse could dance in time with the music. What should have been an awesome return to national TV for one of the industry’s biggest stars ended up looking like a bunch of rich friends dancing like idiots to unfamiliar music in front of cameras and a live studio audience.
Work with the press
It’s hard to imagine any major music publication who would turn down an opportunity to speak with Kanye West. Heck, it’s hard to imagine practically any culture focused publication doing that. Kanye West sells magazines and brings clicks, both of which are desperately needed in the modern news world, but for one reason or another Yeezy doesn’t usually use those avenues for promotion. Like many celebrities, West reached a point some time ago when he felt he did more for reporters than they did for him. That may be true in some ways, but journalists still have the ability to present and promote talent in a way artists could never hope to promote themselves. They also have the ability to reach consumers artists cannot reach themselves, especially those at Kanye’s level. We’re not saying Kanye should be talking to every blog in the world, but he should be doing more to engage fans outside of random tweet-sprees.
Choose a title and stick with it
There was a time last year when everyone thought Kanye’s new album would be called So Help Me God. A little time passed and that album then became Swish. People were confused by the change, but they went with it anyways. Then the album became Waves. Then, almost at the last minute, The Life Of Pablo was born. West teased the final title just days after the previous name change and only days before the album was set to hit stores. As such, there was next to no time for the album to be properly promoted under its official title. The record was promoted simply as ‘Kanye’s new album,’ which carries weight in some circles, but to the unfamiliar consumer holds all the allure of stale saltines.
There is a reason why marketing professionals often spend years in college, and that is to learn the proper way to promote a new product or event regardless of time constraints. Kanye has a history of making his new album titles and material almost impossible to ignore, but on this record everything feels so thrown together at the last minute that the general public has almost no familiarity with anything album related. They might know Kanye has a new record, but they might not know if it’s out yet, and I am willing to wager a good portion cannot even tell you what it’s called. That all results from bad marketing, and it’s incredibly frustrating because any professional could have told Kanye that would happen.
Accept blame when things fall apart (it’s not Chance’s fault, it’s yours)
When Kanye’s album event at Madison Square Garden came and went without the album being made available to the public people immediately began to cry foul. West remained silent for several hours, but shortly after midnight on Saturday, February 13, the rapper tweeted the record was still not ready because Chance The Rapper had demanded the song “Waves” be added to the final track list. Kanye later followed this message with another tweet that included the hashtag ‘#blamechance,’ and not long after Chance became the talk of the music business.
Whether or not TLOP’s delay was the result of Chance telling Kanye his two cents does not change the fact that the album’s release ultimately fell on Kanye’s shoulders. He could have told Chance no, or he could have told fans ahead of the failed release that the record would not be ready in time. Blaming Chance after the record was already late served no real purpose aside from getting the Acid Rap creator a few extra headlines, which did nothing to further promote TLOP. Had Kanye accepted responsibility, and perhaps in doing so cited the fact he thought the album could be better, fans would have been far more understanding about the delay. As is, Ye comes across being even more childish than his critics have claimed.
Keep your website updated
When Kanye was playing his album for a sold out Madison Square Garden, as well as a large audience online, his official website was nothing more than an embedded voicemail from Yasiin Bey discussing his recent legal troubles in South Africa. The clip was originally posted on January 19 and no one in Kanye’s camp ever thought to change it. You know, because who would want to visit an artist’s official website for information about their new album?
The complete lack of updates to Kanye’s official site is the final nail in the coffin of TLOP’s promotional efforts. Even when the entire world was giving Kanye their attention he couldn’t be bothered to update his official website with relevant information regarding his latest release. If not then, when?
Even now, days after release, Kanye’s website is still little more than Yasiin Bey’s voicemail. Pitiful.
Your music might not have the same kind of brand recognition as Kanye West, but if you learn from Kanye’s mistakes there is no reason you cannot find just as much success in time. Use our changes as a guide and do everything in your power to know how your album will promoted, when it’s coming out, and what it will be called long before sharing your release plans with the public. That alone will put you miles ahead of Mr. West, and from there the sky is the limit.