July 3rd Edit: while it doesn’t change my concluding thoughts or wider observations, it looks like I wrote this too soon.
I’ve been fortunate to return to helping out in the Music Department of a Canadian campus/community radio station after spending the last couple years pursuing a Master of Arts degree. While trading emails with a trusted Music Director peer, he confirmed my suspicion that promoters are more aggressive than ever. We can see evidence of this in the national chart positioning of Daft Punk at #1 and The Ketamines at #2 over the last two weeks.
James C. McKinley Jr. of the New York Times recently wrote a very good article examining the pre-release marketing campaigns being implemented by high profile musical artists. Mr. McKinley, with added confirmation from Steve Stout, correctly notes that word-of-mouth marketing over an extended period of time can often be more effective and widespread than traditional tactics such as issuing a single to commercial radio stations or providing journalists with advance copies of albums for review. Of course, it is important to note that these traditional methods continue to co-exist with the contemporary shift to cryptic marketing campaigns.
Financial data tabulating the total cost of the Daft Punk promotional campaign is not currently available, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that its total cost was in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, an eight year gap between albums for any popular musical act will automatically generate its fair share of media coverage, but Columbia Records and Daft Punk certainly devoted a fair amount of additional resources to ensure that journalists and music fans would share news and their excitement about the impending release of the album.
Returning to the topic of campus/community radio, Columbia Records hired one of the largest American college radio promotions companies* and an equally respected Canadian promoter to help ensure that the new Daft Punk album was added to music libraries across the country. To be fair, it is important to again note that the name recognition of Daft Punk and the long delay between studio album releases made this a highly anticipated album that would have been added by most stations regardless of the publicity push behind it. Yet, possessing the financial ability to pay for the services of these radio promoters has at least two advantages:
1) Radio promoters communicate with Music Directors on a weekly basis to ask for preferential chart placement when weekly on-air play statistics might result in a tie for the final few spots on a station chart. During weekly “tracking calls” these promoters also attempt to build a rapport with the Music Director to further increase the likelihood of special treatment for their priority releases. While it is a less common occurance, a station could risk losing music servicing if they consistently fail to chart** or to play the music provided by a promotion company.
2) Radio promoters often provide extra copies of CDs as incentives for station fundraising and on-air promotional opportunities. In return, stations are typically asked to reference the promotions company or the associated record label in social networking updates, in website posts, or during on-air giveaways. In the case of contesting, DJs are understandably encouraged to feature selections from the album to provide listeners with an idea of what album they could potentially win. Of course this also leads to extra plays for the artist and increases the chances of its continued chart placement. If my experience is comparable to other Music Directors at campus radio stations across Canada, then 3-4 copies of the latest Daft Punk album likely arrived.
It’s not my goal to position The Ketamines or other emerging bands who primarily self-promote their albums as underdogs in need of our sympathy or additional assistance. For instance, we might look at the current and previous campus radio chart success for The Ketamines as evidence of the positive potential outcomes of making music that resonates with campus radio DJs and touring heavily in support of it.
Rather, I hope to use this opportunity to illuminate how campus radio is increasingly targeted as one component of these wider marketing campaigns for major label-supported musicians. Perhaps it’s important for Music Directors like myself to stop accepting extra promotional items and to reconsider what albums we add to our respective music libraries. It’s very easy to forget that the mandate of most (if not all) campus/community radio stations is to promote music and other expressions that don’t receive as much attention elsewhere.
* Canadian campus stations receive a significant amount of music submissions from American promoters.
** Chart placement is the main currency to radio promoters. While on-air play stats almost always determine chart placement, a Music Director could easily fake chart placement despite low-to-no play for an album and many promoters would happily accept it.
— Christopher White