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December 23, 2013

Stealth Drop: The Untold Lessons You Should Draw from DJ Premier's "Bars in the Booth" Launch and Beyoncé's Surprise Album Release

The New Reality About Marketing and Promotion Favors the Artist with a Core Base and Brand…and a Strong Signal

By AMIR SAID (SA'ID)

See what DJ Premier just did? On a random Thursday afternoon, without any advance notice or promotion, he debuts his new Youtube channel, “Premier Wuz Here,” highlighting it with the first installment of his new in-studio rhyme series, “Bars in the Booth,” featuring rapper Papoose. The reaction was swift. Cheers, shock, appreciation, and sincere praise abounded throughout social media. This was the stealth drop — something that Beyoncé had just pulled off on a much grander scale the week before.

It’s worth examining just why DJ Premier and Beyoncé — both pinnacles in their respective corners of the music industry — could successfully do what they did. Premier can do this for four main reasons. First, he's trusted. He has never left off making music for his core base. More importantly, he has never wavered from the cornerstone of hip hop/rap that he represents. Second, DJ Premier has always maintained a consistent level of creativity and a distinct style and sound. You go to Premier for his sound, and you know precisely what you’re going to get in terms of quality and credibility. Third, Premier has consistently sustained control over his own content and has always explored new ways to get his musical hand print into the world. From his early days of seeking and securing production work outside of Gang Starr, to the acquisition of the famed D&D Recording Studios (his studio home base for more than 20 years), to the start of his own record label, Year Round, Premier has remained self-contained and independently focused. Finally, DJ Premier is greatly respected among his peers and fans a like. No one can (or ever has) questioned his commitment to hip hop/rap music. Thus, taken together, these four factors make it possible for DJ Premier to pull off the stealth drop.

Of course, DJ Premier's launch is not an album release, nor is it within the larger spectrum of Beyoncé's stealth drop. Still, it's vital to Premier's continued prospects in a number of ways. For one thing, It serves to generate more good faith in the marketplace for the revered producer. Also, it keeps DJ Premier’s name fresh and in the now. Furthermore, it presents new revenue streams in the form channel sponsorships, the (inevitable) audio releases of "Bars in the Booth" episodes, and, of course, additional production work. I have to believe that this is planned long-term thinking, something that Premier has always been focused on.

Now, let's look at Beyoncé...

When Beyoncé recently released her new self-titled album — quite successfully — without any marketing, promotion, or advanced notice, she didn’t just buck the traditional marketing and promotion stratagems that surround new record releases, she exposed — like her husband, Jay Z did some months earlier with his Samsung partnership — the new reality about marketing and promotion in this era. Today, there is an abundance of choice, with an infinite number of channels to tune into and enjoy or be distracted by. This, as many scholars, marketers, and consumer analysts have all observed, has made for the constant turn over of volumes of new offerings that, because of the sheer numbers and indefinite tail of products, amount to noise.

Thus, with so much noise being generated, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for content creators to get their signal across. Which means, savvy artists (and marketers) are exploring ways to better make their signals cut through all the noise. And even though Beyoncé is a tier 1 entertainer, with all of the media benefits that such a position ensures, she still has to be able to make sure that her signal cuts through. Traditionally, this has meant turning over marketing and promotional control to people who usually defer to a stale (but often proven) stratagem — one that emphasizes a specific release date build-up and push above everything else.

Typically, releases for artists of Beyoncé’s stature feed off of a multi-month lead-time, where press — television, print, and digital media — is secured three months (at least) in advanced and planned for publication around the time of the official release date. By opting out of this tried and proven strategy, Beyoncé effectively shook up the marketing and promo clock and reversed the way coverage works, as no doubt media outlets will now have to scramble and compete to cover her album now that it’s been released.

So what can hip hop/rap artists (beatmakers/producers are artists as well) glean from all of this?

For starters, think about longevity and what it means to you. Recognize the fact that household names like DJ Premier and Beyoncé didn’t earn their stature overnight. So relax. Don’t split your focus into a thousand different trends, all in an effort to hedge those opportunities that may appear to promise overnight fame. Instead, stay committed to your own musical ideas and tastes and don’t waver. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid progress or the expansion of your style and sound. It means being true to your music. It also means staying off the path of fool’s-gold trends and unrealistic opportunities that do not align with your core sensibilities.

Another take away is that you should strive to create not just a quality product but a unique experience. While most of us do not have the resources to bundle videos together with every song on an album, we do have the ability to at least make something unique if we dare try. So it’s important to create something worthwhile, something that no one else can quite offer.

Next, it’s equally important to then deliver that product and experience quickly through channels of distribution that you have some level of control or influence over. The drip, drip, drip roll out of song leaks is anti-climatic in an era that’s quite fractious and teaming with lots of noise. Plus, consumers reward people, products, brands, and services that consistently prove themselves to be valuable. Countless, unnecessary song leaks leading up to an official album release can have averse effects. Listeners often get fatigued and sometimes even irritated by the constant asking to listen — remember, a leak isn’t entitled to a listen! And if you drip out one disappointing or just average song, you will actually discourage your core audience, as well as potential fans, from buying your album when it drops. In other words, leaking songs from your own album — especially an album that, despite puffed-up email blast claims, isn't really "highly anticipated" — is often not a solid marketing and promotion strategy. What’s worse? Dropping a free mixtape (of a dozen or so average songs no less) in the lead up to your promoted commercial release. Always remember: Listeners must be earned, not mistreated with multiple "leaks" for leak's sake.

Finally, even the self-title of Beyoncé’s new album brings something to mind. Don't name your album a "part 2" of an album you've done before unless the original (the part 1, per se) was widely known and well received. Otherwise, you might come off looking more like a status poser rather than an thoughtful artist. Part 2's of classics like, for instance, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Links make creative and marketing sense because: (1) they represent reflections of pivotal albums and moments in hip hop/rap music history; (2) they offer insightful commentary on the current state of affairs of not just hip hop/rap itself, but of the artists who made such albums; and (3) they send a strong marketing and promotional signal of what to expect from the part 2 album, thereby rallying support from core fans.

DJ Premier and Beyoncé: A Deeper Connection

Look past the entertainer stardom and the music genres that separate the two, and you see the common threads that unite DJ Premier and Beyoncé. Both are household names in their respective music worlds. More telling is the paths that both have taken to achieve their stature. Neither are the invention of the overnight-sensation construct that so many seek in today's instant gratification and attention-span challenged media world. Instead, each started out among the rank and file, not positions of power and influence. And each overcame early adversity. DJ Premier's position in Gang Starr almost never was; the original group imploded when several of the founding members quit, leaving Guru to recruit Premier, who had seen his own group disband right on the brink of a record deal with Wild Pitch (read my exclusive interview with DJ Premier in The BeatTips Manual for the complete story). And Beyoncé withstood Destiny's Child’s (her former group) early slow start, struggle, member realignment, and ultimate reinvention. It’s also worth pointing out that both DJ Premier and Beyoncé stayed devoted to the core fan bases that they developed, effectively making the notion of longevity a crucial factor in their staying power.

The music and video below is presented for the purpose of scholarship.

DJ Premier's "Bars in the Booth: Papoose"

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The BeatTips Manual by Sa'id.
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