Your favourite R&B artist has an album in stores and although you absolutely love the material, nobody else seems to care or even know about it. If the record is so fantastic then why aren’t the copies flying off the shelves? The issue is probably related to poor promotion.
During the last seven years, album sales have declined across the industry and R&B music has suffered more than any other genre. The situation has gotten so terrible that artists such as Usher and Mary J. Blige, who previously achieved triple platinum status with little effort, now struggle to strike gold with their works.
So, what is the cause of this problem? Is there some type of secret agenda orchestrated by The Man to silence R&B acts and banish their albums to the bargain bins of your local flea market? Well, aside from underwhelming material, such failure is linked to weak promotional campaigns.
If R&B artists artists hope to have a fighting chance on the charts then there are several key steps that their teams need to understand. Namely, successful promotion involves choosing the right singles, proper timing, consistency and location.
An artist may have the best album of the year but people won’t want to hear it if they are bombarded with all the wrong singles. The songs that are issued to radio to support a project need to be clear representations of what consumers should expect to hear when they buy the full album. In fact, in addition to memorable music videos and visuals, the singles are used as the most basic forms of promotion and one bad song can ruin an entire campaign.
Let’s take a look at an R&B singer who has provided a numerous examples that reflect the importance of choosing the right singles: Mariah Carey. In 2009, the diva kicked off her ‘Memoirs of An Imperfect Angel’ era with the catchy club-banger ‘Obsessed’ and although the song quickly became a platinum hit, the album was a certified flop.
‘Obsessed’ was a playful yet childish song used to exploit Carey’s feud with Eminem in bid for media attention. However, it was a horrible indicator of how the rest of ‘Memoirs’ sounded and most consumers left the album on the shelves where it is now playing a game of musical flops with unsold copies of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Bionic’ and ‘Lotus’. What casual buyers didn’t learn from the silly ‘Obsessed’ was that ‘Memoirs’ was a solid record, entailing a pleasant mix of Adult Contemporary R&B.
Still, even if artists pick the best singles, they still rely proper timing. Specifically, performers need to release those songs to radio and iTunes at scheduled intervals so that their fans will be aware that there are new albums on the way as well as select tracks available on the purchase.
Of course, acts need to ensure that their singles aren’t released too far ahead of their albums, and that the time periods between these offerings don’t involve two winters and a baby. Typically, practical spans include six to eight weeks between radio releases and the first track should debut approximately ten weeks before the full album arrives in stores.
For instance, we all remember the disaster that occurred with Brandy’s ‘Two Eleven’ project where the lead single, ‘Put it Down’, was issued in April, the followup, ‘Wildest Dreams’, arrived in August and the album dropped in October. With such long gaps between singles, people simply lost interest.
At the other extreme, some artists overwhelm their fans by saturating the market with too many singles. Beyonce and Chris Brown are both guilty of that practice, and often flood the airwaves with so many songs that their is little incentive for people to buy their albums. Also, most of their audiences become so exhausted by all the new music that they don’t even want to hear the word “fierce” in casual conversation.
Also, it doesn’t matter how well singles are planned if artists fail to stick to their album release schedules. Indeed, if they announce that their albums are due to arrive in May but then get postponed to June then August and finally after Justin Bieber finishes puberty, the only people who will still care will be their mothers and die hard super fans.
“It has become a custom for R&B artists to promote their albums only during their respective release weeks and then vanish from the mainstream media like the last slice of pizza at Christina Aguilera’s birthday party.”
Our next point of discussion involves the importance of consistency. It has become a custom for R&B artists to promote their albums only during their respective release weeks and then vanish from the mainstream media like the last slice of pizza at Christina Aguilera’s birthday party. Obviously, that practice often leads to disaster and if you disagree, then ask Brandy, Monica and countless other acts why their records tumbled down the charts after just one week.
Thankfully, Alicia Keys’ team understands that it takes more than a handful of late night talk show appearances and a spot on ‘Good Morning America’ to sell albums. Whether her voice – or our ears – can handle the pressure of a major campaign, Keys has been promoting her ‘Girl on Fire’ album for months and she will continue to plug the project well into the new year, unless her vocal cords go on strike.
Finally, we have the trusty adage of location, location, location. Similar to real estate, where artists choose to promote their albums is also crucial for their success. Simply, if they only perform at backyard barbecues and small theatres then the chances of their records selling more than 300K copies within a year are almost non-existent.
Where are the best places for performers to plug their albums? At venues where they will receive maximum exposure to their target audiences. Nothing beats an appearance at a major award show but if acts lack efficient management to secure a slot at a popular ceremony – I still weep at night for Melanie Fiona – then they need to be creative with their utilisation of social media and advertising. Pop acts, such as Rihanna and Lady Gaga, certainly don’t maintain heavy Twitter activity for the sake of their health.
Therefore, R&B artists will succeed if they adapt their promotional campaigns to include the release of singles that reflect the content of their albums, focus on timeliness, remain consistent and pick the right stages. If not then they can always get a job singing the newest jingle for Burger King.