Proper Album Promotion: An R&B Case Study

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    Melanie Alicia Keys Brandy Miguel TheLavaLizard
    Album covers by Melanie Fiona, Alicia Keys, Brandy and Miguel.

    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.

    Thoughts?

    • ERok

      Love this. Ready to watch stans go to war!

    • Jade

      Great article!

    • LOL

      AMEN!

      *Sings* “Crispy chicken, fresh lettuce, three cheeses, ranch dressing wrapped up in a tasty, flour tortilla…”

    • Liberiangirl

      This article is spot on, Trent!

    • Mario

      Love reading this but the shade was thick throughout the article.

    • jay

      I agree with everything u said…

    • Anna

      great article! I have nothing else to say. You said it all. I think R&B is dying because singers lost interest in it? I mean pop music sells so much better now and these singers aren’t singing for the love of music anymore to me. It looks like they just want worldwide hits and songs that will stay high on the charts. To me R&B is a complex sound, a whole different spirit that only true gifted singers can comprehend and produce. If you look at the charts today anybody can get a hit and it’s hard for R&B “representants” to survive on it. However i do agree that promo is the KEY !! I mean what artists wouldn’t do to have rihanna’s team for example? Her shit is always on point! As for the single choices as a CB fan i have been witnessing the weak single choices for years now and it baffles me how they always release the weakest songs as singles. I think some artist don’t understand their audience sometimes

    • Girrrl

      R&B artists need to promote like Pop artists do. It makes no sense that the bulk of R&B singers don’t perform at non-black award shows. Then they disappear unilateral the album flops then reappear to say “oh that album didn’t represent what I wanted” When Alicia’s album does big numbers I want people to stop saying R&B doesn’t sell.

    • Danny

      I’m still not over the brandy situation. Two eleven could of been one of the biggest rnb releases of the year had her team been on the ball. How can you release a song in april then a video in august!? And put it down clearly had hit potential since it did become a lil rnb hit with next to no promotion. Then wildest dreams as the second single was another bad choice when that album has some FIRE ballads that could of followed put it down. Wildest dreams always just had that good album track/filler feel to it and clearly the charts agree with me. Brandy is the perfect example of this post because they dropped the ball in almost every way while handling two eleven and really prevented what could of been a major comeback for her

      • LouLou

        I agree with you and some of this article. I think a lot of the times it’s not even the artists fault. I think you can request to be on these late night shows and perform on the pop award shows, but at the end of the day they have to want you there. Unfortunately, Brandy takes too long of breaks and loses people’s interest. I honestly believe that if she got rid of her family management and got a real team, things would be different though. I wish people got to see Put it Down performed on a big stage. She hasn’t done one late night talk show. Miguel has a performance every week. I just don’t understand what’s going on.

    • x

      LMFAOO so fucking pressed at Xtina. Why can’t you just state your arguments without trying to get a laugh with these stale ass jokes. R&B simply doesn’t sell because it doesn’t appeal to a wide audience. It was a cute trend for a while, but times have changed.

      • TaylorSwiftArmy

        THANK YOU This article may as well have been all about Xtina there where so many refrences to her that were pointless and not even needed.

        • MannyMusikLover

          look, Xtina’s Bionic needed to be mentioned. That album was solid, SOLID …and that first single just ripped the album into pieces…it did nothing to for the great potential that Bionic had…I bought it…I loved it hard, but this right is so dead on, spot on…he had me rolling too. #LovedIt.

    • yoyo

      I love you and your writing Trent, but I have to admit, that your constant bashing ans shade at Christina for her weight gain is becoming a bit tedious. Understable she has put on a conserable amount of weight, but its starting to become uncomfortable. I’d rather you talk about things like her album flops or constant yelps and yodels. But her looks, to me are just a low blow.

    • cocoa49

      All i can do is stand up and give you a standing ovation. Perfect.

    • Ric

      YESSSSSSSS for this article. #TRUTH
      I don’t understand why their team’s don’t understand how important promotion is, when even I can see how much of an impact it has.

    • larry

      ” 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’. ” *Reaches for holy water* my chest!!! HAHA
      “these offerings don’t involve two winters and a baby.” YESS
      PREACH ON IT TRENT!

    • lihalee

      a very good article

    • BlairWaldorf2013

      In my Ms. Tina voice…”Let me hop on in here.” I would say that people need to remember what R&B LITERALLY stands for (Rhythm and Blues). I said it before and I’ll say it again..these ‘pop remodels’ of the previous GREATS are not geared toward anything SONICALLY thought out. Like the Supermodels of the 60’s-90’s you needed to be UNIQUE and different people wanted something innovative when they saw you on a billboard. Same with music you needed to have a distinct Point of View and articulate it with real innovation and thought process.

      Today supermodels all look the same, they all look like they could be your next door neighbor. There isn’t anything about them that stands out and makes you say “WOW” These new *artists* are same (with some exceptions) no real substance, no real talent, no real artristry.

      They couldn’t compete in an arena that requires each artist to have an ACTUAL GIFT to share with the masses. The younger generation is truly getting the short end of the musical stick because not only are they unaware of how the GREATS show up in this trash they listen to
      (aka sampling/covering) but they ACTIVELY disdain the TRUE Genius of the Greats.

      R&B is an African American/soul genre and the new generation quite frankly doesn’t have any soul in them when it comes to music. We have dropped the ball because somewhere we let our kids forget about what true artistry is/takes. Mindlessness has taken hold in our society and TV, Music, Sports, etc. are a reflection of the LACK of real self expression in our culture.

      • BlairWaldorf2013

        One last point to add…Music Labels are like any other company ‘they are interested in BOTTOM LINE PROFITABILITY’ R&B artists while lyrically, sonically, and artistically superior to their pop counterparts will NEVER get the promo they deserve because R&B simply doesn’t sell that well anymore.

        Why??? Because WE (society/listeners) are not DEMANDING that Labels release better music with real substance. We are content to shake our ass and listen to nonsense. We must bring our level of musical consciousness back to square 1 then and only then will record companies LISTEN and begin to properly PROMOTE, Melanie, Brandy, Miguel, Chrisette, etc.

    • DRB

      The fact that I have to spam Brandy, Elle Varner, Frank Ocean and Miguel to promote their albums is ridiculous. Miguel got the memo at least. They all gave critical acclaim so milk that. How hard is it to book Letterman and Leno? Really.

    • MC

      I completely agree with what you said but I also think that on top of all this R&B is dying out like Disco was dying out in the 90s etc…..some genre’s fade away as time passes.

    • ksw

      I 100% agree with this post… it’s not just promotion though; it’s consumers lack of buying albums… i had a talk with several of trey songz fans on his forum and i came to the conclusion that as long as he release free mixtapes, no one will ever buy his albums… i also thought that he handle his promo for chapter v wrong… if he would have release simply amazing and heart attack as the first two singles and did more tv promo, he would have done more than 135k in the first week. my issue with chris brown was he lacked promo, no one was talking about his music, and he over saturated us with music that was not on fortune. beyonce didn’t promoted 4 and to be honest, that whole era was a mess. brandy waited at the last minute to promote her album and the song choices she pick to promote or to represent her album were poor. elle varner is not getting enough promotion. usher personal life is overshadowing his work. everyone is more interested in frank ocean’s sexuality then his music. miguel isn’t picking the right singles to help his album sell. i could go on and on, but i think someone will get my point. i hope i didn’t say too much…

    • KC

      I don’t believe it’s as simple as promotion. There’s way more to it than that. There’s been too many exceptions where artists with little promo do amazingly & artists with great promo still don’t quite make it.

      There’s a lot of factors that are holding back R& B artists. For one, it’s pretty much accepted for R&B fans to DL songs illegally. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that pop fans buy albums simply because they want their favorite artists to do well for bragging rights whereas a lot of R&B fans don’t care about that. It’s not a good mentality, but I’ve noticed it.

      R&B is in a slump that can’t be defined this easily & it’s going to take more than promotion to fix it.

      Excellent points Trent.

    • T

      This Article is spot on, the most important part was “Management” at the end of the day it cost money to promote an album, so R&B/soul artist need a great team behind them to put those funds in the correct place at the correct time or what happens is you get a music video and a live performance at some super jam in a city with little to no commercial viewing, which is a waste of money. If you have dancers, band members, wardrobe,stage set up, and back ground singers, that uses a great amount of money to make that happen. so funds need to be invested into the correct venues for promotion in a timely manner, So Artist don’t sit for three months waiting on additional funds for other projects and result to album push backs or just putting the album out there and do heavy promo in New york for two days.

    • Kev

      I honestly feel like ppl read way more into it than they have too. I mean i obv agree all the things trent mentioned tend to hold ppl back but the biggest factor wasnt mentioned in this article .. TRENDS! Rnb is just not trendy right now. Music trends constantly change and rnb had its time and hopefully will again. Get any billboard chart from the 90s and u will see it overwhelming populated with rnb artists. Now dance/pop is trendy and thats what is dominating the charts. Of course u hav ur rare exceptions, adele, but everyone cant have all their cards fall into place and strike a cord with the world with every album the way adele did, i mean shes even gna have a hard time pulling that off again. In 10 years we may be saying the same thing about music of today when bluegrass is dominating or whatever next musical trend ppl latch onto. Rnb artists just need to continue to make good music and they may be the one luckily enough to make it big with an rnb album. But unfortunatly for the general public dance/pop music is where its at right now. And im a 90s fan so trust me im not happy about it….

    • pineapple

      this is so true.

      Brandy is on twitter boasting about being #1 on 106 & Park

      ummmmm girlfriend, your album is FANTASTIC but you did not go to #1 where it counts, okay?

      anyway

      LOVE THIS ARTICLE, GREAT JOB TRENT!!!

      • KC

        I find it commendable that she’s appreciative of all success & she wasn’t bragging.

    • this is soo true mariah luke james fantasia and fiona need to see this

    • LK

      I agree with the technical of what he posted but what I will always look at is the consumers and the overall companies. If WE are not badgering for it, they will not give the money for these folks to advertise thus they will not try. As long as the majority of consumes want to listen to mindless fuckery, then R&B will NEVER get better and it WILL die and then I have to explain to my future children and grand children why I wont let them listen to bullshit.

    • Jeweley girl

      I agree with Trent about the Brady situation. They promoted
      Put it Down to much that people were tired of hearing it.
      Wildest Dreams should have been the first single, and
      then a ballads should have been released. As for as Miguel
      is concern Adorn is the only songs that I like from that
      album. I disagree with KSW about Beyonce over promoted
      4 and it was n’t a good album. I am fan of Kelly but
      she didn’t promote her album either. And most of her song
      sounded simply to motivation I don’t want R&B to die out
      because some of this pop/dance music is not for me.

    • Coleworld

      just finished readinh the article on r&b promo. good job trent! while all of that maybe true, u forgot to mention 1 thing! a budget. there’s only so much an artist can do with such a small amount. u see how the indie r&b artist are struggling to release their album’s and secure great market visibility on & offline. examples.. dawn, faith evans, ashanti, swv.. just to name a few.

    • AM!R

      One thing you fail to point out is that promotion takes $$. The reason why Rihanna is everywhere is because her label knows that she’s a cash cow so more money is allocated to her promotional team than other artist on the same label. I agree with 90% of this though….

    • theman

      For u to talk about bullying, u should do say nasty things about xtina. She isn’t even that big, and the jokes are now corny. As soon as someone says things like that to u, u get all whiny. “Memoirs” atleast went gold, and that’s basically better than most other r&b artists albums sales. That was her lowest album. U only used Mariah just so u wouldn’t seem biased. “Lotus” has only been out for two wks, so it isn’t a flop. U should be encouraging folks to buy great music, but u play into all of the flop games as well. Some albums are slow sellers. Promo isn’t the only factor. As far as Mary/Usher albums go, previously r&b was being spun on pop stations, with many singles, and great promo. These labels need to start promoting more than just two singles. R&b also isn’t crossing over. Next, Alicia has been sounding good in her last couple of performances, she is also a major artist. you stay exaggerating.

    • theman

      u sure*

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    • Another fact is that most of the R&B artits are producing boring music which sound the same, they are just playing safe and not experiencing other possibilities and people are just bored because the music sound the same. They are in fact talented but too lazy to make masterpiece anymore.

    • deeceelewis

      I Totally agree 100% with this article. I PRAY that LA Reid is planning a strong and consistent promotional campaign for Ciara. Seeing as how her singles are moving slow on the charts. OAN: I didnt get why Trent brung up Beyonce name. Her last offering STILL went platinum. W/o a top ten hit. She still sold more than the average R&B singer in today’s music…

    • Leesus

      The thing about it is… Well… SOME artists for some reason NEED the over-saturation in promo. Alicia Keys has been good for that from the very beginning. And it works SO well for her. Everyone knows Girl On Fire is out, etc. With Brandy, Put It Down WAS released in April but it became a hit more toward September-October. It was most definitely a slow burner. And MOST importantly, outside of the actual artists… It’s really hard sometimes to convince Urban music fans to purchase it. It’s SO easy to get it. Whether it be a single OR an album.

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    • R&b lives

      YES! I soooooooo agree with this article.

      I am still mad that Elle Varner’s management did not do a better job of promoting her CD. A GREAT CD.

      She is CLEARLY a crossover act but she only performed on the two urban stations BET & TVONE/ black award shows.

      Why wasnt she sent on GMA, KIMMEL, VH1, Today Show…

      Why did they not send any of her songs to pop radio to promote… OH WHAT A NIGHT is a pop hit…

      Why didnt she do a pop & R&B radio shows ???

      TV & Radio are still the best ways to promote music… even better than the internet… She was not promoted well at all.

      Why didn’t her label send her to do TV & radio interviews and performances in Sweden, UK, Netherlands, France, etc… She is really crossover.

      Why didn’t they have her do festivals in Europe to build her fanbase?? … even hip hop artists do pop festivals in the US & Europe.

      It is still not too late to do a promo campaign for her in Europe & the UK. She needs to release or reup her album and start all over.

      I would like to see her label and mgt….

      REUP her CD and rerelease in UK/Europe in 2013

      Book her for performances on TV shows in the UK/Europe like Alicia Keys did

      Work her songs on radio in UK and Europe

      Have her do a radio tour in UK & Europe… they like R&B too

      Book her for summer festivals in UK & Europe like Azaela Banks did… not only Urban Festivals but also rock/pop festivals too … she needs to also do some jazz festivals like Jill Scott & Lauryn Hill do.

      R&B is still crossover but the new artists need to be promoted more…

      it is expensive but the investment will be worth it with the right artist.

      • Alex W.

        This Elle Varner doesn’t even respond to fans on twitter, so I am out with her. I will not purchase her album. Really sad that majority of R&B Artist only support their projects that first week of release. After the promotions are completed, you really don’t hear from them at all. They all kinda use their fans for album sales. Ms. Norwood did it, in which she followed so many of her fans, now you don’t hear/tweet from her. all fake…

    • Carmike

      Except Alicia Keys’ album is only gonna sell 150k first week. So you’re whole study is invalid. lol. It’s about the fanbase not the promotion. Look at The Weeknd doing 100K by selling a mixtape with 3 new songs. He didn’t have promotion or singles.

      • ksw

        2012 first week sales for urban/ r&b singers, according to Soundscan:
        Chapter V-Trey Songz, 134,917
        Fortune- Chris Brown, 134,642
        Channel Orange-Frank Ocean, 131,215
        Looking 4 Myself-Usher, 128,099
        Woman to Woman-Keyshia Cole, 95,610
        Kaleidoscope Dream-Miguel, 70,872
        2/11-Brandy,66,856
        The MF Life-Melanie Fiona,34,206
        Perfectly Imperfect-Elle Varner, 33,098
        it’s not just fanbase, it promotion too. you can have all the fans in the world, but you still need to make people be aware that you have an album out. just face it, you r&b/ urban consumers aren’t buying r&b/ urban music. r&b/urban artists are not promoting their projects.

        • R&b lives

          it is not just r&b fans tho…. R&B used to crossover because LABELS used to cross promote their artists to increase the fanbase.

          Alicia Keys will sell albums all over the world and make a lot of money for RCA. The labels need to promote the new artists internationally too.

          I luv Keyshia but she only promoted her music on BET. She hasn’t always only done that but I think they have new people at Interscope. She clearly NEEDS Ron Fair back at Interscope.

          I think Usher only performed Climax on one show before the album release, he didnt do a lot of radio either.

          ANyway, I like KC & AK so I am supporting them. I hope AK continues to promote this CD. I am sure she will go platinum worldwide.

    • Lil Kim

      I agree 90%. However, you can’t blame Brandy for not promoting her album further if the record label is not funding it. Thats the only way promotion happens $$$

      • R&b lives

        yep.

    • DOMOdotSCORE

      I totally agree that promotion is a huge (obviously not the only) factor of the ‘failure’ of R&B albums. I’ve come to understand that not every person that buys previous albums are definitely going to buy the current ones. You cannot expect people to buy what they are unaware is available. The average consumer buys albums based upon their liking of the music itself and not necessarily their love for the artists. All artists have their diehard fans but most of their success comes from people who happen upon the music; whether those consumers become diehard fans of the artist after that is left to be seen. So promo is very important.

    • I think we should consider another thing: other artists and seasons. I mean, like if Gaga’s new album will come out near yours or if your vocally amazing ballad is appropiate in the summer when everybody wants to party… No one would say Triumphant is a flop if it was linked with a proper promotion. Mariah did her best as a person, she carefully planned it to be a huge success by singing for the mixes and teasing us during the summer but her label did NOTHING coz their money is on Ross, Riri and Bieber… If MC would’ve released the second single like, in late october, (a ballad)… or at least wait and release Triumphant in early january, it would have become a mayor club banger with the Idol promotion… In the case of Mimi, Christmas is a MUST so she has to stop the current promo to be the Queen of Christmas and it gives her air time but is not god for her new CD unless she promotes her next single as THE single along with the title of her album and maybe a new video of the remix version of Triumphant.

      • R&b lives

        All Mariah had to do with Triumphant was take Rick Ross off the track and then promote the heck out of that single with TV appearances. lol Ross was not needed!

        That single would have been an R&B hit if she would have just sang more and had less rapper features…

        She should have made the Maybach Music features the remix version only … and then make a version without rappers.

        • I totally agree. Actually I think Meek Mill’s verse is fine but Ross ruined the whole inspirational message and Mariah came too late to redeem the song 🙁

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