Beginning in 2010 with Speak Now, Taylor Swift album releases have been an “event”: in an age where prominent artists often struggle to clear 200,000 units in their opening weeks, Swift’s last three albums have all sold over one million copies in their first week. When Red released in 2012, it came with Papa John’s tie-ins and intense cross-branding with Target, the latter of which continued with the launch of 1989 two years later. Although Swift’s sound would change over the course of these records, gradually phasing out her country roots, the calculus of the album launches largely remained the same.
However, while these albums have undoubtedly been major music industry events supported by robust and organized marketing campaigns, they’ve never actually been positioned as such by Swift herself when they were first announced. Instead, they were debuted with a conscious effort to frame these albums as gifts to her fans as opposed to gifts to music retailers, utilizing the power of the internet to create intimacy between artists and their audience.
And so it was striking that when Swift’s most recent album cycle—delayed by a year—started this week, it began with the erasure of her social media history, a symbolic act reflective of the focus implied by the album’s title—Reputation—but also fundamentally at odds with the way she has launched three mega-successful albums in the past. And so even before she releases her first single, she’s announcing a marked departure over the way she understands her mediated presence, giving up the form of control she had previously but replacing it with another type of control that may mark a fundamental shift in the way she connects to her audience.
Earlier today, Vulture—mirroring a lot of other sites, as pictured—proclaimed that “The Jurassic World Teaser Trailer is here.”
When this week’s final Billboard Hot 200 album chart is released, either the 51st installment of the Now That’s What I Call Music! series or Awesome Mix Vol. 1, the soundtrack to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, will be the best-selling album in the United States. If Awesome Mix Vol. 1 makes it to the summit, it will be the first soundtrack from a summer film to reach No. 1 since Mamma Mia! in 2008, and the first for a non-musical since Bad Boys II in 2003.
This would be a significant accomplishment with or without No. 1, particularly given the fact that the various songs that make up Awesome Mix Vol. 1 are readily available to stream on services like Spotify, or on YouTube. There is no single to drive sales of the album, as the film’s jukebox-style soundtrack relies entirely on songs from the 1970s. And while some Twitter conversation among colleagues made a connection back to K-tel—and we could think about Time Life as well—in regards to the album’s appeal to a nostalgia for music of this period, there’s also a wide audience of younger audiences who may not be familiar with some of the songs used in the film. But those audiences are often imagined as those who stream music on YouTube or Spotify, and who could simply create their own playlists featuring the songs from the film without needing to pay out for the album.
Given this, the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack offers an interesting case study of how these platforms are being activated by labels like Hollywood Records, and how this jukebox soundtrack is being branded—if not “sold”—in spaces that won’t be counted by Billboard’s album chart.
Filed under Movies, Music
Winter Comes Early: Access and HBO Go
May 22nd, 2011
When HBO announced that they would be premiering the seventh episode of Game of Thrones‘ first season on HBO Go immediately following the conclusion of episode six, I was more fascinated than excited.
I think HBO Go is a really interesting initiative that has the potential to play an important role in the future of the channel’s programming. Not only does it offer a new platform in which users can legally access the network’s database almost in its entirety, but it also creates new potential for special features being integrated into the weekly viewing process, and makes the network’s content more readily mobile. When I talked with my cable company to subscribe to HBO earlier today (after having relied solely on screeners to this point), the friendly customer service representative had a whole spiel about HBO Go ready to go, and was clearly using it as a pitch to draw in potential subscribers.
Premiering an episode early is a great way to make users more aware of the service, especially when dealing with the Game of Thrones fanbase who might not normally be HBO subscribers (and who might have only signed up this week, having relied on nefarious methods to this point in the series’ run); if they go to the site to watch episode seven early, they might also check out the pilot for True Blood, and might get hooked enough that they maintain their HBO subscriptions following the Game of Thrones finale.
However, there lies a central concern with HBO Go that makes this kind of initiative somewhat problematic: as a result of the nascent state of the site, a number of cable providers have not been able to strike deals with HBO to feature the service, and since it is tied directly into your cable account this means that a large number of people who are paying for HBO subscriptions do not have access to this sneak preview. While there is clear value from a promotional point of view in an initiative like this one, I do wonder if the way in which it divides the series’ fanbase and potentially bifurcates the conversation surrounding the series doesn’t demonstrate the perils of messing around with serialization in this fashion.
Achieving Authenticity: The Maester’s Path
February 27th, 2011
This week, an assortment of critics and bloggers received what is considered the first part of an ongoing “experience” called the Maester’s Path, a transmedia initiative to support the April 17th debut of HBO’s Game of Thrones. The fairly intricate wooden box features a collection of maps and other scrolls meant to be artifacts of Westeros, as well as a collection of scents that when merged together capture the olfactory essence of different locations.
I was lucky enough to receive one of these boxes from HBO, and I spent yesterday morning mixing scents, taking pictures and poring over the scrolls. This was, after all, what I was instructed to do by the scrolls within the box, and so I journeyed to King’s Landing (which smells of summer fruit and parchment) and the Dothraki Sea (which smells of campfire and “Khal’s herd,” which smells as you would imagine).
However, while this level of personal experience is encouraged by the hands-on nature of the activity, there is another step to this process. That step is telling all of you about my experience, sharing my pictures and detailing my impressions: it’s the step which is encouraged by the letter from HBO which sat on top of the box, rather than the scrolls from Westeros which were found inside, and it has manifested as a large collection of extensive “unboxings” which allow fans who did not receive a box themselves to still experience this “first link in the chain.”
The question now becomes at which point these fans will be able to walk the path themselves, rather than living vicariously through a chosen few.