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Thursday, January 2, 2014

5 Things All House Music Artists Can Learn From Beyoncé's Surprise LP

by Adam Cruz

Music industry insiders continue to be baffled by Beyoncé's surprise self-titled LP. Like us, they’re fascinated with the pop star's ability to circumvent the glorified "machine" of the recording industry.

For her fifth studio album, there was no radio single, no promotional tour, and no publicity. Nothing. This approach goes against the grain, to say the least. After all, artists and labels have long believed that without proper marketing, extensive distribution and slow-building hype, artists don't stand a chance at earning, even a livable wage.

The timing of this release is also worth noting as record labels shy away from fourth quarter album releases in favor of holiday collections. Because the music market is so inundated with new releases during the holiday season, the label's marketing dollars are simply spread too thin. The move to release the project on December 13th was risky, but proved worthwhile after iTunes announced that her latest LP is the fastest selling album of all time.1 Given all of the tools that are seemingly necessary for artists to shine, Beyoncé ditched all of them and managed to sell 300,000 copies in the first 72 hours of her release and nearly a million more since.

When you consider niche market genres such as house music, how does Beyoncé's new album impact smaller music markets?

For years, niche market artists have released their new music with little or no fanfare. Because many artists are independent, there is no “machine” to use. This is mostly because there isn’t enough money to support the release. In many cases, the artist is also “the machine.” In fact, without promotional help, resources and marketing money, many artists simply opt to release their music and then strategize afterwards. Not surprisingly, many artists and labels have noticed that this approach is neither fiscally successful nor sustainable.

One of the biggest challenges all artists face is the over-saturation of the music market. While iTunes regularly reports download figures to the public (over 25 billion songs have already been downloaded on iTunes so far,) niche music download sites aren’t as forthcoming with their data.2 Obtaining real numbers from popular house music download sites like Beatport and Traxsource, for example, would prove insightful at this time, but is nearly impossible to get since they're notoriously so tight-lipped. Despite this, Beatport's COO Mathew Adell once referenced the site's download figures at the 2010 International Music Summit in Ibiza, Spain. In answering a question about trends in retail music for DJs, he mentioned that Beatport receives "between 7,000 and 15,000 tracks per week."3 Interestingly enough, music consumption is at an all-time high, but music sales remain at its lowest in over a dozen years.

For an artist in this genre, it is increasingly more difficult to stand out and be noticed above the rest of the 15,000 or more tracks being released per week. With or without the data, it's fairly obvious that artists in this genre are not becoming popularized enough to attract investors and sponsors to support their music over time and budgets aren't increasing enough. Moreover, the quality of their digital assets (e.g., music, artwork, and videos) is not improving fast enough over time.

So, what can niche market artists learn from Beyoncé's surprise album?

• Don’t pull a "Beyoncé!"

First, having little or no strategy doesn’t work for niche market artists. Beyoncé's album has been selling very well for a number of reasons, all of which are specific to Beyoncé, her music and her fans. While there's little doubt that the success of this LP will spawn similar attempts by other popular artists in the future, we'll quickly discover that this anti-marketing strategy works for certain artists and bombs for others.

• Content Trumps Everything!

Because tastes in music are so subjective, I'll leave you to leave your comments below as to whether Beyoncé's latest effort is good or not. However, a growing consensus among critics is that the album IS good.

This certainly wasn't a project that was slapped together. In fact, in one of her ‘behind the scenes’ clips, the 17-time Grammy winner mentioned that she recorded over 80 songs for the project and released 14 of them. So, what’s the point? Take the time to release the best music that you can. Great music is truly the catalyst and the engine.

• Get Organized!

The bigger story, actually, isn't Beyoncé's surprise album, but the organization of it. This "visual album" included 14 songs, 17 videos and an array of stunning digital assets from photographs to ‘behind the scenes’ clips. All of this was prepared ahead of time and released all at once.

Take the time to organize all of your promotional materials before you release your music. Your biography should be concise and up-to-date. Your cover artwork and all photographs should look clean, clear, professional and ready for use in all file formats. Your website and your social media pages should be regularly updated and should always function correctly. If an image, button or link isn't working for you, it probably isn't working for everyone else too.

• Share Your Creative Process and Get Personal!

While there's no rule book on what to share with current and new fans, one thing is for sure - if you want more followers and "likes," you better start sharing! Take a cue from Beyoncé and prepare your own ‘behind the scenes’ clips and let your audience know what it took to finish your work.

• Don't Just Sell, Engage!

Think of fans as potential new friends. The last thing someone you just met wants to hear is you asking for money. Take the time to engage with fans without asking them to buy your music first. Discuss the song's meaning or a fun fact and simply, include a link. If they click through, they'll know what to do, if they're interested in buying it. Don't remind them of how to do the obvious. Before you engage, take the time to understand etiquette in social media and how best to communicate across your social media networks. Be careful! If you spam potential new supporters, you’ll lose them quickly. For help, click here to learn more about social media etiquette.

1 Aguiar, L., Martens B. (2013). Digital Music Consumption on the Internet: Evidence from Clickstream Data. Contrefaçon Riposte. Retrieved from

2 Apple Press Info (2013). iTunes Store Sets New Record with 25 Billion Songs Sold. Apple, Inc. Retrieved from

3 Beatport News (2010). Becoming 'One': Anatomy of a #1 hit. Retrieved from