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Stealing Arcade Fire’s Album Release Strategy: How to Sell 140,000 Albums in a Week

reflektor, arcade fire

By Brandon Waardenburg

This article originally appeared on Apparatus.ca.
“We’re in an information overload… Just to be recognized you have to be more creative and do things in a way that people will talk about socially — online but also in the physical world. How do you become one of those things that people talk about?” – Scott Rodger (Arcade Fire’s manager)

Your album is getting the final mix down and being sent off to mastering. Next up, getting the word out so that hopefully — hopefully — you can sell a decent amount of records and put some coin in your pocket.

You could do it like most other amateur artists do when they release independent records…

  1. Book a release show for a month from now.
  2. Release the album to your closest F’s (family, friends, and fans).
  3. Stare at your iTunes account praying for some purchases to validate your entire existence.

Or…

You can learn from one of the most creatively successful album drops in the last few years.

How do you become one of those things that people talk about? (as Scott Rodger puts it)

You STEAL what successful artists have done… and that’s just what we’re going to talk about today.

Reflektor sales
Reflektor album sales in the first week

Arcade Fire sold 140,000 albums in the first week after they launched Reflektor while it debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200.

Surely you — even in independent music — could also sell a few albums using their tactics.

I love stealing/borrowing/copying/dissecting the way other successful artists have solved problems.

  • What they did
  • How they did it
  • And how I can make it work for me (and you, in this case)

Let other artists do all the trial and error for us and assume all the risk. We’ll just swoop in a snatch up their good ideas just in time for our own launch!

I’ve long been a fan of Arcade Fire and how they released Reflektor and now I finally get a chance to dive into it.

But before I keep going, I realize I’m going out a bit on a limb from my norm with this type of post, but I think you’ll like it. Once you’ve read the whole post, gimme some feedback in the comments.

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What Arcade Fire Did in a Nutshell

There’s a lot of minutia when you’re promoting anything, but here are the main points of the Reflektor release.

1. Released 1 online review a month ahead of release that was a 5-star review

2. Sidewalk chalk graffiti and actual graffiti on walls in major cities with the Reflektor logo, soon after they put up posters with the same logo linking the chalk art to Arcade Fire

2-reflektor

3. 15-second music clip on Spotify.

4. Played a secret show in Montreal as The Reflektors that was filmed to later air as a post-SNL half-hour special.

5. 30-minute TV spot after SNL (like a variety show) including cameos by a lot of famous people (Michael Cera hosted, Zach Galifinakis, Bono, Ben Stiller, James Franco, and more made cameos).

6. Teaser trailers

7. 9/9/9 — at 9 p.m. on Sept. 9, Arcade Fire released their single “Reflektor” across multiple platforms and went on to sell 140,000 that week.

Yes, Arcade Fire probably has a lot more pull than you do (unless you also know Lorne Michaels personally) but you can do each and every one of these on your own scale using your own resources.

Here we go…

How to Steal Arcade Fire’s Album Release Strategy

1. Identify the Most Influential Person in Your Network.

There are 2 simple questions to figure this out:

  • Who has an existing platform (related is best) and reach in your target market?
  • How can they spread the word?

In AF’s case they had a well known journalist with a significant written and online platform (Rolling Stone) write the first review. A review on Rolling Stone will get attention.

Who can do your “launch review”?

A few examples of someone to look for:

  • Works at a newspaper (public, school, university, etc.)
  • Has a large blog or website
  • A big Twitter following
  • Works at a TV station
  • Has a large and active mailing list

Again, you’re looking for someone with an existing audience, significant influence and a method in which to easily share the review.

Launch the review one month before your album is set to drop. Any earlier and it will be irrelevant.

+ Read more: “5 Tips for Describing Your Sound to the Press”

2. Mysterious Artwork

You could easily do this one exactly as AF did in your hometown or areas you have the most fan support but I would stick to the non-permanent art such as sidewalk chalk or washable paint.

First you’ll need to decide on the artwork. It needs to be…

  • Easy to draw
  • Distinguishable from other works (so people don’t assume it’s anything else)
  • Easily reproducible (you don’t want to spend 6 hours on every drawing)
  • Part of the artwork you’re using on your album (more on this in the next step)

Now get some artist friends together — or make an easy to follow template for non-artsy friends — and draw a select amount of images on sidewalks targeting music hotspots, record stores, clubs, subway, and train stations, and anywhere else that people who buy music frequent. No more than 15-20 or it moves from being “Hey, I’ve seen that before” to “Why is this ugly thing everywhere??”

Chances are people are going to ask you why you are coloring like a 4-year-old child on a busy downtown sidewalk, and that’s a good thing! Tell them it’s a secret and the meaning will soon become clear. Arouse their interest more.

In 3-5 days go back to the same spots and hang posters with the same artwork linking it to your band’s name.

Make it obvious that the chalk work was connected to you, but leave it mysterious as to what it means.

Any easy to read poster like this one…

satisfaction poster

Include only the most basic details:

  • Artist/band name
  • Artwork/logo that you previously scrawled on the concrete
  • Your website (create a specific landing page such as http://www.yourband.com/sidewalk so you can count how many people were intrigued by your artwork and posters **)
  • A hashtag such as #AlbumName if you want to make it part of your social media strategy (which would be a smart decision even though the poster example doesn’t have one)

**Note: You HAVE to collect data every time you do a stunt like this so you know if you’re successful or not and if it’s worth ever doing again. Data helps makes decisions and will help you go from amateur independent artist to professional.

+ Read more: “10 Interesting Band Photos That Work and How You Can Do It, Too!”

The goal of connecting the chalk-work and the poster is to have people visit your website, have something to listen to there and then purchase the album pre-sale.

Make sure your landing page clearly displays…

  • Your artist/band name
  • Multiple videos or samples of work from your soon-to-be-released album (not prev. albums)
  • An easy and clear way to purchase the album (Bandcamp is a good option, or host your own store using WooCommerce on a WordPress site)
  • Any easy and clear way to share this page (the “share” function in the SumoMe app for WordPress — in the pic below — is a great option)

Here’s a little sample I whipped up based on that poster I found.

satisfaction website

Simple and clear. If you need more info on how to build your website headquarters, here’s some.

+ Read more: Struggling to reach new fans online? The trouble could be in your metadata. Learn how to maximize your online visibility in just a few simple steps. 

 3. Music Samples

Take a 15-30 second cut of the single from your album, grab the cover artwork again and make a simple YouTube video using iMovie or another simple movie making software.

All you need to do is show the album artwork with the music playing in the background and the launch date of the album displayed at the bottom.

Easy.

Should take 10 minutes for each video (make 8 of them using different songs) and export them to YouTube (iMovie has a built-in option to do this) and link to your landing page in the description.

Now take the video from your album single and embed it on the front page of your website and the landing page you created for your posters and schedule a social media and mailing list blast asking your subs and followers to share it (consider offering an incentive for doing so).

Use the other 7 videos to schedule social media blasts using Buffer or Hootsuite during the weeks leading up to the release. Since you have a total of 8 videos you should be able to do 2 different videos a week.

4. Play a Secret Show

The purpose of this is to…

  1. Show your fans you do cool stuff
  2. Engage your most loyal fans during this important launch
  3. Record the show and offer it as a bonus download after the future purchase of your album
  4. Use for future band promotions

Not every band can pull off a secret show — EVERY show is secret for some bands — so get creative and do something different.

  • House show
  • Bedroom show
  • Garage show
  • Unplugged show
  • Full band
  • Solo acoustic set
  • Rooftop show
  • Outdoors
  • In zoo animal costumes
  • Studio show

… Do what you wouldn’t normally do and ONLY invite your most committed fans. Reward them for being awesome. Small is good in this case.

Here’s a show in a barn sans horses (Funny story: one horse kept sticking his head in through the window like Mr. Ed and knocking over our booze):

5-barn-dance

Let your fans know about it through personal invitations not through a mass email or social media blast. Make this extremely personal.

  • Handwritten invitations
  • Personalized videos
  • Individual emails

Do this show about 2 weeks in to your launch so it gives you enough time to edit it and use it as a bonus download for those who purchase your album.

5. Huge Promotional Spot

Arcade Fire landed the 30 min. spot after SNL. That’s pretty crazy.

I’m going out on a limb here, but I doubt you have after-hours-Lorne-Michaels-access and you probably can’t pull off a stunt like this on any other station either.

To be honest I felt a bit stumped on #5 so I asked myself a question:

WWAFA — “What was Arcade Fire after?”

Possible answers:

  • Get unexpected reach to a whack load of unsuspecting listeners
  • Create a buzz of publicity with a “holy ****!” factor
  • Do something so unorthodox that it couldn’t be ignored
  • Borrow the reputation of a well-liked brand (SNL) to gain immediate trust

There’s no way of really knowing for sure unless you ask AF and their manager but I’d imagine one of these is pretty close… if not ALL of them.

So this begs the question, how do you do the same?

Well this is going to depend on your creativity and hustle.

Here’s a couple ideas to kickstart your creativity maker:

  • Host a block party in your target market’s neighborhood (or at least one of the neighborhoods). Don’t forget to obey any bylaws. You could even give out hotdogs or s’mores. #foodmakespeoplehappy
  • Rent a food truck (in my hometown of Calgary, that’s approx. $1,000) and park it in a crowded area blasting your record and giving away free food. Maybe the owner of the truck will let you rename the food to match the songs on your album? #freefoodmakespeoplehappy
  • Rent a flatbed truck and some PA equipment, strap the PA and your bandmates down and drive to some crowded spots for a surprise mini-concert. I say mini, because the police may not love this idea.
  • Get 4 cars (it would be AWESOME if they were matching) and split your album into 4 tracks (drums and bass, guitars, keys and other instruments, and vocals). Pop in a CD (compact disc for you young’uns) or connect an iPod to each car and blast the tracks. Sync them (I presume you could do this using the “On the count of 3 hit play” technique) and then have vehicle #1 show up to a spot, followed by #2, then #3 and finally #4 shortly after to fill out the whole song. How cool, would it be if the license plates spelled out the album’s name?!?!?!

As you can tell, outlandish is preferred. Just have your name and website clearly displayed and don’t forget to record the whole thing for future marketing use.

Do this the night of or the night before your launch.

6. Timing the Launch

AF set their album to launch on September 9 at 9pm (9/9/9) simultaneously across all platforms and built hype towards that all throughout their marketing efforts..

They worked tirelessly with all sources to coordinate the launch. No store was allowed to sell it ahead of time.

Why didn’t someone just pull a “Pirate Bay” and sell it earlier than the rest?

AF sold the vision of the project to each person who took part in making it happen. They established the goal (a powerful instantaneous launch) and worked on how to communicate it.

Your job is to do the same.

With a pen and paper jot down the goal for your simultaneous launch. Something like “coordinate the masses for an epic launch” will do.

Underneath that work out your elevator pitch for why everyone should be on board with your epic launch.

Then rehearse it until you feel it in your heart. Now you’re ready to talk about it.

When should you set your launch date for?

  • Fall: Colleges/universities are back in session which are fertile grounds (ha!) for indie artists.
  • Summer: Everyone needs new summer music and with all the hype around festivals people are eagerly consuming new music.
  • Early New Year: Major labels have just finished their pre-Christmas push leaving less noise to compete with.

Note: For more info check out this cool month-by-month rundown.

Beyond just coordinating the launch is getting as many people as possible in on it. AF knew the value in building a community launch through the whole process.

I’m no sociologist, but people like to be a part of things. So make it a community event and get everyone involved.

  1. Make a list of who could partake and start reaching out — get used to that uncomfortable feeling of self-promotion — and be very clear with what they’re going to be a part of (use the elevator pitch you worked out above).
  2. Provide places for people to help out where possible.

The more buy-in they have in your success, the more they’ll go to the ends of the earth to help you succeed.

7. Teaser Trailers

Did you notice that movies are starting to put their teaser trailers out earlier and earlier? This is TERRIBLE for an impatient guy like me. I want the teaser to come out the day before the movie so I don’t have to obsess about it for 2 years.

Buuuuut… the obsession is the point. You want current fans and potential fans to see the teaser, get excited and talk about it.

Here’s an example of an awesome teaser trailer by the band Lound, part of the Apparatus community.

Create 2 trailers like this one and share them at week 1 and 3 of your launch along with the 8 mini-vids you made in step 3.

Customers see your effort as professionalism and will take your music much more seriously leading to bigger hype and more talk.

Have a Nice Launch

This is a good lesson in how much work it takes to promote a new release — 7 challenging yet fun steps to creating forward momentum.

If you haven’t figured it out already, there is never a successful “set it and forget it” album drop in music.

I know, I know… you’re excited to release your music. I hear you, but give yourself a few months to plan some trickery and then 1 month to build some hype and you’ll sell a helluvalot more albums.

Thanks for reading through to the end. Sign up for my mailing list and get more wickedly practical stuff to grow your fan base and make money.

PS: Don’t forget to let me know if you liked or hated this post in the comments below.

PPS: Here are some extra notes:

  • Deliver creatively and musically.
  • Do it large scale, but make it personal and feel small.
  • Maintain relationships along the way — engage people.
  • Keep in mind the flow, asking yourself “am I giving people enough to digest without overloading them?”
  • Develop a smooth plan and execute consistently.

+ What’s next? Make the most out of your album launch efforts with these tips for what to do after you’ve released a new album that will ensure it has a lasting impact…

Brandon WaardenburgBrandon Waardenburg is the founder of Apparatus (an artist accelerator providing music advice and coaching to independent artists and DIY musicians) as well as a musician, songwriter, “musicpreneur” and consultant. After receiving his music degree back in 2011 he began working alongside independent artists, songwriters, producers and engineers in their quest to retain creative control and grow their careers like heck.

Research:

  • http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-10-15/arcade-fires-marketing-machine-rolls-out-reflektor
  • http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/earshot/arcade-fires-reflektor-anatomy-a-654234
  • http://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/corporate/us/en/public%20factsheets/Soundscan/nielsen-2014-year-end-music-report-us.pdf
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflektor

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  • Ian

    This is amazing. Especially the idea of driving four different cars playing different stems until they finally meet up to create the full song. Hysterical.

  • Yes, just finding this now but all of these things are still true! Thanks for the ideas. -justine

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