Shrouded in calculated mystery and unveiled gradually via traditional media, the act's first album in eight years is a bold, high-end effort to make everything old new again
The band chose Columbia "for the culture of the company, and the talent of the people they had put together," Hahn says, but also for the gravitas of its name and brand. "It felt interesting conceptually to write this story with a record company like Columbia, with a 125-year legacy," Bangalter says.
The current deal is for one album only, and not a 360 arrangement as some had speculated. "We just want to have our autonomy and be able to find the right partners for each endeavor, but that's not to say our relationship with Columbia won't expand," Hahn says. "We hope it's a long-term relationship."
The band appealed to Columbia's sense of history immediately, laying out its vision of billboards and gradual reveals in its first meeting. Bangalter and de Homem-Christo even gave Stringer a copy of coffee-table book "Rock N Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip." After hearing the album, Stringer was onboard with the plan.
"We wanted it to be a campaign of weight, like when record companies had the confidence that they had a big, big record," he says, pointing to Michael Jackson's Thriller as an example. "In a way, nothing changes in that dynamic. We believe this is a big, big record in many ways."
Quarterbacked by Columbia senior VP of marketing Scott Greer, the rollout took "an analog-to-digital approach," he says, using paid media offline (like a billboard on Sunset and San Vicente Boulevards in Los Angeles) to drive earned media online (like hundreds of social posts about a billboard on Sunset and San Vicente). The plan worked, with social media spikes following every reveal, including two additional "SNL" spots (another 15-second teaser adding the vocoder line of "Get Lucky," and an extended 60-second spot showing the robots playing the song with Williams and Rodgers), the Coachella unveiling and the eventual release of the single.
"The idea was entirely fan-driven and based on fan discovery," Greer says. "It was an old-school record company reveal: You don't know anything until you rip off the shrink wrap."
Led by the United States, the reveal happened harmoniously across all Columbia markets worldwide, after Stringer and team traveled to London and took meetings with the marketing teams from every country, explaining the rollout and "giving them their mission statements," Greer says. "Everyone was facing the same direction. 'This is the date the spot's going to premier on "SNL." You can then place your spot on your relevant pop culture show after that date.'"
While the expense of such media sounds big-each broadcast spot and high-Âvisibility billboard could easily be in the six figures-Stringer says it's all relative. "Remember, we don't have a band going around the world doing television-that costs a lot of money. We were channeling the money in a different way."
And Stringer believes it will all be worth it. "I honestly believe that sales of this record will justify this approach. Otherwise I wouldn't do it," he says. "What's exciting about this project is how groundbreaking it is, but also commercially viable. I think it's the soundtrack of the year."
He points to "at least four radio records" on the album, including "Lose Yourself to Dance" and "Instant Crush" with Casablancas, and other opportunities: "Licensing and synchs will be dramatic," he says.
For Greer, who also spearheaded Columbia's similarly long-lead rollout of Adele's 10 million-seller 21, the campaign is already historic. "To me, this is a never-forget period of time, being inspired and being a part in something that at least we at Columbia think will change how records are marketed."
The robots-as their collaborators and friends affectionately call them-aren't the first artists to assert that today's music is missing something. Foo Fighter Dave Grohl caught hell for praising "the human element" in his 2012 Grammy Award acceptance speech for best rock performance, which many took as a slight against electronic music. Moroder himself, who launched the disco movement by introducing synthesizers to the recording studio, took to Facebook to decry the current use of extreme compression to create more loudness, posting a snapshot of two waveforms-one from 1977 and another, much denser, from 2013-with the message, "It's not funny anymore. We have to do something!" In a video for Vice's Creators Project, former Swedish House Mafia collaborator Williams said he was "in a Nile Rodgers place" when Daft Punk came calling, unaware that the band had already been recording with the legend. The wild success of acts founded on musicianship, like Mumford & Sons and Adele, suggests that perhaps the music-buying public is ready for a page-turn too.
"It's not a statement against music made with computers today, but there are wonderful things you can do in a recording studio you can't do at home on a laptop. That's what we wanted to try to express," Bangalter says. "Is it still a show when a magician makes a trick in front of an audience, if everyone is a magician and everyone knows the trick?"
Speaking of magic shows, there aren't any plans to take Random Access Memories on the road. "Not right now," Bangalter says. "We really want to put the focus on the record and not send mixed messages. That's still part of the experiment."
"My mom asks me every day if we're going on tour. Everybody does," Hahn says with a laugh. "We have been very inspired to do something in the live performance space, but for us right now we're very concentrated on the launch and getting this music out to people in a way that's positive. We want this album to have a cultural and artistic impact."
According to Bangalter, it already has. "The excitement and enthusiasm we had making the record, that we're seeing in the audience right now as the record is about to be revealed, is exactly what we felt was missing somehow in music, which was not missing back in the golden age," he says. "There's a tremendous amount of excitement around movies, TV shows, videogames, festivals and around a lot of artists, but not around a piece of recorded music."
It's an effect he hopes will reverberate to the potential Punks of tomorrow. "If this attempt can maybe inspire some 18-year-old kid-'You know, that's the kind of record I want to make' or 'That's the kind of spectacle or show I want to do'-that's the way the newer generation will be able to challenge their laptops, to do something not living in the climate of security of formatted content, but something elevated, in an exciting and elegant way."
For now, the return of Daft Punk has already changed the course of electronic dance music, releasing some pressure right as the proverbial bubble was starting to really swell. Despite the music's more mature vibe, the neon-wearing EDM army seems to trust the robots.
"The single came out last Friday and I had a big sold-out show in New York on Saturday. I ended my set with 'Get Lucky,' and I think it's the first time a lot of people heard it live," A-Trak says. "The reaction was unbelievable. I was actually moved. People were dancing with each other, how they're supposed to. The groove is back."