Before he had even come up with a street date for his next album, Kanye West tweeted in August that he was going to give away a brand-new song, free of charge, every week until Christmas.
West worked hard to keep his pledge, and his "G.O.O.D. Music Fridays," named after his label imprint, generated enormous publicity ahead of the Nov. 22 release of his latest acclaimed effort, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."
West's unorthodox strategy of offering free MP3s in the weeks and months leading to his album release has inspired other prominent artists to embrace the concept, including Swizz Beatz, who is releasing new songs on "Monster Mondays"; the RZA, who is posting tracks on "Wu Wednesdays"; and Timbaland, who plans to put out music on "Timbo Thursdays."
While record companies have long maintained tight control over the release of music by artists on their rosters, West's label, Island Def Jam, didn't interfere with "G.O.O.D. Music Fridays." IDJ senior VP of marketing Chris Atlas says the campaign had more pluses than minuses.
"At the end of the day we want to sell units," Atlas says. "The result was tremendous awareness and excitement for his upcoming album."
IDJ's hands-off approach appears to have paid off: West's new album is expected to sell at least 600,000 copies in its first week of release, according to industry sources. His previous album, 2008's "808s and Heartbreak," sold 450,000 units in its opening week.
Karen Civil, online marketing coordinator for Lil Wayne's Young Money label, hailed West's approach. "It's a genius idea," says Civil, who was behind Wayne's WeezyThanxYou.com while the rapper served a jail term recently. "He did something no one had ever done before, and at a point when he was the most hated person in music, he brought excitement back with his Friday releases." Additionally, Civil says, "the label benefits because some of the songs became album cuts."
Thirteen tracks were released in all, of which six turned up on "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy."
The program kicked off Aug. 20 with the release of the "Power" remix with Jay-Z. "Monster," with Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z and Rick Ross, came next, followed by "See Me Now," with West rhyming alongside Beyoncé's and Charlie Wilson.
Other songs included "Devil in a New Dress"; "Good Friday," featuring Common, Pusha T, Kid Cudi and Big Sean; and "Lord, Lord, Lord," featuring Mos Def, Raekwon and Wilson. In between, West dropped "Runaway," which had a 35-minute-long film to support its release; "Christian Dior Denim," with John Legend, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, Lloyd Banks and Ryan Leslie; another Jay-Z collaboration titled "So Appalled"; and "Don't Stop!"
Tracking fan response to the songs, which were originally posted on KanyeWest.com, became an important piece of the label's marketing campaign. "Based on the amount of traffic and blog postings, we know that Kanye garnered millions of impressions from the songs he's put out," Atlas says.
OnSmash.com founder Hof, who posted West's "G.O.O.D. Music Friday" leaks on his popular hip-hop website, says the weekly releases significantly raised his site's traffic. "Not only did they increase traffic but they made great fodder for discussion on Twitter and in the blogosphere," he says. Hof also believes the campaign helped showcase other G.O.O.D. Music artists, like recent signees Pusha T and CyHi Da Prince. "G.O.O.D. Music now has a direct link to millions of Kanye fans, which they can leverage for their other artists and ventures."
While the strategy may have worked for West, Young Money's Civil expressed caution over the value of such a program for other acts. "It was effective for Kanye West, but for everyone else? Not so much," she says. "What works for one artist may not necessarily work for the next."
While hip-hop acts have long believed in the branding power of unofficial, often gratis mixtape tracks, Atlas advises potential West copycats to be careful about when and how they release their free MP3s. For example, posting songs for download on Thursday or Friday means music blogs may keep an item about the song posted on their main page through the weekend, he says.
And while an artist would need a sufficient number of tracks to share ahead of an official release, quality is as important as quantity. Of the 10 songs West gave away, Atlas says, "every one was hot."