At midnight eastern time Monday night, Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller took to Ustream to announce that his debut album, "Blue Slide Park," was now available for pre-order - with a twist. In a campaign reminiscent of popular online group buy services like Groupon and Living Social, Mac Miller and his label Rostrum Records (home to Wiz Khalifa) are offering fans incentives for participating in the "Blue Slide Park" pre-order campaign en masse, with rewards released as certain pre-order benchmarks are met up to and including the early release of the album.
Thanks to a unique arrangement forged by Rostrum, digital distributor INgrooves and digital retailers including iTunes, the album - which currently has a Nov. 8 release date - will be immediately released should pre-orders for "Blue Slide Park" exceed 100,000 before street date. The program also offers incentives should the album (which is being released through Rostrum with physical distribution via Fontana) hit the 25,000 or 50,000 pre-order mark: the release of the album's title track and a $50,000 donation to the Make-A-Wish Foundation on behalf of Miller and Rostrum, respectively.
According to Rostrum founder and CEO Benjy Grinberg, the campaign is all about fan engagement. "The focus is letting the fans know that they have a voice and letting them know that they can move the needle," Grinberg told Billboard in an exclusive interview.
But there's no denying that the pre-order plan, which is also being supported by Hot Topic, makes business sense, too.
"This Mac Miller album is a very important album for us," continues Grinberg, a Pittsburgh native who had served as executive assistant to L.A. Reid at Arista before starting Rostrum in 2003. "It's Mac's debut album. He's had mixtapes before and other projects, [and] an EP that's been available on iTunes, but really this is the first real, major project. And for the label, it's really the first project that we're doing on this scale."
Not that Rostrum isn't built to scale. Earlier this year, the label worked Khalifa, its flagship artist, to a No. 1 hit in "Black and Yellow" and a No. 2 bow for his third album "Rolling Papers" (Rostrum/Atlantic). With Khalifa's project still humming along - "Rolling Papers" currently sits at chart No. 90 on the Billboard 200, with 576,000 sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan - and a new album from its indie-pop/rock act Donora ("Boyfriends Girlfriends") out this week, Rostrum is now turning its attention to Mac Miller and looking to leverage Miller's impressive online presence - 900,000-plus twitter followers (@MacMiller) and 1.3 million-plus likes on Facebook - into sales.
"The idea of doing the very typical sales and distribution just seemed really old school to us," Grinberg says. "I'm not a first-week sales person, in general - we look at things very long term; we look at albums as pieces of the greater career. But something really got into [us] when we were finishing Mac's album. And when I was in the studio and he was putting the final touches on it, out of nowhere for some reason I said, 'I wanna sell 100,000 albums the first week.' I've never said anything like that in my life, and I don't know where it came from … but as we finished the album, I just started brainstorming about how connected Mac's fans are to Mac, and how connected he is to his fans, and just tried to think of a new, innovative way of continuing that into sales."
According to Grinberg, it took about two months to iron out all of the details of the different outlets. "I give our partners at INgrooves a whole lot of credit for bearing a lot of that process," Grinberg said.
"The first thing we did was we talked to the digital retailers, and they understand what we're trying to accomplish," says Ben Kline, SVP Global Sales and Marketing of INgrooves. "The end goal here is that on November 8, we have an unbelievable, massive, running to the stores type of mentality for Mac, with a ton of pre-orders lined up, with a ton of excitement in the marketplace and a lot of advertising in place and a lot of things to help drive that."
iTunes declined to comment on the program, but Grinberg says, "All in all, iTunes was receptive. They were really interested in our ideas, and it was just a back and forth that took about five weeks to get a clear direction on, and to get the green light to do something like this. And they're supportive: They're going to help with the pre-order, they're going to market it, and it goes well, it's a great thing for them too. It's obviously a lot of sales, and it's just something that's fresh."
But as much as those involved are excited about the project and its possibilities, they're also quick to downplay expectations. "It's not something that we expect to happen," Kline says, regarding the 100,000 pre-order goal. "If we sell 5,000 records this is a success to me," Kline continues. "If he hits the 25,000 number and drops a single early, to me that is an unbelievable, unmitigated success. I think if he pre-ordered a million, Mac should buy everyone a Cadillac."
And as for the mechanics of delivering the album early should the goal be met?
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," says Kline. "Dates change all the time, unfortunately they [often] move the other way. So we didn't invent a new phenomenon and that is one of the beauties of the digital landscape, it is a much easier place to react. You get a lot more flexibility in digital, you can do things a lot faster.
"It by absolutely no means undermines the importance of the physical component because we know how many fans are going to be in the record stores on [November 8] looking for this album," Kline continues. "I think we're going to have a monster first week, one that is going to raise eyebrows everywhere, and I'm looking forward to the digital and the physical component of that."
Whether it arrives November 8 or earlier, "Blue Slide Park" should perform well at retail, especially for an independent release. Miller's "On and On and Beyond" digital EP, released in March by Rostrum through iTunes, sold 11,000 first week and has scanned 53,000 to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Following Monday night's announcement, Blue Slide Park immediately shot into the iTunes Top 10 off pre-orders for the digital release along (priced at $9.99). After being available for 24 hours, "Blue Slide Park" pre-orders sat at 11,000. Also promising for the project, the physical release of the album will feature the song, "Donald Trump," which appeared on Miller's sixth mixtape, "Best Day Ever" (released in March), as a bonus track. The video for "Donald Trump" has received over 27 million views on YouTube since it was posted in March. The video for Mac Miller's new song, "Smile Back," which was posted on Sept. 23, already has over one million views.
No matter how many pre-orders the campaign collects, though, Grinberg already considers the push a success.
"Being a small company and always wanting to be progressive and always wanting to think of new ideas, we're just excited about it because it was something that started off as just a crazy idea that we had of, 'What if we got the fans together to really engage them, to really put the power in their hands,'" he says. "If it doesn't happen, it's not a failure. 25,000 [pre-orders] itself is crazy for an independent artist; 50,000 is insane; 100,000 is the icing on the cake. But we still have cake, either way."