What does a music publicity campaign look like in this day and age? A series of 140-character clues that trickle out slowly on Twitter, oftentimes without any involvement from the artist’s press representative or manager. From album release dates, song titles and cover art to video concepts, select lyrics and general musings on life, who needs magazines and countless blogs to spread the word when the artists have a direct line to their fans?
That seems to be a theory with which several top-tier music stars are experimenting. For the Foo Fighters’ forthcoming as-yet-untitled album, frontman Dave Grohl has been casually uploading photos taken at his home studio, including the ever-telling album production grid, a dry erase board listing all the song titles, every instrumental component and the track’s progress. It was also on the Foo Fighters’ official Twitter feed that the band announced a surprise show at a little known LA watering hole where they debuted several of these new songs, to the delight of a few hundred web-savvy fans, and where they popped the cork at record’s end. (Although, curiously, the band has yet to tweet this hilarious clip promoting a contest to direct the next Foos video.)
Kanye West did the same thing back in November. Some six hours before he and special guests Nicki Minaj, John Legend and Rick Ross took the stage at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, the rapper announced the show via Twitter, where he’s amassed nearly two million followers in only six months. Of course, in that time, West has become somewhat of a pro at composing the headline-grabbing missive, from his apology to Taylor Swift (the eighth most shared tweet of 2010) to his latest project, the album Watch My Throne, a collaboration with Jay-Z. Just this week on Jan. 7, West tweeted an image of what looked like the cover to a CD pamphlet with the caption “1.11.11,” presumably Throne’s release date this coming Tuesday. Featuring an illuminati-like design strewn with symbols — pitbulls, crowns, stars — it touts creative direction by Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci and the letters H.A.M.
West may have some competition that day, however, as Britney Spears recently tweeted that she, too, will be releasing new music on January 11: her first single in two years called “Hold It Against Me” (a full-length album is due out in March). “Heard an early demo of my new single leaked,” Spears wrote on Jan. 7 accompanied by what’s presumed to be cover art for the song. “If u think that’s good, wait til you hear the real one Tuesday.”
Spears’s announcement came after a string of lyrical clues tweeted by producer Dr. Luke that bordered on the ridiculous. Case in point: his Dec. 19 hint which read, “The 3rd word is ‘there’ …. 1st word is ‘hey’ ” with zero context. Two weeks later, Dr. Luke tweeted, “the 24th word is ‘song.'” It begs the question: at what point do you just issue a press release?
Publicist Keith Hagan, co-owner of SKH Music and a representative for artists such as A Day to Remember and Kenny Rogers who’s also worked with Paul McCartney, notes that a Twitter roll-out can be effective if it’s a coordinated effort by the artist and his or her team. “If you’re a band with a rabid fan base, obviously they feel one step closer to you,” he says. “In that way, it’s good if you and your team have a strategy in putting that kind of information on Twitter first. It can be the right move.”
How can it go wrong? “If you’re an artist gone rogue who’s posting anything that pops into your mind that’s related to your campaign,” Hagan cautions. “It can backfire if you put out misinformation — unconfirmed dates and the like — and you also might miss media opportunities, be it interviews, blogs or a television appearance, that might have had a bit more impact but still would have been tweeted heavily.”
In recent months, Twitter has increasingly become the medium of choice when it comes to rebutting rumors, announcing major splits (as in the case of Elizabeth Hurley, The-Dream and Jim Carrey) or simply having the last word, as music mogul Irving Azoff noted not long after signing up for his own Twitter account.
Does that mean publicists will see their roles marginalized in the coming years? Hardly says one seasoned PR pro who works with several Grammy-winning artists. “Like all media, social media still needs to be navigated. And when it comes to musicians and rock stars, you can count on a crisis.” In which case, one can always update an age-old PR tactic with a 17-character tweet: “deny, deny, deny.”