by John Koenigsberg
“We look at the game completely different now.” – tweeted by @kanyewest
The first-ever use of the term “album” to describe a compilation of recorded music is generally credited to the release of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite by Odeon Records in 1909; the term itself is derived from the fact that the square-shaped contraptions that held the multiple vinyl records looked a lot like the leather-bound photograph albums that were commonplace at the turn of the century. Over the next fifty years, interest in longer form classical music waned, the appetite for bite sized pop music exploded, along with hit-driven radio, and the notion of the “single” took root. Record companies soon observed that you could maximize profits and charge a premium price by bundling a hot single with a grouping of not-so-hot songs—thus the modern pop album was born.
The abbreviated history above brings to light an important point: “albums” as a creative vehicle have somewhat artificial origins and create implicit boundaries by virtue of having a beginning and an end. Increasingly, we are seeing creativity become unfettered from the bounds of track one-through-twelve, adrift in an endless loop. This opening up of the creative process has come to the forefront in the digital age. It is not at all uncommon now for bands to tweet previews of new songs or for authors to gather feedback on an unfinished chapter through their blog. This past Saturday evening, as the final credits rolled on Kanye West’s thirty four minute film ‘Runaway’, I could not have felt this conviction more strongly, nor could I ignore the overwhelming sense that I had just experienced something significant. Since late August, Kanye has been releasing never-heard-before music every Friday for free and plans to continue doing so until Christmas—he has christened this weekly holy-day “GOOD Friday”. By year-end he will have released at least twenty-five new songs, produced, directed, and acted in his first feature film, conceptualized a Broadway Stage extension and animated version of his ‘Runaway’ concept, and released a new album called ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ for good measure. The continuous, conveyor-belt style of this creative outpouring has been coordinated superbly through twitter, facebook, youtube (VEVO), and his own KanyeWest.com.
I ask “What can we learn from Kanye?” because of the masterful job he has done diffusing his message through such a rich variety of creative mediums. As digital planners, we have a parallel aim—to disperse a message as creatively as possible, and in a manner that animates an underlying truth between brands and consumers. As we survey Mr. West’s approach, I see room to incorporate some of his philosophies into our own methods.
- Lesson #1: Be prominent. The debut of ‘Runaway’ aired simultaneously on MTV, MTV2, BET, with live steaming available on MTV.com, BET.com, and VH1.com—make sure people can’t miss the message.
- Lesson #2: Don’t limit yourself. Many of today’s most creative minds are striving beyond the formats which have traditionally characterized their field. Kanye’s vision, for example, is being expressed through dance, fashion, photography, painting, film, art direction & set design, not to mention what he is doing musically and with live performance—each format is intended to impact people in radically different ways. As we help shepherd brands into new and unchartered digital territories we should be just as open to experimentation; just as eager to create diverse representations of and interactions with a unified message.
- Final Lesson: Tend the flock. Effective use of social channels has been critical to Kanye’s success in reinvigorating his image and exciting his fan base. It’s not that these channels were used to invent a new persona or articulate new brand-positioning, they simply facilitated access to truth that was previously obscured.
As our paid media campaigns start to orbit around social platforms, consumers must discover that there is value, loyalty, and of course truth at the gravitational center of that universe, not a black hole.