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How Drake’s new mixtape represents a shifting trend in the corporate side of the music industry

Photo: Skeezix1000, CC, Flickr

If you want to make an overnight success of your latest record, maybe don’t tell anyone.

In the music industry, trends are a major factors in an artist’s profits. From a marketing perspective, they can make or break your product.

One of the latest and most notable trends in music today involves artists shunning industry norms by releasing their projects in a surprise format with little to no marketing.

The most noteworthy surprise album came in December 2013, when Beyoncé released her self-titled album to iTunes without any warning or promotion.

According to Billboard, the album sold a staggering 80,000 units in the first three hours and was certified platinum only weeks later. The hype that surrounded the album was essential for R&B and hip-hop as both genres have long struggled with album delays and marketing mishaps.

More recently, Toronto rapper Drake pulled the ultimate power move in February. His short film entitled Jungle surfaced online, sparking rumours of a new project that materialized as a 17-track mixtape called If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, posted on iTunes later that evening.

Typically speaking, hip-hop mixtapes are free. But with its  sale on iTunes, If You’re Reading This completes Drake’s four-album contract with Cash Money Records. The surprise release has been interpreted as Drake making a statement in breaking away from his record deal and taking control of his own career.

So far the decision has paid massive dividends. The mixtape sold 535,000 units digitally in less than one week, debuting at the top of charts worldwide. The anti-corporate strategy of self-promotion is effective, given the right artist.

Similarly during New York Fashion Week, Kanye West debuted his fashion line in partnership with Adidas, where he used the platform to premiere the song “Wolves” from his upcoming album.

He later told a New York radio station that setting a date for an album is played out and tiresome and instead it will be a surprise. Defying all norms in the music industry of how new music is to be released has in turn become the new norm.

Awad Ibrahim, a professor in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education, commented on the shifting relationship between hip-hop and the corporate world.

“It is now seen as something that really needs attention, and it touches big corporation’s pockets as well,” said Ibrahim. “It is so powerful that even if you have an issue with it you don’t have a choice but to grapple with it and to deal with it in some capacity. It demands respect.”

Judging by the trend’s momentum, fans should expect plenty more surprises.



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