With more and more releases dropping every day, artists have to find pretty unique ways to stand out with their album releases.
Plenty of major players in the industry have dropped records in pretty unique and extravagant ways, from the Arkells previewing new tracks through a hotline number posted on a billboard to The Flaming Lips burying a USB with an EP inside of a candy gummy skull.
Check out some of the most unique album marketing campaigns of all time below.
Arcade Fire’s custom fidget spinners
— Arcade Fire (@arcadefire) July 31, 2017
Weeks before the release of their latest record, 2017’s Everything Now, Arcade Fire released their very own custom fidget spinners, which contained their fifth studio album via USB. In addition to the full record, the fidget spinner also came with a digital booklet, but supplies were so limited that it retailed for a hefty $109 USD, which is equivalent to $137 CAD.
The Flaming Lips’ simultaneous stereo CDs
The Flaming Lips released 1997’s Zaireeka on four separate stereo CDs, which were intended to all be played at the same time. The band urged listeners to play the CDs simultaneously, on four separate stereos, and when the sound was combined together you would get the full album. According to reviews, the band even considered the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get four separate CDs to play at the exact same time, so if your devices are off by a few seconds, Zaireeka allegedly still sounds amazing.
Arkells’ billboard and hotline
Can’t sleep off those American Screams?
⚡️RALLY CRY⚡️ pic.twitter.com/VfoNPxby6l
— ARKELLS (@arkellsmusic) October 1, 2018
The Arkells are always finding new ways to promote their music, and in the lead up to Rally Cry, they really outdid themselves. After debuting a new track live at karaoke, the band shared another new tune through a hotline. The Hamilton group teased the Buffalo billboard that reads “Can’t sleep off those American Screams?” along with a toll free number. They even included a picture of a map, which led to 374 Smith Street, where the billboard was located. The hotline led to a preview of “American Screams,” which was a new tune off of their recently released album, Rally Cry.
Beck’s book of sheet music
In 2012, Beck released a book of sheet music titled Song Reader, which contained 20 songs by the artist. The idea was that, instead of releasing a physical album, fans could buy the compilation of sheet music, play it themselves, and interpret Beck’s songs their own way. In fact, Beck even encouraged fans to submit videos and clips of them performing his tracks to the book’s publisher, McSweeney’s, who posted them on their website.
Beyoncé’s campaign-less album release
For Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled visual album, the queen of pop took one of the biggest marketing steps in musical history, dropping the full album with no campaign at all. The entire record simply appeared on download and streaming services overnight on December 13th, 2013, with no promotion or fanfare involved whatsoever. The feedback from this gutsy move was remarkable, with Mashable reporting that it was tweeted about 1.2 million times in just 12 hours following its release.
The Flaming Lips’ candy gummy skull
In 2011, indie weirdos The Flaming Lips released an EP buried inside of a candy gummy skull. In order to retrieve a USB, which contained four new tracks from the veteran band, you had to eat your way through the candy skull. This was a pretty rare release at the time, as only 500 of these tasty skulls were made, and each hidden EP was sold at a whopping $150 each.
Foals’ lyric scavenger hunt
51.4700° N, 0.0694° W pic.twitter.com/UJR9ETHnEb
— FOALS (@foals) January 16, 2019
In March, Foals shared the lyrics to their new track “Exits” by sealing them in a set of mysterious envelopes that had been left in a variety of locations across Europe. The band took to Twitter to post photos of the secretive images alongside latitude and longitude coordinates that led fans to the cryptic discovery. The track was the first single off of their most recent album Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1.
Jenny Lewis’ intentionally awkward Telethon
Jenny Lewis live-streamed a telethon and variety show called On the Line Online to promote her forthcoming album and raise money for The Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles. The three hour long telethon was co-hosted by comedians Tim Heidecker and Vanessa Bayer, and it included a stacked lineup of special guests, including St. Vincent, Beck, Mac DeMarco, Jeff Goldblum, Danielle Haim, Jim James, David Arquette, Natasha Leggero, and more. The spoof show was purposefully awkward, and it even featured Lewis recording a live music video for her new track “Rabbit Hole.”
Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want download
Back in 2007, Radiohead self-released In Rainbows as a pay-what-you-want download, even offering up the option to pay nothing and download the record for free. This was a pivotal moment in the music industry, as it was the first time a big name artist ever made such a move. The album’s release rose a lot of question, causing fans and industry professionals to evaluate the capitalist nature of the music industry, and what it would look like if music was accessible to the public.
Nine Inch Nails’ dystopian alternate reality game
In 2007, Nine-Inch Nails criticized the US government with Year Zero, which revolved around a dystopian prediction of the year 2022. Through marketing agency 42 Entertainment, the band made an alternative reality game that encouraged users to create their own communities online. The entire campaign was pretty extensive, but you can find a full detailed description of the entire release in the video above.
Mogwai’s tiny music box
This isn’t a full album, but in 1997, Mogwai unveiled a tiny music box that played their single “Tracy.” The tiny mechanical box only played the song’s guitar riff, but it was a pretty neat and exclusive piece of merch for fans and collectors alike. It may not have been the most accessible way to listen to a new tune, but neither were HitClips, and everyone still loved those.