In a recent write-up from Music Business Worldwide, the consumption of the album versus singles was discussed. An idea was pointed out about fans being encouraged to develop a less-committed relationship with new artists due to the nature of music streaming platforms. It’s clear that in today’s attention economy, consumer behavior is shifting to consume singles as opposed to entire albums. When looking at the consumption of the streaming consumption of Drake’s 25 track long album Scorpion from earlier this year, 63% of global streams from Spotify came from three songs: “God’s Plan”, “In My Feelings” and “Nice for What”.
This brought up an internal debate within myself on the topic of how artists can establish a more committed relationships with consumers, turning them into superfans. I hypothesized that the underlying idea to driving fandom is through emotion.
The Artist As A Brand
Through academic studies on branding like one conducted by Robert Heath, David Brandt, Agnes Nairn, and Eivi Lyon, we’ve come to understand that it’s the emotional creativity, and not the rational message in advertising that builds brand relationships. How does this idea apply to the consumer and the relationship to an artist?
When we look at communication appeal through the lens of Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, an emotionally-driven form of communication makes a quicker and greater impact on the System 1 part of our brain, which is capable of making quick decisions based on very little information. Emotions and feelings will always be formed pre-cognitively and pre-attentively before any information processing takes place, as argued by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. As a result, we can establish that emotions influence us in ways we don’t even realize.
Furthermore, not only is mental engagement greater when there’s a greater level of emotion in the message, but emotion helps drive long-term memory encoding. According to Peter Pynta, “what’s key to turning [a recent memory] into [a] long-term memory is how intensely emotion is experienced. The more intense, the more likely it is to be remembered.”
So, emotions influence us on an unconscious level AND emotions help drive long-term memory encoding? Sounds like emotion-based communication is the way to go for brands…
Being that artists are essentially brands, it’s pretty fascinating to think about the implications of emotional communication to potentially consuming audiences. Let’s take Drake and his long-standing rap beef with Pusha-T earlier this year as an example. Whether or not you think Drake won the rap feud with King Push (imho, Drake got bodied), the novelty of the rap battle and lyrical jabs thrown by both artists drew attention and made us feel some type of way. These emotions not only captured our attention to the feud at hand, but also helped embed this as a long-term memory for many rap fans. At the end of the day, whether it was concerning the lyrical abilities of each of the rappers or the dirt thrown around, the rap battle was also a well-played means to a marketing end, considering that Pusha-T dropped his album DAYTONA a few days before the beef reached its peak with “The Story of Adidon”.
Where the Album comes into play
In our “attention economy”, we face constant cognitive overload from brands in our everyday lives. When it comes to music consumption, things are no different. It’s overwhelming to think about the insurmountable amount of music when we log onto our go-to music streaming platforms. Due to the cognitive overload, most of the times the artist selected is the one that’s top of mind.
So, how to artists/brands become top of mind? Well, as mentioned above, it’s through emotion-based communication that we come to recall brands, not only in the short-term, but also years from now since the emotionally-charged message that we recall down the line. Artists can use emotional narratives to not only draw attention and engagement with frontline repertoire (a new album release), but also leverage emotion to help encode their brand in the consumers mind for catalogue engagement years from now.
An album as a body of work, as opposed to releasing solely singles, could serve as a tactic to continue to build the brand narrative of the artist and thus drive fans up the fan pyramid. One album that does a great job on building an artist narrative is Kendrick Lamar’s chart-topping, conceptual album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. Within the album, Lamar “chronicles [his] experiences in his native Compton and its harsh realities, in a nonlinear narrative. The songs address issues such as economic disenfranchisement, retributive gang violence and downtrodden women, while analyzing their residual effects on individuals and families.” If you’ve gone through any of the the experiences narrated by Lamar at any level, the storytelling hits home and you get the feels. Could this level of story-telling have been achieve by solely releasing singles?
While I’m aware that some artists are album artists, while others are singles artists, my key message is that an album gives the chance to further build the narrative for the artist. While artists have the ability to relay emotionally-charged messages to potential audiences through marketing-related stunts, an album gives the chance to further nurture the narrative sonically through the music of the artists.