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Lessons Learnt From Ye's (Kanye) Donda Music Marketing Campaign

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On 29 August 2021, Kanye West finally released his long-awaited album, Donda. The album had been in production for 18 months, and the rapper had been teasing the album for months. The album broke streaming records and became the biggest debut of 2021 on Spotify.

In certain ways, Donda can be seen less like an album but more as a pop culture phenomenon. Whether people hate Kanye West or love him, he was trending on every social media platform. West reportedly earned millions even before the album’s actual release, as his fans ran in flocks to his listening parties. The fans were so eager and dedicated that they paid just to hear snippets of the songs on the album. 

But how did Kanye West manage to gather crowds larger than 60,000 even without an album release? The answer lies in the enigmatic personality that is Kanye West. Over time the rapper has built up a fan base that is willing to go through anything for him. Even after disappearing for almost two years and teasing the album but never releasing it, his fans remain loyal to him. The rapper managed to do this by having a great career in both music and fashion and also by applying some genius music marketing

So here are a few lessons that indie musicians must learn from the rapper about how he managed to amass such a massive level of success:

Manufacturing Anticipation 

Kanye West’s last album, Jesus Is King, was released in 2019, and after having it have its moment, in March 2020, the rapper started working on his new album. The album was supposed to be called God’s Country, but the title was later changed to Donda, a dedication to Kanye’s late mother. After a leak about the album’s existence by Arthur Jafa, Kanye himself took to Twitter and posted a tracklist of 20 songs that were supposed to be on the album, marking that the album will be released on 24th July 2020. Later, the tweet was deleted, and a few days later, another tracklist was put out, this time with completely different 12 songs. 

As Kanye got busy putting his name for the electoral run in 2020 and his marriage started falling apart, the album was mentioned in passing by the rapper afterward, but no release date was ever announced. In early 2021, it was assumed that the album was put on hold. But soon after that, reports of Kanye being back in the studio started emerging. Several artists like Tyler the Creator and Pusha T hyped up the album release. 

On 20 July of 2021, Kanye West announced that his new album would be released in merely three days via an NBA advertisement. The rapper conducted a streaming party to promote the album, but on July 23, the album was again not released. The release date was then pushed to August 6, then to August 15, and finally to September 3. The third and final streaming party conducted broke Apple’s most-viewed live streaming records.

The streaming parties were in itself a spectacle to behold with several famous artists, like Jay-Z, Pusha T. Extremely controversial artists like DaBaby and Marilyn Manson were also a part of Kanye West’s ensemble. West even recreated a set replicating his childhood home and promptly lit the set and him along with it on fire. The rapper’s wife, Kim Kardashian, also made an appearance in a wedding dress. This made headlines everywhere.

He managed to generate $7 million in revenue just by holding listening parties. The genius music marketing can be seen just by how the rapper managed to keep his fans on their toes, and leveraging the anticipation to create even further hype. Giving them a slight peek behind the curtain while still holding it pretty tightly. All this led to immense buzz around the album, which helped it break streaming records when it was finally released. 

The Beef Between the Rappers

On August 26th, Drake announced that he would be releasing his album, Certified Lover Boy, on September 3, the alleged release date of Donda. After Drake had dissed Kanye in a song, the rappers already had beef, which was suddenly heightened by Drake’s proclamation. To maintain Kanye’s record of No. 1 with every album release, West’s label released Donda on 29th August. Kanye West later took to Instagram with anguish, claiming that UMG had released the album without his consent. He even mentioned how a song had been left off the album, but the song was later added to the artist’s catalogue. Hence, even the feud with Drake further helped the rapper in promoting his album; no press is bad press.

How Can You Manage to Replicate This?

It is not possible for everyone to be Kanye West and to do what he did. You need a die-hard fan following, a stable position in the music industry, knowledge of music marketing, and a lot of cha-ching. However, Kanye is Kanye not because of his money, but because of the basic principles he uses to make his music marketing campaigns succeed.

--> Make Your Album Release Exciting

Instead of focusing on one single release day, make your album release an event. Like Kanye, you can plan listening and streaming parties, albeit not of the same level. But these events will help in creating hype and buzz around your project. Make this parties as fun and theatrical as you want.

If you’ve been reading our blogs, you know all of this is pointing towards one simple yet super effective strategy—“Headlines.” 

It is when you don’t just focus on your upcoming release, you also focus very deeply on the narrative that will surround your upcoming release. It’s based on a simple principle—when you sit to chart out a marketing campaign for your new release, make sure that the events in your marketing campaign are headline-worthy. 

Kanye, at the end of the day, made sure his marketing events are particularly easy, or even appealing, to be written headlines about. 

--> Reward Your Core Fans

If you already have a small fanbase, make sure they feel loved. Like Kanye, you can release snippets of your songs or do additional promotions for these people. If you engage your core fans early, more people are likely to get into these groups when the buzz around your project increases. 

--> Focus on the Process Rather Than the Product

The one thing that was clear after the release of Donda was that the audience enjoyed the journey they had to get to the album as much as they liked the album. Engage your audience in your creative process and keep them up to date and excited.

Being as big as Kanye West is not easy, but West also reached his position with persistence, strategy, and of course, by making great music. If you had to learn only one lesson from Kanye, it should be to be yourself. No matter how erratic or different. Do you know what else is erratic and different? Music marketing with LinkedIn.  

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