Recently on this blog we talked about how hyper targeting is almost always going to be more effective than trying to have a diverse sound that could appeal to anybody. Today I wanted to talk about something that can help to facilitate angular marketing – and unlike many of the business oriented solutions offered on this site, this one is purely musical. So what is this magical thing that can help make your music more fascinating almost by default – regardless of genre? I can guarantee you know and love at least a few takes on it already – I’m talking, of course about concept albums.
Concept albums are some of the most resonant across the ages, especially for bands that specialize in niche marketing. As a matter of fact, this has been the case for a long time now. For example – The Who were able to use concept albums like Tommy and Quadrophenia to give their career new life after churning out hits in the 60s. Meanwhile Roger Waters has been able to take Pink Floyd’s The Wall and turn brainy prog rock into one of the most successful tours of all time. On a more recent note My Chemical Romance’s Welcome To The Black Parade remains one of the most influential albums of the twenty first century. This doesn’t even touch on the overwhelming triumph that is Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly.
In a way this should seem obvious. I mean, before To Pimp A Butterfly when was the last time that an entire album received massive praise, and not just because it had good singles? I’m not trying to take away from his achievement, but Kendrick Lamar was merely tapping into something that has worked for years. An album like To Pimp A Butterfly is a stunning artistic achievement because, while yes there are good songs, it also has a more powerful overarching message. This becomes even more important when you realize that concept albums are much more likely to appeal to self identified ‘music people’ and as we’ve discussed before – ‘music people’ are more likely to be superfans and the superfans spend the most money. In other words, the more superfans you have the more money you are going to make.
Now – I know that concept albums aren’t easy to write – I’ve written a couple myself. It’s hard to tie everything together and create something that resonates across every track. That being said – in the end it is almost always worth it. The connected nature of the concept record and the overarching power encourages repeat listens in order to properly understand it. Of course – if your music is really that good, then repeat listens are only going to help bring people deeper into the music and help to generate new levels of fandom. Again – To Pimp A Butterfly is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time and it is almost 80 minutes long. In a world where everyone seems to be claiming that singles are where it’s at – Lamar, and other concept album writers are proving that perhaps the true financial benefit comes from the brainiest and most immersive musical experience possible.
Of course Kendrick Lamar was already hugely successful before To Pimp A Butterfly, other artists though have been able to use concept records in order to shape their careers, renew their popularity, or merely just kick off their careers with a band. A great example of this is Freak Out! the first Mothers of Invention album and the record that essentially kick started Frank Zappa’s career as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Other artists like Neil Young have used concept records later in their career to invoke new interest – as Neil did on his latest record The Monsanto Years an album that has generated more press than anything he has done in years.
Now you might be saying ‘my band writes singles, we want to be hitmakers! Well – hitmakers write concept records too. Asides from the much discussed To Pimp A Butterfly it’s hard to deny that the all time classic Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band isn’t a concept album. If you dig through the archives of pop history and try to understand albums as an art form then it becomes fairly clear that a lot of your musical heroes, including folks like Prince and Michael Jackson have worked on records that they might consider to be concept albums.
What does this mean for you though as the average independent musician? Simply that the brainier our work gets the more angular its appeal will become, but the more angular its appeal is the more it will be able to appeal to fans who will actually spend money on your music. Concept albums are much more likely to get into tastemaker publications and they are much more likely to get casual fans to click ‘play’ especially if the ideas are enticing. Am I saying you need to write a concept album to be popular? No. But if you want at least some buzz almost guaranteed then writing a concept album may be the way to go.