Artist Series | Beyoncé
It’s been 2 years since Beyoncé released her controversial but tasteful album Lemonade. From singles like Formation that turned people’s attentions to black and female rights in the US, lyrics exposing her husband’s Jay-Z infidelity, to its launch as a visual album on HBO and exclusivity to Tidal. Lemonade took over music conversations all over the world, whether you are a Queen B fan or not. So, as independent artists and music business owners, there are a few lessons to be learned from this one.
1. Tell Your Story
Storytelling is a must have in any field nowadays. And one of the things that got everyone talking about Lemonade was the way Beyonce told her most intimate life stories and shared her deep thoughts so openly. Of course in her case, the main people featured in the lyrics are her famous rap husband and her previous manager — her dad — , which on its own already generates significant word-of-mouth. However, my point is that people recognize when you’re being raw, true to yourself and showing vulnerability. People love vulnerability. It makes us feel like we can relate to what your saying. So,
Tell your story, or a version of your story, and use your openness and vulnerability to build a real connection with your audience.
2. Be Disruptive
Disruptive. Big trendy word. It essentially means being different, innovative, break with the old ways.
Lemonade, while not my favorite album, caused disruption in our views of Beyonce’s music. It’s less princess like, more authentic, and at the same time back to the roots like. This is also reflected in the way the album was promoted:
- It just dropped out of the blue — there was no formal announcement, everyone just assumed something would follow the single.
- Formation as a single had a strong impact. Musically it got mixed reviews, but there was a clear political and personal statement embedded in the words.
- Exclusive release on Tidal — controversial topic. We’ve covered it before. But Queen B is one of the few that give her exclusivity to a streaming service. Even 2 years after the launch, the only streaming platform where you can listen to Lemonade is Tidal. It had everyone talking about it again, and made it feel like a very special product, premium even.
- Visual album — And here’s where the main disruptive factor lies. Apart from single music videos and Kanye West’s full-length Runaway film, no one had yet made such a visual album. Exclusively broadcast on HBO, this stunt generated millions of views, other hundreds of press articles, and enough material for a whole year of content and social media marketing.
A key aspect and goal in anyone’s career is to evolve. As an artist your music will naturally evolve, as you experience different things across the years, meet new people, and listen to different kinds of music. All of that influences you as human being and shapes you. Lemonade is a culmination of all these experiences. An evolution from the mainstream pop/rnb to a more mature, intimate sound that brings you closer to home. It’s more of a conceptual album, as opposed to a set of good singles like Beyonce’s previous works were.
4. Ride On A Trend, Amplify A Movement.
2016 was a year of increasing awareness towards black rights with movements such as Black Lives Matter leading the main efforts in achieving a more equal and just society. Following the movement, a lot of afro-american celebrities, that have felt the negative effects of discrimination in their lives while growing up, have spoken up in agreement and support to the movement. It was the first time the public saw Beyonce truly embracing her afro-american heritage from the South. SNL even parodied the fact with their ‘The Day Beyoncé Turned Black’ sketch where several white folks asked ‘Beyoncé is black?’.
Black Lives Matter is a movement that hits close to home to most afro-americans but also to millions of people around the globe who have been treated differently all their lives just because of the colour of their skin. So, when an internationally acclaimed artist takes the cause and makes a stand with a single like Formation, it is going to be a conversation topic for sure. Besides that, more people will hear about the issue. It’s really positive social wise, but also a strong marketing tactic. Marketers have taken advantage of trendy causes almost since the beginning of time, in order to effectively put products in front of wider audiences.
Don’t take me wrong. I’m not saying that you should suddenly and randomly start speaking up about a cause, or writing songs about an issue just to market yourself (even though many do that — I find it a bit unethical). No.
What I’m trying to say is that music is a channel. A powerful one.
And it can get a message out there. If you truly feel strong about something, like Beyoncé did and does about an equal society, connecting it with a cause can amplify that message greatly. In addition, if they are trending at that moment, they can also take your music further as a bi-product.
5. Video Is King
A big trend in marketing from 2016 up until today, video is here to stay. Due to the success of YouTube and other platforms, anyone can create their own content and share it with the world. This way, video has become one of the most engaging type of content ever. Television (visual content) was always very popular anyway. Now with the Internet, in particular with the potential of social media, artists have a chance to reach millions of people, and video is a big part of that mission.
Lemonade’s visual album was a somewhat genius attempt to leverage video into generating viral content, and get people back to consuming a full length album. At first exclusively on HBO (B loves exclusivity, apparently), the album can also now be viewed on YouTube and Tidal.
As an indie artist, video can be your best weapon to spread your music around, get people interested in you, and have them easily share it with others.
Remember when MTV played music videos? It’s been a while… But remember how we spent hours talking about Missy Elliot’s crazy dances and video props? Or that emblematic jet ski run away scene in Mariah Carey’s Honey? Yeah, video was really exciting then. And it is again now.
A few tips,
- Look for YouTube channels that are keen to feature new artists. You have loads of them, especially in the indie scene — SoFar Sounds, La Blogothèque, etc. Look for those in your city as well.
- Be creative, original and sharpen your editing skills. You don’t need a big budget to make a good video. Nowadays any good smartphone has a decent quality camera, so you can do something with it. Just make sure to clean up your act, be good and create a piece that really represents you and your art.
- Whatever you do, keep evolving, keep getting better. As mentioned on a previous post, keep aiming for those 10,000 hours. Do the work and do not think that just because you did that really sweet and smooth pop record, you cannot make a next one with a little bit more overdrive or edgy vocals. There is only one true version of ourselves, but we’re not immutable beings.