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When Drake and 21 Savage dropped their highly anticipated collaboration “Her Loss” in November, fans expected elite beats, playful raps and a megawatt duo looking to parlay the success of a No. 1 single into an enjoyable long-form album.

What no one expected was a subliminal diss of stale marketing strategies in the music industry.

Rather than give interviews or a live performance to promote the album, Drake, 21 Savage and their teams concocted a marketing rollout using their own platforms.

Included were spoofs of performances on Saturday Night Live, the YouTube series A Colors Show and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, a faux interview with Howard Stern, a mock version of Vogue’s In the Bag series and a fake Vogue magazine cover.

The stunts sent up the usual music marketing playbook, which often relies on the tried-and-true promo strategy of having artists make appearances on various television and online platforms to promote a new project.

Though the fake Vogue cover ended up with the magazine’s publisher Condé Nast suing Drake and 21 Savage, the overall viral marketing strategy worked.

Head of R&B and hip-hop streaming at distribution platform Venice Music Jamal Jimoh said the stunt resonated because Drake and 21 Savage were able to make jokes at their own expense in the promos.

“Anything where you’re down to have a little bit of fun, and not take yourself too seriously, for me, always connects,” he said. “It humanizes it, and makes it more approachable and easier for the audience to connect.”

The marketing stunt seemed to work, with the album notching the biggest debut week for a hip-hop/R&B album in 2022. The tracks racked up a total 514 million on-demand official streams, the fourth-largest streaming week for any album in history at the time.

But did the stunt make an impression on music marketers?

Partner and co-founder of marketing firm 740 Project and independent record label Blac Noize, Rahim Wright, thinks so. He said music marketing can often feel like checking off boxes because record labels are trying to make sure artists commit to a certain number of late-night talk shows, online studio performances and interviews. That has created a bland and formulaic approach to artist marketing.

But many major artists don’t want to just check off boxes, so the way to convince them to believe in a marketing strategy is to come up with a good creative idea. “What’s going to break you into new places is if there’s something creative about it, and that’s what makes it worth doing for huge artists,” Wright said.

CEO and founder of Browned 2 Perfection Agency Junae Brown said creativity is not one size fits all, yet current music marketing is often packaged like it.

“I hope that [the Drake and 21 Savage rollout] wasn’t just a funny moment,” she added. “And it actually lights some fire up under everyone. Because in this day and age, the market is completely saturated with music. In order to break through the noise, you have to do something that’s innovative.”

Marketing that works for me

Brown pointed out that creative ideas don’t always have to be grandiose and have Drake’s budget. Whether it’s text message marketing that allows the artist to communicate with fans directly or an artist documenting the creative process, an activation specifically tailored to the artist is paramount.

For an artist trying to build recognition, these performances are important. But Wright thinks it goes beyond having a good song and more about keeping a viewer’s attention.

“If most people scroll and they see a new artist drop a video, like it or not, you’re going to scroll right past it,” he said. “If the clip has a new artist tumbling down a hill, and the song is playing lightly in the background, you’re going to be so engaged by the tumbling down the hill. And then somebody might point out that the song is also fire.”

Music marketers also need to be willing to take risks. But many don’t out of concern that an idea will fail, which has contributed to the boring box ticking.

Asked what the biggest challenge music marketers face, Jimoh said fear. “The willingness, the readiness and the desire to bet on good ideas has dwindled drastically out of fear that the good ideas aren’t the big idea,” he said.