A conversation in the Thrice album thread got me thinking this morning. Does hype around an album even matter anymore? In the past, the idea of a hyped release meant that a lot of people would be anticipating, talking about, and building “buzz” for the release. The thinking went that the more hype around a release, the better it’d sell, then there’d be more people out on tours, you’d get bigger and better tours, and then you’re on your way. The time between announcing an album and releasing it into the world seemed to, in theory, be built around coordinating and focusing this hype as you built toward release week and getting those first week sales. But here, in 2018, does this hype really mean anything and can we measure its success?
Over the past few months I can’t think of many rock bands that had more buzz, or “hype,” than the most recent Foxing release. All the right publications were talking about it. All the right “taste makers” liked it. Premieres on all the right websites. Features were written. Cool, unique, campaigns. Awesome podcasts. And it was all backed by, in my opinion, one of the best albums so far released this year. It came, it was released into the world, and it sold just fine in the first week. (Around 3,500 copies.) So, by quite a few of the metrics we’ve always used to define what a good album rollout looks like, this one had it all. It had the buzz. It had the “hype.” It had our forums anticipating the album from announcement all the way up to the day it was released into the world. The question I started asking myself this morning was centered on if this was actually effectively better than the Thrice album rollout — which seems to have die-hard fans upset because there isn’t enough to keep them interested. And, furthermore, how do we adequately measure “hype” and if it matters in the rock or alternative music world today?
I suppose where I come down is that it’s probably better for an album cycle to build this hype than not. I’d also argue that it seems easier to build this kind of buzz when you’re a young, or new, band than it is when you’re on record nine, and that it’s not a guaranteed predictor of album sales until you reach a critical mass that I don’t see many rock bands hitting in 2018. One of the goals of a tight and controlled album rollout is that you can focus your attention for a specific moment in time on getting all your biggest supporters in on the upcoming release, sell some albums and concert tickets, and hope to use that momentum and internet chatter to catch the ears of new fans as well. That seems good, but I don’t know if I buy into the idea that announcing an album “too early” or there being a large amount of time between a song and the album release itself, is really causing an artist to lose out on anything.
The short of it is that I think complaining about album cycles and rollouts have become the norm, and I’m not quite sure why. The back and forth about what bands should do, or what works and doesn’t work, seems to be never ending without any way of really controlling for all the variables to determine what the ideal cycle should be. Thrice and Alkaline Trio are both releasing albums on Epitaph Records in the next few months, but the way the two albums were announced to fans and rolled out to the masses have been quite different. Alkaline Trio came roaring out of the gate, gave us all the information, we’ve heard two songs, and the album will be here next week. Thrice released “The Grey” almost three months ago. Pre-orders were two months ago. And the album’s still a couple of weeks away. As a fan, I understanding wanting to shrink the time between finding out an album is coming and when you actually get it. But I’m becoming less convinced with time that “hype” is a thing that we can measure and even leaning toward the idea that it’s not as effective or needed as a marketing strategy as we once thought. I don’t think Alkaline Trio will do better than they would have otherwise because of a short rollout, and I don’t think Thrice are going to do worse than they would have if their album was coming out tomorrow.
I think what these conversations do say is that there’s a lot of listeners that are looking to connect with music, and artists, in new and engaging ways. They want to feel like they’re part of something special. They want to buy into what it means to be a “fan” of a specific artist and feel a connection there. When fans complain about an album rollout I think they’re saying they want more. Maybe they remember the first time they discovered a band and the anticipation leading up to release week. Maybe release weeks just don’t mean as much as they once did and the magic surrounding them is a thing we’re never getting back. (Thanks, Napster.) But from my reading of the forums, and other social media platforms, it does seem like there’s an underserved portion in rock music fandom that is looking for artists to find ways to reach them and engage them again. Beyond that, I think the ideal album cycle or rollout should focus on what makes the most sense for an artist and their schedule and what they want. Internet commenters said Paramore and Fueled by Ramen blew it with their After Laughter rollout, but they missed (or conveniently overlooked) the band, and especially Hayley Williams, explaining that this kind of release was exactly what they wanted and why it was needed for their mental health. I don’t think we factor that into these discussions enough.
I’m curious to hear other thoughts on this matter. Do you think hype matters? Why do you think we’ve been talking about album cycles, rollouts, and announcements with the furor that we have over the past few years? Are we focusing on the wrong things by trying to systematically dictate what every album rollout should look like for every artist? I don’t know for sure, but I’m far less convinced that the “hype” or “buzz” around a new rock band matters as much as it once did.