The Trend of Surprise Music Releases: What Every Musician Must Know

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Are you still rocking out to Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next”?

You probably know by now that although Ari teased her fan base with a few lyrics from the new song, the single itself was a surprise.

The star’s surprise music dropped on November 3, 2018, earning millions of listens and downloads. It even had a star-studded music video featuring Kris Jenner and some of the former cast of the 2004 film Mean Girls.

Releasing surprise tracks and albums can be a huge PR move, especially in today’s instant gratification world. You can release a song and have millions of your fans hear it just a few hours later thanks to the magic of the Internet.

But what do you need to know before you drop a surprise hit? And why is it a good idea?

Let’s explore.

When Did Surprise Albums and Songs Become a Thing?

Not surprisingly, music without an announcement wasn’t really a thing until the internet became intricately interwoven into our lives.

In the past, if an artist dropped a new song, they would advertise it on the radio and drop hints. Then, the song might debut on the radio before going for sale in music stores.

The grandfather of the surprise release is Radiohead, who experimented with our instant satisfaction cravings by releasing the album In Rainbows just 10 days after it was announced.

Of course, the tactic was massively successful, and musicians like Kanye West and Beyonce have followed suit.

Now, dropping surprise music on your unsuspecting audience is standard practice.

So let’s take a look at why that is.

Dropping Surprise Music Saves You Time on PR

If you drop a surprise album, you don’t have to do PR and promotion of it before the album. Instead, you rely on word of mouth and the internet’s ability to retweet you until you’re on top.

Many artists spend weeks or months teasing their fans about their new albums by dropping hints and doing promo videos and shoots. Instead, you can skip all of that and go right to the branding and promotions phase.

Bigger artists will have everyone’s tongues wagging, and media outlets will be clamoring for performances and interviews.

But, even if you’re a smaller artist with a dedicated fan base, it can still save you some time on PR, as you don’t have to do as much of a run-up to the release.

Don’t Attempt It If You Don’t Have a Dedicated Fan Base

You don’t have to be Ariana Grande or Beyonce to drop a surprise song or album. But you do have to have a fan base who is going to care that you just dropped music.

One thing this trend relies on is hashtags, retweets and all of the buzz that comes from social media. Not long after, the press will get wind of it and pick it up, earning the musician even more publicity.

But if you don’t have fans who regularly use your hashtags, follow your social media or are in groups dedicated to you or your band, the surprise hit will just totally flop.

Instead, wait until you have at least a core base to try it.

Don’t Do It Habitually

If you release surprise music all of the time, it will become something that your fans expect. In the future, it might be the way everyone releases music, but at the moment, it’s still a bit of a novelty.

So, rely on the old trappings of PR and advertising your music for most of your music. But, once you’ve been around the block a few times, try your hand at releasing some music without any announcements.

Releasing a Surprise Album or Song Can Be a Test of Your Team

Truthfully, it takes a lot of work to release a surprise album. And it takes a lot of people keeping their mouths shut. From the sound guy to the studio mixer to the interns getting coffee, everyone needs to stay tight-lipped.

And for artists as big as Beyonce or Ariana Grande or Ed Sheeran, all of which have released surprise albums, it takes a village.

A couple of artists have had their surprise albums accidentally leaked, which likely led to someone losing their job for causing it.

You can’t really release surprise music unless you make adequate preparations. And although to your fans it seems like it’s last minute, you’ll need to be getting things ready for months before you even step into a recording studio.

You’ll have to draft and sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to keep everyone legally bound to keeping mum. If you have a dedicated fan base, you’ll have to ensure people don’t see you trudging to the studio each day to get ready for your big moment.

But on the bright side, it can help you figure out who on your team really needs to go. If they can’t keep a secret like that, they need to be pulled from your team immediately. And it’ll be time for a replacement.

Doing It Right

Since releasing surprise music is still a relatively new concept, it’ll take a delicate balance to do it right. But, if your team is on board and you know to plan it for months in advance, you’ll be golden.

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