There’s no such thing as the relationship between artists and fans or listeners. This relationship is key and it is timeless and the most successful are those who know how to keep this engagement alive. Understanding it is certainly the best way to stand out in a scene that’s already so crowded. If you have been following what’s going on in “the scene” recently, you have probably heard about this little Australian band called Northlane who released their new album ‘Mesmer’ last Friday without any warning. Everyone says they pulled a Beyoncé (or an Avenged Sevenfold, for that matter) but we beg to differ. While Beyoncé disappeared from the face of the internet before releasing her album, Northlane did not. They however did something quite creative and innovative that gets along with their new material and our era, in short.
It is no surprise for anyone that the internet disrupted the music industry and the way we consume music. We went through physical purchases in store, to massive legal/illegal downloading, to free/paid streaming. Moreover, we went through traditional marketing of music with TV, radio, and print to new strategies on digital (RIP Myspace). Overall, the Internet definitely changed the game while also changing the relationship between artists and their audience. Thanks to the Internet, the boundaries have become thinner and now, it’s quite easy to talk to your favorite band whether it is on Facebook or Twitter.
However, one main issue nowadays is that the music industry, no matter the genre, is crowded. So, as an artist, how are you supposed to stand out from the others when it comes to promote your upcoming album? You can do as Beyoncé: drop an album out of nowhere and amass thousands of reactions. You can do as Twenty øne Piløts : create a Twitter account for the main character of your album and build the hype. You can do as Creeper: set an investigation both online and in real life to keep your audience involved in the narrative of your album. So obviously, many tools are available, and not only for those who have the money or a big team of creatives behind them. And that’s where Northlane played their cards right.
A couple of weeks ago, we came across their video for ‘Mesmer’, which is stunning and looks like a movie trailer. Looking back, it appears that this video contains several elements featured in the record, including music parts, lyrics and visuals. Along this video, was a link. Not too obvious, but available to everyone. First, we thought it would redirect to their official website or an online store. Little did we know, it created a new conversation in Facebook Messenger, directly with Northlane. Well, actually, with a character named Citizen. Now, know that we are a little bit biaised because we know how chatbots work and how to create them but boy, we were so excited to be able to experience it in that situation.And we can only imagine how thrilled people could have been when Radiohead introduced Googly Minotaur on AOL’s Instant Messenger back in 2001 to promote their album ‘Kid A’. As Radiohead did 15 years ago, Northlane and UNFD (their record label) thought ahead and took advantage of a tool Messenger which is making a come back and that everyone uses on a daily basis.
That way, they narrowed dramatically the gap between the band and their audience. When Citizen asks you if you are Mr. Snow (a reference to Edward Snowden) and you answer « I am not », it says your name. Not only it emphasizes the feeling of having a real conversation with someone who actually talks to you but it also makes you feel involved in the narrative. At this point, you don’t even exactly know what it is all about; but your attention is definitely caught. We never thought that getting a notification “from Citizen” every week would get us so excited, as much as we are excited when our mates send us messages. What makes it even more unique and fun is that there are different paths. Everyone who experienced the chatbot, did not receive the same elements of the narrative around Citizen. Even though it was a conversation thousands of people had with Citizen, it was your own conversation between the character and you, not simply a Facebook status or a tweet.
The day before the album release, Citizen simply sent the date « 24/03 » without further explanation. Right now, we all know what it meant. Besides, if you had checked Northlane’s official website, you would have noticed a countdown. Yet, no further information. Then, before you knew it, ‘Mesmer’ was out.
This strategy was not a mere publicity stunt. Obviously, anyone could have done it. But no one did it the way Northlane did and for the reasons they did. As explained in their statement, they wanted the fans to be the first to listen to ‘Mesmer’ the moment it came out.
“We felt we owed it to this album to try and think creatively about every aspect of the way people would experience Mesmer, like a gift from us to you that is being unboxed. We wanted to make everyone’s discovery of this moment special.”
The biggest risk was obviously regarding sales and press coverage but after all, is this what really matters? Funny thing is that themusic.com.au titled their mid-week chart report ‘Are Northlane the band to break Ed Sheeran’s ARIA chart hot streak?’, whereas all the fans are hyped, so in the end, it seems like it was worth taking the risk.
As far as Northlane are concerned, finding unconventional ways to engage with the audience has always been a priority. They are consistent in the way they handle this aspect of being a band and creating art for an audience. We said it before and we will say it again; Northlane are by far one of the most creative and innovative groups in this musical landscape and they have proven it once again with the release of ‘Mesmer’. The way they marketed this album is a breath of fresh air among all those bands teasing the fuck out of their upcoming albums for months and releasing half of the tracks before the actual release. It kills all the fun and long lost is the time you had to wait until you went to the store to pick up a new album, open it, listen to it at home and get excited. That being said, we are not especialy fond of album streaming a week ahead of its physical release, either. By making such a choice for their release, Northlane gave value to the listener’s experience, the emotional aspect of getting one’s hand on an album, as well as being gifted with music we are passionate about.
So no, Northlane did not pull a Beyoncé. They pulled a Northlane.
Words : Karen V. And Mary B.
Northlane – ‘Mesmer’, out now via UNFD
More info and orders : https://unfd.lnk.to/Mesmer
Catch Northlane on tour pretty much everywhere in the next few months.