Good or bad for artists? – Billboard

In the summer of 2006, Gym Class released Heroes As cruel as school children, their second album with the Fueled by Ramen label. The band was looking for a commercial breakthrough, and they got it – but it came from an unexpected source. In a bizarre twist, “Cupid’s Chokehold,” a baroque hip-hop ballad from the group’s previous LP, began to show signs of commercial life.

“It started to take off at a station in Milwaukee,” recalls Crush Music founder Jonathan Daniel, who managed Gym Class Heroes at the time. “We decided to go with it as a single and make a new video.” That decision paid off; “Cupid’s Chokehold” became #1 at pop radio and hit the top five Billboard Hot 100.

This maneuver, the musical equivalent of switching horses in midstream, was once unusual—new music was prioritized until it became old music, after which it was mostly left alone. “It was so weird and new at the time,” Daniel says of the 2006 decision to throw resources behind a song from the previous year. In 2022’s music industry, however, what was once odd has become relatively routine: An artist releases a fresh album or single, only to have an old one experience the kind of random viral waves, often on TikTok, that have become commonplace.

The Weeknd set out Dawn FM in January, but his chart-topper right now — and pop radio single — is “Die For You,” which came out on 2016’s Starboy (No. 41 on the Hot 100, two places higher than it reached when it was originally released). While hard rock band Ghost hit No.1 on Billboard’s Top album sales diagram with Ruler in March, the group’s big track at the moment is the chirping, organ-laced “Mary on a Cross” (No. 92), from a 7″ vinyl single that hit stores back in 2019. AJR released a new single, “I Won’t,” in July after signing a deal with Mercury Records; the band entered the Hot 100 last week (chart dated Oct. 8) with the 18-month-old “World’s Smallest Violin” (No. 97), an existential crisis that plays like a string-laden romp that climbs pop too radio. (Last year, as another Crush act, Marina released her new album, Daniel says “suddenly three different songs took off from her first two albums.”)

It’s easy to imagine that this experience can be unnerving for labels. “Kids don’t care if someone pushes a single with millions of dollars in marketing,” says Pablo Douzoglou, director of marketing for Beggars Group (4AD, Rough Trade Records, Matador Records, XL Recordings and Young).

And it can potentially be even more frustrating for artists who sunk months of blood, sweat and tears into their latest release. When “Cupid’s Chokehold” began to reverberate through the airwaves, for example, Daniel recalls Gym Class Heroes frontman Travie McCoy initially feeling something like, “Wait, I’ve just been working so hard on this new record, I’m tired of. old song!”

Artists already face stiff competition with their peers for ears and eyes; now they also have to fight against their own back catalogues. Were listeners not seriously considering a new album because they were still blasting older tracks? Is it a zero-sum game where TikTokers make videos for “Die for You” or Panic! on disco’s 2016 album cut “House of Memories” does so at the expense of singles from Dawn FM or August Long live Las Vengeance?

This was not a concern of the executives, label heads and radio veterans who championed this story; they were almost uniformly excited about instances where an artist had a new release to promote while a comeback was enjoying viral attention. This is partly because it feels so difficult to capture listeners’ attention at the moment – there’s so much new music all the time – that the artists’ team can’t help but be grateful for any interest that comes their way. “So much of the industry right now is primarily, if not entirely, TikTok-based, and the success that comes on the platform is almost arbitrary,” explains one executive. “Everyone is talking about wanting a hit on TikTok; you can never produce that,” says Douzoglou. “If you get an opportunity, you try to take advantage.”

“I don’t think of it as a competition” between the new and old music, he adds. Increased interest in an oldie “will help the artist, which is the business we’re in — helping artists in general and new releases whenever possible.”

“It’s only been additive,” Daniel agrees.

These moments force labels and artist teams to decide how to prioritize their resources. For example, when Perfume Genius’ 2017 track “Otherside” started performing well on TikTok in 2020, Matador Records was preparing a new album, Set my heart on fire at once, for release. Douzoglou and his team reached out to several of the TikTok users who posted clips set to “Otherside,” and found that many of them had “never heard anything from Perfume Genius.” As a result, Douzoglou “chose to leave [the trend] alone and focus on the new album,” he says.

Douzoglou acknowledges that this approach may not be for everyone. Most of the artists on the Beggars list, he says, are “not in the singles-based world.” On top of that, “when some of these songs start trending, at least in the indie community, it’s probably related to something besides the music.” The trend can still help both the artist and the label — Douzoglou says one likely result is an increase in physical sales of, say, artists’ back catalog — but it may not be worth chasing and spending money on.

Even for artists who live and die by hit singles, “not every viral hit is going to be a sustained phenomenon worth disrupting a game plan for,” says Sean Ross, a radio industry veteran and writer for the weekly. Ross on the radio newsletter. “The danger,” he notes, “is a label change[ing] gear to a phenomenal song and neither stay[ing] a blow.”

Ghost’s team at Loma Vista is working on two initiatives “in parallel,” according to Todd Netter, the brand’s senior director of marketing: one for Ruler and another for “Mary on a Cross”. (Netter, who has a gift for colorful metaphors, says that if the two campaigns “intersect, it’s more like a DNA double helix than a collision.”) On the one hand, Loma Vista is promoting “Spillways” with its hammering. piano and Boston-like guitar riffs, on rock radio; it climbed to No. 12 on the latest Mainstream Rock Airplay chart. Ghost recently crossed the US on tour and of course played the current single along with “Mary on a Cross”.

At the same time, Loma Vista put together what’s known as a “thematic album compilation” on Spotify featuring “Mary on a Cross” and other Ghost tracks. “It’s basically a playlist delivered as an album product,” explains Netter. Although all the music has already been released on various albums, the collection appears on Spotify as Ghost’s latest release, with its own title. Grouping songs this way “triggers the algorithm, as opposed to a playlist, so it’s a more proactive way to get music into people’s ears,” via Spotify’s auto-generated personalized playlists (collections like Release Radar and Discover Weekly), Netter says . On top of that, Ghost released an official live video for “Mary on a Cross” in September.

Shooting new videos for old songs that are suddenly in circulation is another common tactic—a way to, in Douzoglou’s words, “make a connection between something people have already seen [probably homemade on TikTok] and something more official” from the artist. Matador set out a video to Pavement’s “Harness Your Hopes” in March, more than 20 years after the track’s original release. Doja Cat released a new video for “Streets” — originally from 2019 — in March 2021, and the Weeknd did the same with “Die for You” later that year.

The latter two videos followed a wave of TikTok interest in the respective tracks, and both were directed by Christian Breslauer. “Streets” and “Die for You” “were records that the artist loved – I know Abel [Tesfaye] and Doja felt that way,” says Breslauer. “I think it’s exciting when they get to shoot the video. They get to dig up these songs that had kind of fallen by the wayside and see what they probably envisioned when they wrote them in the study.”

Now that older songs regularly experience sudden resurgences — top TikTok tracks last week included Snoop Dogg’s 2007 auto-tune exploration “Sensual Seduction” and a sped-up version of Echosmith’s 2013 ode to high school angst, “Cool Kids” — it’s likely that it is about. from a new single to an old one, or running campaigns in parallel, will become more and more common.

“The industry has a lot of information,” says Daniel. But more than ever before, “the public decides what is a hit or not.”

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