Marketing Musicians: Kendrick Lamar

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Marketing Musicians: Kendrick Lamar

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Kendrick knows how to make a splash, and his digital marketing techniques reinforce his ability, and effectiveness, to do so.

Lamar’s talent already made a him standout, with his storytelling abilities positioning him as one of the top rappers of his time. But it wasn’t until his 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly (“TPAB”) dropped that his marketing scheme became apparent, with each next release rounding out his brand and career more.

It was three years since his previous record, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and Kendrick’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment, had been marketing the release date of the already highly anticipated TPAB for March 23rd. Every K dot fan had the date memorized, and every radio station and media coverage had it marked in their calendars. But then, Kendrick and TDE surprised the world when TPAB hit Spotify a week early. This unexpected decision turned Lamar’s album into practically an event, with media sources and consumers alike racing to be the first to listen all the way through. Even people who weren’t avid followers of his music darted to their respective Spotify and iTunes accounts to hear the album that was released “early”.

This set a precedent for TDE and Lamar. His next move was already in the works, and the marketing for it would be done with a similar surprise and subtlety factor as TPAB. First, Kendrick went on Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert’s shows where he performed new songs on each, setting up PR within consumers for something they didn’t even know existed yet. Next, he and his label began to post release dates on Instagram, without any explanation as to what they were for. This added on to the mystery and questions asked by fans over the next possible K dot project. Teasers like these continued on social media for a month, with mock album covers and track names, until Lamar released his compilation album untitled unmastered without any announcement. And yet again, media and fans, who had only teasers and tastes of new Kendrick for nearly a year, essentially sprinted and clawed to get their hands on his surprise product.

Then, in 2017, Kendrick did it once again. His fourth studio album was put out on all streaming sources after a month’s worth of album cover teasers and a pre-order option on Apple Music. He has cultivated an expectation of vagueness and teasing when it comes to his (possible) releases, setting up his tangible product to not only anticipated before it comes out, but basically be a viral event the second it drops. Which, as history tells us, could be any day. And with this strategy bringing his latest work to be a certified Double Platinum record with two Grammy nominations, he leaves the digital marketers watching him thinking…



William Reilly Farrell

William Farrell

January 22, 2018at 5:15 pm

So true. I think that artists in general that use these surprise tactics create more fervor amongst their fans. On an individual level, I become more enthralled with any social media activity than I would be if the music is already out or if there is a firm release date coming. The intrigue just creates more buzz for the artist. This brings them up in conversations and probably draws in new listeners. In Kendrick’s case, the speculation about Nation after Damn was released probably cultivated much more interest for his live-streamed Coachella performance.

Eric Herber

Eric Herber

January 23, 2018at 1:11 pm

Kendrick has a lot of smarts when it comes to the music business. He knows how to get people excited and want his music. After a year of Damn. being out there are still 4 songs from it in the 200 most streamed tracks on Spotify. This is owed to his ability to understand what the public wants to hear and his skilled delivery of just that.

Kayona Meade

Kayona Meade

February 3, 2018at 9:53 pm

This was a great read! Kendrick and his team now what works best to captivate his audience, and have them listen to his music. I think the idea of building suspense and keeping the main product a mystery, is a great digital marketing tactic that draws in everyone, not just fans. Kendrick has mastered this skill and it has worked wonders in his favor every time.

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