As the majors still struggle to make profits a decade or so into the digital music age, they’ve recently found a lucrative new market; The Companion Album.
Vanity Fair has a great summary on the trend that Coldplay, Gaga, and Kesha, have all cashed in on. It’s a simple idea. Have some new tracks, remixes, and live recordings that you want to get out to the public? Are you trying to keep momentum from one album to the next? Then companion albums could be for you.
But what if you’re not Lady Gaga and don’t have 10 tracks to put out? Why not try a 3P?
Thats right a 3P. As written about in the best downloadable book ever, The New Rockstar Philosophy, a 3P is a great way to write, record, learn, and keep your fan base engaged. 3 new tracks every 3 to four months. It’s easy!
From Vanity Fair
It’ll contain eight new songs and a remix; the first single fromCannibal, “We R Who We R,” debuted last week.
“Companion” records seems to be the next step in extending albums’ shelf lives, following the “deluxe” editions that populated stores during the past few holiday seasons—add a few tracks to the back end of an album and release one of them to radio, slap on a new coat of paint, and—voila!—a stocking stuffer is born.
In 2008, Coldplay set the stage for the companion-album trend with the re-release of Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends; the new version was bundled with Prospekt’s March, an eight-song EP that included remixes of songs on the parent album, including a Jay-Z-assisted version of the track “Lost,” and was available for sale on its own. Then Lady Gaga went one step further, eschewing remixes in favor of what was almost an entirely new album.
“I think re-releases are unfair,” Gaga told Rolling Stone in October 2009, when she announced the impending release of The Fame Monster. “It’s artists sneaking singles onto an already finished piece of work in an effort to keep the album afloat. Originally [my label] only wanted me to put out three songs and now it’s much more than that. It’s a new album’s worth of material.”
And so The Fame Monster, which came out in late November 2009, spun forward the story of Gaga’s debut album, The Fame, fattening up the set list for her Monster Ball Tour while also updating her image from a polished dance-pop artist who liked weird sunglasses to a cutting-edge cultural icon who was being photographed by Hedi Slimane and toddling around in Alexander McQueen’s armadillo shoes.
It also sold very well in a climate that’s been very hostile toward album sales. Since its release last November, Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster has sold 1.3 million copies as a standalone album; sales forThe Fame , which count sales of the version of the album bundled with The Fame Monster, are just past the 3.8 million mark.
“We’ve noticed that The Fame Monster, for Gaga, sold well,” said Keith Caulfield, associate director of charts and retail for Billboard. “But the one that people were buying more of tended to be the bonus version, which combined the two.”
Those sales capitalize on prolonged exposure: by rolling out singles over time, labels can build a critical degree of awareness. ““By the time ‘Bad Romance’ came out and ‘Telephone’ came out, if you were that person who doesn’t buy albums on a regular basis, you could find yourself at Wal-Mart looking at The Fame Monster /The Famepackage and say to yourself, ‘Oh, she did that “Poker Face” song too!’” Caulfield says. “Suddenly, there’s like five or six songs you know, and that gives you a compelling reason to buy this new package.”
And that’s a good pattern for RCA: Ke$ha’s Animal debuted at No. 1when it was released earlier this year, and the outlandish singer has been a prominent presence on the radio; two other singles fromAnimal reached the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. (Still, there likley won’t be as dramatic of an image overhaul for Ke$ha as there was for Gaga. The art for “We R” has a grimy-looking Ke$ha snarling at the camera while wearing rubber bracelets and a fingerless fishnet glove, while the song (slated for an October 26 digital release) is a blippy, brash party anthem that’s apparently also about empowering gay youth.)
If Cannibal pulls off the trick of selling well while raising its parent’s profile—confirming that the magic of The Fame Monster wasn’t just Gaga’s to deploy—you can prepare to see more “companion” releases. And with the withered state of the record industry, artists and labels seem more willing to experiment with retail formulas. Justin Bieber turned the companion-album formula on its head with My Worldand My World 2.0, released in a four-month span; the first album had seven tracks and was considered an EP, while the second was his proper debut, containing 10 songs.
Meanwhile, other artists are “leaking” material from their forthcoming full-length records in hopes of hooking both fans and more casual listeners. Taylor Swift, whose third album Speak Nowdrops October 25, has already released four tracks from it in the run-up to its release. And then there’s Kanye West, her nemesis, who’s advertising the run-up to his album—My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy—by trickling out songs that won’t even make the record.
Take Control of Your Music