Let’s face it: The practice of checking out an album pro bono online is just getting too easy. Embedded album streams on music blogs, listening parties in apps like Turntable.fm — there’s no effort there. The Web is flooded with free streams, the aim of which is to net the most exposure possible for a band — not to reward tried and true diehards with a pre-glimpse into their favorite band’s new work. That all changes with apps like Bob Dylan’s recently released Sound Graffiti, yet another addition to the recent “album scavenger hunt” trend that’s been sweeping the music world of late.
On September 11, Bob Dylan released his 35th studio album, Tempest, and to herald its coming, Columbia Records hooked up with creative marketing company CNNCTD+ to come up with an interesting way to tease the disc — via a geolocation app called Sound Graffiti.
In order to hear tracks from the recently released Tempest, fans must visit ListenToBobDylan.com on their mobile phones and add the app to their iOS or Android devices (we’re not sure why there’s no official mobile app, but so it goes), then visit locations marked on a map on Dylan’s website. Traversing any of the physical locations — marked with album art — will unlock a track from the album, allowing the user to listen at will.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it’s not, really. True fans will have to really work hard to unlock every track. Firstly, the app is very precise — if you leave the spot stenciled on the street, the music will stop. Secondly, tracks are scattered all over the globe, so you’d have to be pretty dedicated to unlock them all. Hit us up if you have, because we’d like to shake your hand.
As far as album scavenger hunts go, Sound Graffiti is probably the most elaborate we’ve ever seen — in that we doubt anyone has been able to listen to each and every track. And you’re not really meant to. The inherent difficulty of the campaign is actually quite genius: This is not a handout or giveaway of a new work. It’s a bonus, a special dialogue between artist and fan. Even if one can’t visit every location on Dylan’s map, the act of seeking one out, standing in a location that means something to the musician, and listening to a brand-new track will likely be enough for the average Dylan diehard.
And we say “diehard” for a reason. We doubt many casual fans — or folks unfamiliar with Dylan — would go to the trouble of embarking on such a scavenger hunt, which is what makes this sort of “marketing campaign” so unique. It’s not a blanket campaign that aims to net the largest amount of listens/new fans possible — it’s a campaign directly aimed at real fans. It’s the kind of campaign that keeps fans loyal, because it shows that the artists still care enough to do something unique for the few diehards who have been with them since the beginning.
And it’s not the only of its kind — not by a longshot. Check out 3 more examples of the practice below:
Last year, New York musician Noah Wall went both analogue and digital for the release of his album, HÈLOÏSE. After producing a ton of cassettes and records, Wall hid them all around Manhattan, providing fans with an online map in order to locate the bounty. In essence, it was like a music-themed Easter Egg hunt.
“The orderly and symmetrical Manhattan grid seemed like a good canvas for this idea,” Wall said of the hunt. “The locations of each album correspond to points on the grid that, when connected, spell HÈLOÏSE. Scavenger hunts usually require some physical payoff so this seemed like a good format to celebrate the arrival of my album in physical form.”
Hiding the tapes around the city also gave Wall a sense of completion that couldn’t quite be captured by uploading tunes to Bandcamp. The musician left the house at 5 a.m. on to hide all the albums himself. Talk about DIY.
Brooklyn band Yeasayer started to tease their fans pretty early on before unleashing their third album, Fragrant World, upon the masses. First, they selected 200 fans and sent them a CD single of the jam “Henrietta” to give folks a taste of the new album. Then, a few weeks before the album’s official release, they launched a crazy initiative titled “Preemptive Self-Commissioned Yeasayer Vortellung or Track Visualizer,” whereby they released a bunch of trippy videos featuring each new track onto the Web.
The catch? Videos were hidden on various and sundry blogs across the Web, and fans had until a certain date to listen to/watch them all. During the hunt, fans were excitedly tweeting and Facebooking the locations of the videos, working together to uncover them all before they disappeared into the ethers.
When revealing his new album, Positive Force, to fans, Steve Marion (a.k.a. Delicate Steve) launched a similar campaign to Dylan’s. The musician planted listening posts — little digital boxes sporting headphone jacks — all over New York, supplying fans with an online map of their locations.
Fans could visit each spot, plug in their headphones, and listen to a tune while, say, overlooking the headstones at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn (as this reporter did). Some listening posts were available at all hours of the day, others — located on food trucks and the like — were a little more mobile. All, however, were removed a month before the album’s official release, making the hunt an ephemeral experience, a guided tour of a city through Delicate Steve’s music.