Music Videos Aren’t Enough: How MTV Plans to Lift Album Sales

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Ed Sheeran performs July 11 in Kinross, Scotland. His latest album, X, debuted at the top of the Billboard 200 album charts in the U.S.
Image: Ollie Millington/WireImage/Associated Press

When was the last time you watched a music video on television? The occurrences are few and far between for many music consumers, and this shift from fans viewing music videos on TV to fans instead watching them online on their own schedule is nothing new.

But in the age of social media, streaming, downloads and YouTube, it’s not enough anymore for musicians and their record labels to upload music videos, expect people to watch them amid the Internet raucous, and rely on this strategy to translate into instant sales.

Artists need all of the help they can get, from new digital platforms and old business pals, as sales dwindle and competition for the attention of the Internet generation rises.

MTV, once was the go-to video viewing destination, and its sister channels VH1 and CMT are stepping in with a partial solution — a multi-platform plan to “blow up” album premieres.

The aid comes in the form of a four-week strategy for each artist, with help from Twitter’s Amplify advertising product and financial backing from longtime music advocate Pepsi.

“We’re focused on launching No. 1 records,” Shannon Connolly, Viacom’s SVP of music strategy, told Mashable. “We’re starting out with bigger artists and the plan is to continue to refine the program so it works for both superstars and emerging ones.”

Dubbed “First”, the program leads people to hear, watch and share artists’ interviews and song streams (before their albums go on sale). It will extend to TV via documentaries and specials as well as offline with Times Square billboards.

Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande Are the Guinea Pigs


Ariana Grande performs June 29 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Image: Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic

MTV quietly rolled out the strategy with Ed Sheeran, partly helping the singer’s album X debut in June at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart with 210,000 copies sold.

How much the “First” program contributed to that number is hard to measure, but the additional promotion on behalf of Sheeran certainly doesn’t hurt the sales tally.

Now, four-octave pop star Ariana Grande is in the midst of the program, which when laid out looks like a much-welcome, dream marketing push for any artist:

  • Week 1: On July 3, Grande’s new single “Break Free” debuted on Total Ariana Live, a one-night Total Request Live spinoff on which she announced she’s performing the song at the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 24.

  • Week 2: On July 15, the #ArianaNOW contest launches, asking fans to share their love on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. Winners get a trip to the VMAs to meet her.

  • Week 3: On Aug. 11, MTV, VH1 and Pepsi will use social media to unveil lyrics and inspiration behind each song from Grande’s upcoming album My Everything.

  • Week 4: On Aug. 18, before the album’s Aug. 25 release date, songs from the album will be available to stream early on Grande’s MTV Artists page. Some of the audio and videos throughout this time span will be shared directly within tweets via Amplify’s embeddable player, which will help Grande and future participants “be exposed to millions of new fans,” Bob Moczydlowsky, Twitter’s music head, told Mashable.

All of this, including traditional TV promos, leads up to Grande’s album release.

“We want to tell the story of the new music because there’s so much noise,” said Van Toffler, president and CEO of Viacom Music Group.

MTV tested elements of the program on premieres for Michael Jackson (his posthumous Xscape debuted at No. 2) and Miranda Lambert (Platinum debuted at No. 1), emphasizing the importance of storytelling to provide context for music lovers.

The program also will incorporate artists taking over MTV’s Twitter account, Q&As, GIFs, backstage peeks and live performances, in addition to the content shared through Amplify.

Artists Are Experimenting With All Things Digital

The “First” program comes at a time when technology, social networks and online services have changed the way fans consume music, artists release music, and long-standing establishments assess and rank songs and albums.

MTV isn’t alone in helping artists test the digital waters. This year, Fifth Harmony debuted its “Boss” video on Shazam, Beck streamed his album at no cost to airplane passengers using inflight Internet, and premiered Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes album.

Meanwhile, Facebook has debuted videos and songs Jay Z (“Holy Grail“), Bruno Mars (“Gorilla“), Mariah Carey (“The Art of Letting Go“) and Ed Sheeran (“Sing“).

In 2013, Jay Z gave away 1 million copies of his album to Samsung Galaxy owners through an app, influencing the Recording Industry Association of America to modernize its 55-year-old certification process to immediately include digital sales. Beyoncé dropped an album and videos for every song solely on iTunes without any promotional marketing in advance.

Billboard has started incorporating YouTube views, download sales and streaming data — while still accounting for physical sales and radio airplay — to determine chart rankings. Most recently, Billboard launched real-time charts to rank trending songs from popular and emerging artists based on how often they are mentioned in tweets.

BONUS: Surprise! 12 Musicians Who Ignore Traditional Publicity

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