Smash­ing Coldplay strat­egy kept new EMI from be­ing DOA

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

With EMI los­ing Paul McCart­ney, Ra­dio­head and The Rolling Stones in quick suc­ces­sion, and with other acts on the la­bel, such as Rob­bie Wil­liams, threat­en­ing to go on strike, it wasn’t look­ing good for the fa­mous im­print ear­lier this year. Throw in the fact that EMI has been hoovered up by a private eq­uity firm, and that a lot of the “mu­sic” peo­ple at the la­bel had ei­ther jumped or been pushed, and there was spec­u­la­tion about its con­tin­u­ing ex­is­tence.

Terra Firma (the new owner of EMI) had its first real test with the re­lease of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida album two months ago. McCart­ney had left the la­bel be­cause he was dis­sat­is­fied with how it had mar­keted his last few al­bums. Wil­liams was openly ques­tion­ing if the down­sized la­bel could still “work” an album. Terra Firma’s other big sign­ing, Sigur Rós, were look­ing on from the side­lines.

Could Terra Firma hack it in the mu­sic world? A lot would de­pend on how Viva La Vida was han­dled and how it per­formed. Launch­ing a full price album into a mar­ket where the very con­cept of pay­ing for mu­sic has be­come so de­based was al­ways go­ing to be dif­fi­cult. But, through a se­ries of clever ini­tia­tives, the cam­paign be­hind Viva La Vida is now be­ing hailed as one of the most suc­cess­ful of the last decade, and it will likely to pick up ev­ery PR/mar­ket­ing/ad­ver­tis­ing award go­ing at the end of the year.

Coldplay’s last album, X&Y, shifted 10 mil­lion units. In a lit­tle over two months, Viva La Vida has shifted five mil­lion. This for an album which most agree is not as ra­dio-friendly as X&Y.

The first thing the band did was to meet the free mu­sic move­ment half­way. Vi­o­let Hill, the first sin­gle, was given away as a free down­load – the first time a ma­jor band have re­leased new ma­te­rial in this way. It was down­loaded two mil­lion times over seven days be­fore go­ing on sale. The song was al­ready a top 10 hit be­fore it was even heard on ra­dio.

Coldplay then played three ma­jor free gigs in New York, Lon­don and Barcelona. Bands that do this nor­mally cover their ex­penses by wall­pa­per­ing the venue with ad­ver­tis­ing. But Coldplay didn’t al­low any brand­ing – they un­der­wrote the cost of the con­certs

them­selves. In ef­fect, they paid to play.

A free song, free con­certs: Coldplay were em­brac­ing the changes. But their most re­mark­able coup was get­ting iTunes to pro­mote Viva La Vida for them. Know­ing that, U2 aside, this was the big­gest mu­sic re­lease of the year and with the band be­ing a per­fect de­mo­graphic fit for iTunes con­sumers, the com­pany fea­tured Coldplay and the album on an iTunes com­mer­cial that was broad­cast in the US dur­ing ad breaks of the mas­sively pop­u­lar Amer­i­can Idol.

The ad was later shown all around the world and prompted con­sumers to visit iTunes to pre­order the album. Net re­sult? Viva La Vida has be­come the most pre­ordered album in iTunes his­tory. And all of this in just over two months. Most coun­tries are now re­port­ing that the fig­ures for Viva La Vida have ex­ceeded the to­tal sales of X&Y.

The two big­gest changes in the mu­sic in­dus­try over the past few years have been the ad­vance of iTunes as the world’s big­gest mu­sic provider, and the amount of mu­sic which is now given away free as a lossleader. Coldplay en­gaged with both in their cam­paign and are now reap­ing the div­i­dends. Mean­while, Rob­bie Wil­liams is shap­ing up to re­lease his first new album in years, Paul McCart­ney is look­ing again at his record­ing con­tract with a cof­fee shop, and Ra­dio­head have said they will never re­lease an­other free album. Viva La Vida has a sig­nif­i­cance that far out­weighs the songs on it.

Five mil­lion rea­sons to smile: Jonny Buck­land, Chris Martin

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