The veil has finally been lifted on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, easily the most anticipated album of 2013. While now the debate will rage on whether or not it was worth the wait, there is a key aspect of this album that will be interesting or not to see if it impacts the music industry. It is the decidedly old school and cryptic marketing approach the duo and Columbia Records have taken so far to promote the album.
In a recent interview with Pitchfork, Thomas Bangalter stated that “Everything about RAM and its buildup is about the surprise, the magic. ‘When you known how a magic trick is done, it’s so depressing,’ he explains. ‘We focus on the illusion because giving away how it’s done instantly shuts down the sense of excitement and innocence.” That magic is just as equally a key to the hype as much as the fact that it’s the duo’s first new album in 8 years.
It started with just a mysterious image at was posted to the duo’s website DaftPunk.com on February 26th. The image was just the duo’s iconic helmets set together with the Columbia Records logo on the bottom.
This image would soon spread from the web to reality, first all over Austin, TX during the SXSW festival in mid-March but it would soon be high above major cities on massive billboards. The idea behind the billboards was revealed to SPIN magazine as Bangalter stated, “we wanted to bring back some ideas from the past, from a time when you could drive down Sunset Boulevard and see a billboard for a new David Bowie or Pink Floyd album. Our imagination was triggered more by this physical presence then looking at an Internet advert.”
If the use of imagery was not enough, the band could also merely tease music to get people interested. Shortly before SXSW, a mysterious 15 second ad debuted during the March 2nd episode of Saturday Night Live. It aired twice but the next day, it was all over the Internet. Fans had even patched together 10 hours versions for those who wanted to groove to 15 seconds of new Daft Punk all night long and remixes putting the hot single “Suit and Tie” by Justin Timberlake over the snippet. It was amazing how crazy people were going over a 15 second piece of music.
That was it for a whole month until the Coachella festival. Coachella was of course were the duo made their mark on America’s new obsession with electronic dance music. They unveiled the Pyramid, the set for their now legendary Alive 2006/2007 tour. While waiting for acts to come on, a new ad for Daft Punk appeared on the stage video boards. It was a full minute showing Daft Punk and guests Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams playing the new song “Get Lucky.” It also gave the album’s title Random Access Memories and a release date of May 21st. It also meant that fans had to wait another month for the whole thing. A fan-shot video captured the ad and it spread like wildfire. A better quality one would debut during Saturday Night Live during the weekend and also announce the album would be available on iTunes.
Later that week, on April 19th, the “Get Lucky” radio edit single debuted and instantly became the number one downloaded single on iTunes and became the duo’s first UK #1 single. It also peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, a new record. This all happened with no other television, radio, or Internet promotions. No banner ads, no search engine optimization, no Twitter, nothing the current music industry would consider standard. Is it because of the clout Daft Punk has in music? Potentially. Any other artist may not have succeeded. Is it magic? Thomas Bangalter might have you think so. It’ll be interesting to see if the industry can disconnect in some ways to give life back to music, to use a Daft Punk song title form the new album. The album has since leaked, as is standard for the music industry these days. Daft Punk has partly helped fend against this leak by streaming the album for free on iTunes a week early. It has revealed some of the magic. It won’t be the same when fans open physical copies or download it from iTunes at midnight. But it will be interesting to see if the magic will translate to sales.