Music Marketing

Debunking The Myths Of Odd Future’s Free Music And Non-Marketing Strategies

Odd Future, including Tyler, Tyler-the-creator-goblin the Creator, were in London recently where they set up one of their pop-up stores. The BBC's Stephen Smith did a feature for Newsnight pondering whether or not Odd Future was the "future of rock-n-roll" and spreading the myth that Odd Future gives away all their music for free via the web and makes all their money by selling merchandise. This myth was eagerly taken up by credulous media outlets which simply adds to the confusion for indie musicians figuring out how best to survive in a world in which all the rules seem to have changed.

A lot of things are said by members of the OFWGKTA collective in the Odd Future feature, some of which may or may not be true, but it is claimed that t-shirts were selling for as much as 100 pounds, currently a little over $158. That's a lot so you can see why Stephen Smith finds it believable that they've hardly sold any records but are making their money from merchandise. However, he doesn't quote anyone saying they've never sold records and he didn't do any fact-checking because that simply isn't true.


Tyler, the Creator's Goblin Debuts at No. 5 on the Billboard 200

A quick search for Odd Future on iTunes reveals lots of digital music for sale. On Amazon, one can find Tyler, the Creator's album Goblin which debuted at no. 5 last year on the Billboard 200, something one can't do by giving it all away for free. One can also find the recently released OF Tape Vol. 2 that also debuted at no. 5 on the Billboard 200.


Odd Future's The OF Tape Vol. 2 Debuts at No. 5 on the Billboard 200

So, yes, they've given away a lot of music but they've also already sold more music than the majority of musicians in the world ever sell. Nevertheless, this inaccuracy was quickly parroted by a variety of media outlets. It was also picked up by Leigh Beadon who took it at face value for a Techdirt "Case Study."

The music Odd Future has given away can be considered a form of marketing so it's interesting that co-manager Christian Clancy appears in the video feature stating:

"There's no marketing [doing finger quotes]. It's exposing it at the right place at the right time. So when you have kids that are completely themselves, you don't necessarily market because you just take who they are and expose it. Right? So it's not like a push."

Clancy is very focused on the art of "building the pull" rather than the "push," for example, making content freely available online as Odd Future did before the industry found them rather than spending lots of money on advertising.  They've also made strong use of social media, including Tumblr and Twitter, yet Smith's BBC piece mentions the web only as a channel for giving away free music.

Saying such activities are not alternative approaches to marketing, rather than something other than marketing as Clancy claims, is to make the same mistake as did noted VC Fred Wilson.  He stated that startups shouldn't waste any time or money on marketing and then produced a long list of activities they should do instead of marketing which were mostly forms of marketing.

Of course, Tyler, the Creator's Goblin was supported by advertising in such forms as blog ads, billboards and stickers.  Appearing on a wide range of magazines covers also helped.

Smith mentions in passing that Odd Future projects don't get much radio play and many writers point out that they don't get heavy video rotation on television. But suggesting that it's somehow amazing or baffling that they've built a large fanbase, sold a lot of music and merch and are very well-known is to ignore the wide range of media coverage they do get. In fact not only have they appeared on such tv shows as Late Night With Jimmy Fallon but they also have their own tv show on Adult Swim.

But acting like their ability to get attention without tv or radio, even if it were true and they weren't doing interviews on everything from Shade 45 to Hot 97 to BBC Radio, is to forget that kids today have this nutty invention called the Interweb or a "series of tubes." They do lots of things at the same time, like surfing the web on their mobile phones while watching tv, something grownups call "multitasking." Is it really all that amazing that a group of young people who got well known using the web got even more well known using the web?

Yeah, my sarcasm's weak but I hope readers understand that my point is that creating case studies that parrot inaccurate information and claiming that new forms of marketing are not marketing at all is not going to help musicians one bit. There's enough nonsense going around that adding to it is not a good look no matter what your role is in relationship to the new music industry.

Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith maintains his business writing hub at Flux Research and blogs about dance at All World Dance. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. I think it’s just the new “over night success” euphemism… The industry has always loved to bandy about how so and so artist or group was an over night success, but the reality was always the opposite. It was a way to make people believe that a certain artist or band were being true and pure without the control and marketing of a corporation when they really were. Outside of punk (which is cliche and sold out in its own right) Thais was a way to show an artist or band was anti-mainstream or anti-corporate while not being so at all. Saying (or promoting) that an artist or band gives their music away for free and makes money doing so without marketing is the new anti-establishment… except it really isn’t. You would think with the availability of information from the Internet people in general would be more knowledgable and less apt to fall for things, but alas they still do.

  2. I used to write a lot about hip hop business and it always seemed like mainstream media didn’t take it seriously enough to fact check much less do investigative reporting of any kind. That let a lot of big names get away with some weak moves.

  3. I think there’s also the dynamic that, in some cases, people believe a certain approach is what’s best so when they see confirming evidence they assume it’s correct.
    That’s something I’ve done before so I understand the impulse.

  4. Odd Future appeared on Jimmy Fallon in early 2011 due to the buzz of their live shows to that date. Their buzz up until that point had bloomed before anyone in OFWGKTA ever had an album for sale.
    OFWGKTA, like most rappers, build their core fanbase off free downloads and subsequent live shows (and, now, merch opportunities) — stating that ‘Goblin’ was sold rather than given away for free is missing that key point about their rise to success.

  5. You know, I read this excellent piece back when I was doing some earlier posts related to Odd Future. I should have mentioned it here so thanks for reminding me.
    Heathcliff Berru is definitely one of the more interesting publicists in the game right now.

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