How Musicians Use The Element of Surprise & How You Can Do It

How Musicians Use The Element of Surprise

Before the uprise of the internet sweeping across the globe, musicians and their teams would work tirelessly on promoting upcoming releases. Touring interviews and endless plugs for release dates would go hand in hand with garnering enough attention to make the single or album a success. 

Snap back to the 21st century where most of the world is connected via the internet, the strategy has had a facelift in the form of ‘surprise drops’. By keeping every member of the team quiet with NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) to ensure nothing gets leaked, artists keep tight-lipped until the release date. One social media post from the artist about the ‘drop’ sends a frenzy across the internet through retweets and shares before being picked up by the media – thrusting the release into the social media feeds of millions worldwide.

Eminem recently dropped his second consecutive surprise album, Music to Be Murdered By, which has seen massive success. He explained in a recent interview that when you’re teasing tracklists or promoting albums it opens him up to huge expectations from fans that begin to build an image of what they want the tracks to sound like. Using the element of surprise strips away this problem and creates a flurry of excitement of what it sounds like.

Because of Eminem’s album drop it inspired me to take a closer look at the different ways you can incorporate the element of surprise as a musician. If done correctly, it can work like a charm! Now, for an upcoming musician without millions of fans religiously sharing your content it will obviously be tricky – but you can find ways of using surprise tactics on other levels. Below are some GREAT examples of how other artists are incorporating surprises to their fans.

Whole Album Drops

In 2013 Beyoncé released a self-titled album without a single word spread other than “Surprise” on a social media post signalling the release. Within hours a reported 1.2 million tweets were sent out by fans along with a lot of media coverage to boot. Bey said she wanted to do it differently and boy did she – Billboard number one, of course. Following on from the success of this, in 2016 made a small cryptic video on HBO calling for viewers to tune in the following week. And bam! A full visual album concept got thrust into the Beyhive and beyond.

Frank Ocean is known for not being active on social media and participating in very few interviews – his approach to the album drop was to sit back and let the speculation circle while not addressing any of it – then dropping it.

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Feature Drops:

While Bey’s dropping album bombs to the unaware citizens of the world, Travis Scott’s approach is somewhere in between. Releasing the tracklist for his upcoming album, he roused interest from fans and listed only himself as the artist on each track. Come release day fans were surprised with many collaborations with other artists – adding extra value to the excitement of the moment.

Live Show Drops: 

Now the element of surprise in music isn’t a new concept. Back in 1969 The Beatles played their last ever show atop the roof of the Apple headquarters. Performing five songs as a farewell to avoid the unnecessary dramatics of crying fans and to celebrate the end of their final studio album, Let It Be. This of course soared the album into the stratosphere of popular music while bidding farewell to their audiences worldwide. 

A more modern approach to the live show drop J. Cole who between 2013 and 2016 tweeted a number of locations where he’d be performing live at pop-up shows for just $1 per person. And more recently, to promote his upcoming album he did a free showcase of his tracks 7 days before it was released to the public.

Track Drops:

Eminem & Beyoncé miiiiight have done the dirty on Taylor Swift by doing a surprise track release on the day her album went out. Speculation around whether this was to do with Swift not releasing on Tidal, Jay Z’s platform, is unknown. Walk On Water surprised the world with not only the collaboration of Bey & Eminem but also got everybody talking about the pure shade of the choice of release date too.

Queen of surprises, Beyoncé, also achieved huge success with the release of the single Formation on the eve of her Superbowl half-time performance. By doing what Beyoncé does best and delivering a jaw dropping show – she included her newly released single in the performance and in return sent the music statistics flying.

Kanye West’s Good Friday for example was released in stages – every Friday for 14 weeks – free tracks were dropped with collaborations from a plethora of artists. Giving away the tracks for free certainly got him the attention and had his fans eating from the palm of his hand.

Live Stream Drops: 

Of course I was going to include live streaming, last decade’s biggest trend on social media! Nicki Minaj and Megan Thee Stallion went live on Instagram to surprise the world with some bombs. Megan announced she was releasing a single while Nicki was too busy to feature on it (lol) but discussed a future collaboration was in the works. 

Collaborating on live stream and announcing to both audiences was a smart move to get people talking, sharing and engaging with the artists which ultimately grows fans’ desire for more.

…And, What Not To Do: 

Aaron Carter the former popstar got his fans horrified when during a live stream he ‘accidentally’ flashed his manhood on camera. It didn’t go down well, and he didn’t do much to improve his dwindling public image – more so just raising concerns over his behaviour. Don’t be like Aaron. 

What YOU Can Do:

1. Provide Something Unexpected

Giving a surprise gift for free alongside the purchase of a track or album is something that will be valuable for your fans. It doesn’t matter what the surprise is, just the essence of ‘surprise’ itself is big for customers. Just how a store does “free gift with every purchase” it entices people in and makes them feel valuable.

2. Exclusive Sales

Provide a sense of exclusivity and surprise for your customers. Giving them a code which entitles them to a sneak preview or discounted price for an album will give that exclusive feel.

3. Surprise Announcements

Rather than doing a surprise announcement drop perhaps consider an announcement of “Free merch with every album sale” to drive traffic to your music sales. 

How Will You Surprise Your Audience Next?

As perfectly executed by Beyoncé, the element of surprise works wonders for her and many others. Can you incorporate surprise into your marketing strategy and create some buzz around your brand?

Rebecca Smart Bakken

Rebecca Smart Bakken

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About Me


Hi there! I’m Rebecca, a world citizen and digital marketing nomad.

Some of you may have also seen me on HGTV´s show “Beach Around the World”.

Over the years, I’ve made a name for myself in the tech/ startup industry by helping 250+ startups scale with growth hacking strategies.

Now I want to help musicians and artists to promote their music and engage better with fans on social media.

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