When we think about great music PR campaigns, we’re initially drawn to the big budget, global campaigns and world-firsts. Stunts like Wu Tang’s $5 million double album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin – or Jamiroquai’s Gig in the Sky – are memorable, record-breaking feats of creativity and marketing.
But digital and guerilla PR campaigns by creative music PR agency execs and bootstrapping self-starter musicians have had similarly colossal impact. Actually, some of the biggest stars in the world today sowed the seeds of their careers with minimal budget for their PR activities.
That’s because it takes more than a major budget to make a music PR campaign great. The most important element is always the idea. So, let’s get inspired…
Get inspired: the best and most infamous Music PR campaigns
The key to a great campaign – even with a decent budget – is simplicity. And there’s nothing simpler than a good old fashioned shock and awe campaign.
KLF – Burn a Million Quid
It’s exactly what it sounds like. In 1994, the mysterious electronic musical duo of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty shocked the world in an act of artistic defiance by burning £1 million in cash, their first million earned as musicians, and filming it.
It took around an hour, and is forever immortalised on film. Watch their reasoning in an interview on YouTube. This is indeed one of the most controversial and impactful stunts ever devised – but showcased a pair of artists uncompromising in their pursuit of art and experiences over money.
Why was it great? Well, they burned a million quid – people tend to talk about things like that. It rocked conventions, defied them, chewed them up and spit them out – and it will go down in history as arguably the most punk and anti-establishment act in commercial musical history.
Aphex Twin – Syro
Never one to do things like other artists, Aphex Twin baffled the world with the promotion and PR for his 2014 release, Syro. 13 years after his previous release, the artist otherwise known as Richard D. James commissioned a toxic green blimp to fly around London, emblazoned with the unmistakable mark of the Aphex Twin logo.
The sign then began to appear in New York, stencilled and spray painted on the pavement outside places like Radio City Music Hall. And then everywhere. The internet was abuzz – until finally, a deep web link was tweeted from the Aphex Twin Twitter account, to the finished album; a track list of bizarre names, some consisting of bit depths and production techniques. And the album cover? An itemised receipt of costs for making the album.
A strange campaign by an incomparably unique artist – but what an impact it made across continents.
What made it great? Well, even though it was a physical stunt, it all tied together in wider media and digital. It got the attention of fans but more importantly, press – who pushed the stunt further until just about everyone knew about it. All it took to seal the deal was a tweet from the artist – and there it was; a major new release.
The Beatles – the infamous rooftop gig
This performance piece is so deeply rooted in pop culture, and so widely copied, that you’d be forgiven for not being sure who did it first. On the 30th of January 1969, Liverpool’s finest performed from the roof of the building that housed the band’s record label, in London.
Now that must have been an experience. There was always a plan to play live somewhere, for one last gig – and the roof of their label turned out to be the place to do it.
What made it great? The spontaneity, the band, the location, the vibe – it was a perfect farewell and defining moment for the end of an era. So powerful, it inspired countless PR stunts, like the next one…
Rage Against The Machine – Wall Street takeover
In a Beatles-inspired rage, rock’s most political band set up drums, bass, guitar and vocals on the steps of Federal Hall, Wall Street. Their performance was brief, but created one of the most memorable music videos in history – the backbone of promotion for years to come.
The band temporarily brought the stock exchange to a close in the middle of the trading day, and, a little like The KLF, had their say on the ugliness of money.
What made it great? It was so on-brand for the artists. This statement made waves around the world and set Rage Against The Machine in stone as a force of political activism. This guerilla counter-culture activism would be reignited by their fans in 2009, when a grassroots campaign ran to make them the UK Christmas number one instead of the X Factor winner that year, Joe McElderry.
Digital Music PR pioneers
You don’t have to burn a million quid, storm the stock exchange or fly a blimp over the capital to get noticed these days. In fact, if lockdown showed us anything, it’s that music PR is increasingly going digital – and that taking a leaf out of the playbooks of acts like DJ Khaled and Lil Nas X can reap massive rewards.
Before he was shouting his name on the biggest records on the planet, DJ Khaled was a local radio presenter and aspiring producer. He used Snapchat to aid his rise to fame, posting some of the funniest and most memorable content ever to grace the platform. And it worked.
He’s since collaborated with the biggest stars in the world, and now is one himself. Well-deserved success from a man with a great idea, great personality and a talent for networking.
Why did it work for him? Memes, basically! He recognised that meme culture was growing and that he was part of it – so he leaned into it. Lo and behold, his name graces some of the hottest records made in modern times.
And as for Lil Nas X? There’s an artist who truly knows their audience. We could write about Lil Nas X from so many angles, specifically within digital PR for music – but while you wait for that article to be released read this incredible breakdown of the genius behind his viral success.
Urban Rebel: the high impact Music PR Agency
Talk to a creative music PR agency that gets results – with inspirational, creative PR for DJs, producers and EDM artists. We work with the most exciting emerging talent and established acts. Contact us: call +44 (0) 161 298 6650 or send your message to [email protected].