In a world where Tupac Shakur has released almost three times as many albums since he died in 1996 than when he did while alive - and that's not counting "Best Of" compilations - the sales potential of a posthumous album cannot be underestimated.
Traditional album promotion push involves a tour of the late night and early morning shows, interviews in the countless number of mainstream music magazines - and niche publications the album fits into - radio shows, and concerts.
In a feat of remarkable business savvy, Prince even included his latest album in the cost of the ticket, which counted as a purchase, which propelled him to the top of the charts. PR professionals face a challenge when they're promoting albums whose creator has passed away, but there are also opportunities that arise when the person's legacy is great or, either through serendipity or aggressive planning, the album comes out at the perfect time.
John Uppendahl, director of PR and community affairs for Classmates Online, worked on Boyz II Men albums and the Marvin Gaye collection box set in 1990 at an agency and then at his own firm, Uppendahl Entertainment.
"Releasing a project of work from an artists who is deceased presents challenges, certainly, and opportunities," Uppendahl says.
Uppendahl says that he tried to tailor opportunities based upon what was unique, new, and rare related to the project, such as unreleased or rare photos, which attract the interest of fans, journalists, and critics. Other opportunities include inviting influential to a listening party and bringing in producers or other artists who worked with the artists to share their prospective of what it was like working on this song. "Depending on the campaign and the timing, you have to look at the pool of assets you have along those lines," Uppendahl says.
"Leveraging those tools creates a big bang of interest out of the gate." The digitization of technology has evolved to the point where the ancillary products coming with the CDs are often forgotten, but
Uppendahl says that interest for those products peaks when it involves a box set from a deceased artist. When working on a posthumous project, Uppendahl's checklist includes talking to people involved with the project and asking a lot of questions to unearth every news peg that can be made available. He concludes: "And then, based upon that, use them as effectively as possible."
Susan Makarichev, Dan Klores Communications VP, suggests tapping whatever cultural resources associated with the deceased writer. Makarichev worked on the album release of Elvis 30 #1 Hits in 2002, which debuted at the top spot in 18 countries, and on the release of Elvis 2nd to None.
Both albums went multi-platinum. When RCA released Elvis 30 #1 hits in 2002, there was a nationwide tour of his personal effects, which helped drive media interest. The company also tapped an Elvis expert to speak about the singer. Makarichev says that most record labels are aware of the most opportune time to debut an album, and it's the PR professional's responsibility to create news around that release.
"When people are going to be writing about an anniversary, they're going to be looking for a news peg," Makarichev says, adding that a new release is an obvious one. In releasing a box set or compilation from a well-known, deceased artist, there is a core audience that may already have all of the songs contained within the set already. In that case, the ancillary products are an important way to attract those fans that may not be inclined to buy everything the artist - or his or her record label - has produced.
Makarichev says the casual observer who might turn into a fan could be reached most effectively through a well-placed media pitch. While the constraints remain the same for artists no matter how long ago they passed away, the interest and slant of someone who died during or immediately after the recording process is much different.
"If it was the last thing recorded, it might offer a clue how that person was feeling, or his or her creative mood," Makarichev says.
Ray Charles passed away on June 10 before Concord Records could release his final album, Genius Loves Company, on August 31. "It took a whole different direction when he [passed away]," says Jo Foster, Concord Records' director of publicity.
Foster says the record label started working on promotion for Genius, an album of duets, in the summer of 2003 when he went into the studio. The label luckily documented the creation process and interviewed the duet participants, which came in handy when their busy schedules prevented them from talking to the media when Genius came out.
Concord pitched the footage to television outlets, where the exclusive ran on 60 Minutes and, subsequently, on American Airlines flights. The record label also sent the album to movie reviewers who would be critiquing Charles' biopic, Ray, starring Jamie Foxx, which hit theatres nationwide on October 29, 2004.
Additionally, the company helped biographer David Ritz, longtime manager Joe Adams, and producer Phil Ramone tell Charles' story.
The publicity staff consists of Foster and one other staffer, whom worked with Charles' publicity firm, Solters & Digney. When Charles passed away, Foster said the record label had to go back to the PR basics instead of just relying the normal route such as TV appearances.
"You have to peel away the layers and think about the other angles to discover what the story is," Foster says. Charles' recording studio, which had been recently declared a landmark, was opened to the public for three hours on the day of the album release, offering fans a rare opportunity to glimpse inside.
"He was so well admired and loved, there were a lot of obits written about him," Foster said.
But the length of those adulation pieces made it difficult to get magazines and papers to write another article on his new release. There was also a business angle, resulting from the album being release in conjunction with Starbucks' Hear Music, a small label the coffee purveyor bought in 1999 that specializes in compilation CDs. According to the most recent statistics, Genius had had 3 million copies shipped and 1.3 million sold. According to UK paper the Guardian, more than 25 percent were sold in a Starbucks. The multi-platinum album was Charles' first to reach platinum status.
Concord, a 32 year-old company has put out albums for many deceases artists, such as Rosemary Clooney and Tito Puente, but Charles' was different approach because of all the opportunities aligning.
When they released the Clooney album, Concord garnered coverage in Entertainment Weekly, People, and the AARP magazine. Puente got a lot of coverage in Hispanic and Spanish-language magazines. Concord tries to find a news angle for a large story, such as timing the release of a new Howard Arlen box set to the centennial of his birth.
"There's a wider story to be told, such as [his] influence on music or writing," Foster says.
While the artist may not be around to talk about his or her legacy or last project, PR professionals must use all the resources at hand to do an adequate job of telling the story themselves.