Lady Gaga and Mariah Carey: Attack of the Digital Divas

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Welcome to new music release day 2013, when the deployment of social and mobile technology by the artist is as important as the sharing of the music itself. The era of expecting the unveiling of a record album or song to carry the day ended a long time ago. On November 11, two artists, one a veteran of the analog age and the other a scorching hot digital native, illustrated the realities of sharing new music in the fractured music industry: making an impression is all about continuously serving your superfans with engaging, personal content.

The Queen of Digital

Lady Gaga has managed the release of her album ARTPOP like a lengthy political campaign. As detailed in an excellent article by Jackie Huba for Forbes, Lady Gaga actually unveiled the name of her new album way back in August 2012 while she was promoting her previous album, Born This Way. And she’s been quite resourceful about building buzz for her music, even using her own body as a form of advertising: she initially shared the name of ARTPOP through a tattoo and has used face paint as a visual hashtag to inspire her fans to celebrate the new album.

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Her strategy has focused on galvanizing her millions of Facebook followers, Twitter followers, and members of her Little Monsters website by communicating with them constantly and openly, involving them in the creation of content to market her album. On November 11, She redefined when “release day” actually starts — in her case, shortly after midnight Eastern Standard Time Monday, when she appeared onstage in Brooklyn for an appropriately titled ARTRAVE, in which she performed ARTPOP live. The performance, streamed  on Vevo, injected energy and excitement as the weekend was still winding down.

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Later in the morning, she unleashed one final surge of engaging content:

  • A slick ARTPOP smartphone app that contains all the songs from the album and allows you to create your own self-expressions in the form of GIFs.

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For Lady Gaga, release day is only the latest milestone in her campaign. She has defined a own world on her own terms, and she is collaborating with her fans to build it.

The Veteran

When Mariah Carey made her mark in 1990, release day was an affair controlled by old-line influencers (known as record labels) who relied on radio airplay and record-store retailers to generate sales in the form of compact discs (remember those?).

The traditional gatekeepers lost their grip a long time ago. Artists have needed to redefine how they measure commercial success in the era of digital downloading. But with social media, an artist  with a global following as vast as Mariah Carey’s can connect with more fans in an hour than she could in a year of touring in the 1990s.

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Mariah Carey has an album coming out at some point, The Art of Letting Go. But a shoulder injury has delayed its release indefinitely. For her, release day November 11 meant the launch of a new single, “The Art of Letting Go.” Her strategy today was far more targeted: at the urging of her manager Jermaine Dupri, she shared her new song on her Facebook page and hosted a one-hour listening party.

As I discussed on Dupri’s Global 14 website today, Carey engaged in a genuine dialogue with her fans, answering questions about her inspirations, the impact of her shoulder injury, and her approach to recording. Her comments were raw and unedited (Dupri captured the moment on his Instagram account). She indulged in some virtual hand holding with her adoring fans (nicknamed Lambs), but for the most part wanted to talk music, at one point asking fans if they had any questions about her song lyrics. For those who wanted to know, she revealed how her personal struggles inspire her, and how a bleak day inspired her to write her new single.

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She also posted photos of herself as well as her dog Mutley hanging with her while she was online — not the slick, high-concept images that you get from Lady Gaga, but having a home-made charm all their own. Her willingness to use her Facebook page as a visual diary of her personal life (including the posting of family photos) has given her a bump in the Billboard Social 50 rankings.

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Lady Gaga has elevated digital content sharing to an art form. Mariah Carey is probably making the most significant journey, however — from the old analog country to a self-empowered universe where success is measured on different terms. She also has a digitally savvy coach in her corner (and I speak from personal experience based on my relationship with Jermaine Dupri).

It will be interesting to see where her journey takes her next.

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