Nothing drives fresh thinking and new ideas like an industry in the grip of ongoing disruption. Until recently, it looked like the album to go platinum in 2014 was going to be the "Frozen" soundtrack. This year, artists and labels continued to search for new formats and promotional tools to sell records and drive relevance.
Billboard recently announced it will be including streaming consumption in its charts, and as the industry continues to change, music marketing becomes more important than ever. Great ideas capture the audience's attention and consumption is only a click away. Here are the standouts for this year:
Wu-Tang Clan: single copy release
When you are old-school hip-hop masters with a non-existent marketing budget and have the calling to release a new album, how do you bring it into the world?
In Wu-Tang's words, they took a "400-year-old, Renaissance-style approach to music," creating a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork. The result was "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin," in a silver engraved box -- the only copy of the album that will be toured around museums and potentially auctioned off. It delivered them 10 times more buzz than a traditional album promotional and their next album, "A Better Tomorrow," will build on this -- they plan to embed eight tracks into 3,000 portable speakers followed by a traditional release.
Jay Z and Beyoncé: "Run" tour film
Jay and B didn't have albums to release this year, but there was a massive tour to promote and some negative relationship PR to shake off. In last year's list we saw some great use of the film medium by musicians. The "Run" film took it a step further, upping production values, enlisting director Melina Matsoukas and featuring stars such as Sean Penn and Jake Gyllenhaal to create a high-energy Bonnie-and-Clyde-styled story, setting the tone for their shows and racking up over 10 million views on YouTube.
Foo Fighters: "Sonic Highways"
Through the music industry's metamorphosis, Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters have continued to crank out solid albums. Their latest effort, "Sonic Highways," involves an HBO partnership -- a TV series that takes them across the country. Each song for the new album is recorded in a famous location and each episode covers the musical history of that city.
Nipsey Hussle's $100 mixtape
Being an independent artist has its advantages. Nipsey Hussle released only 1,000 copies of his mixtape "Crenshaw," selling them for $100 each. They sold out in 24 hours from a single LA store and, symbolically, Jay Z, the champion of #newrules, even picked up 100 for himself.
Thom Yorke: "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes" BitTorrent release
Industry innovator and outspoken Spotify critic Thom Yorke was the first to release a major album via direct download and under a "pay what you want" model. Yorke has always looked for new ways to circumvent record labels and major industry players.
York released "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes," his second solo album, for $6.90 via a BitTorrent download (the platform received only a 10% commission as opposed to iTunes' 30%) -- drawing major press coverage and discussion outside of his core fan base.
Taylor Swift: "1989" and the Spotify swifty
The most impressive part of the "1989" release was the way Swift took her role as the only artist this year to go platinum and used it to create even broader relevance by taking her music off Spotify and igniting a debate around the industry and streaming platforms.
Token misguided blunder: U2's "Songs of Innocence"
We all knew something like it was coming after Jay Z and Samsung teamed up, but in the era of streaming music, where any album can be made instantly available, the tactic was borderline offensive. Non-fans were shocked to find U2's album automatically downloaded to their iOS devices. I don't imagine we'll see it used in such a broad stroke again, but it could be great with some more precision targeting.