It’s been a big year for Arcade Fire. Their latest album, The Suburbs, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, Irish Album Charts and U.K. Album Charts when it came out in August. They’ve been selling out venues like Madison Square Garden all around the world. And now, they’ve won a Grammy for Album of the Year – considered by many to be the top prize at the award show.
A lot of their success can be attributed to talent, but they also employed some innovative promotion techniques. All of Arcade Fire’s albums have been released on Merge Records, a small, independent label based in Durham, N.C. Merge doesn’t have the budget to spend thousands promoting even its biggest albums.
Instead, Merge and Arcade Fire took a somewhat unexplored route to focus their campaign on new media. The label offered discounted copies of the album through Twitter’s @earlybird program, and the band partnered with American Express, Vevo and YouTube to set up a live stream of their sold out MSG show. The album sold over 156,000 copies in its first week, and 3.7 million viewers watched the web stream. Later, the band also released an innovative web video on Google Chrome for their song “We Used to Wait.”
But a lot of people missed all that, and after The Suburbs won Album of the Year, they were pissed. Social media sites exploded with questions and rants from dismayed viewers. Some of the funniest and most-misinformed have been collected on a Tumblr titled “Who Is Arcade Fire??!!?”
Despite confused tweets from stars like Rosie O’Donnell and Dog the Bounty Hunter, this isn’t really bad PR for the band. Unlike the other nominees – Lady GaGa, Eminem, Katy Perry and Lady Antebellum – Arcade Fire doesn’t depend on record sales. Even if sales plummet, they’re not in danger of getting dropped by their label. Unlike most of the others, they didn’t begin their career playing arenas. They started by playing coffee houses. Their humble beginnings are so valuable because their current success isn’t a necessity, it’s an unexpected bonus.
If for some reason, Arcade Fire’s popularity vanished, they’d still have an extremely dedicated fanbase. They might not sell out Madison Square Garden, but they’d be putting out records exactly the same way they are now. Arcade Fire are musicians, not pop stars. Winning the Grammy was huge for them and for the music world. With any luck, there will be less “stars” and more music in the future.