For over 30 years, since he first appeared on “The Dr. Demento Show”, Weird Al has garnered fans throughout all different age ranges with his goofy persona and clever parodies. Nowadays, he is synonymous with the music parody genre, with such hits as “Eat It”, “Fat”, “White and Nerdy”, “Pretty Fly For a Rabbi” and “Amish Paradise”. Last week, he released “Mandatory Fun”, his 14th studio album and, as he claims, his last. In the 30+ years since Al started making music, the music industry has changed dramatically, with YouTube and social media saturating the market and making big record deals mostly irrelevant. But by embracing the changes in the music industry, Al has not only been able to stay relevant, but become even more popular. Why is this? It’s because his approach to music isn’t exclusively about the music. I recently came across an article discussing what it is that makes Al both a talented musician and a marketing genius.
Through talent, luck and incredible intuition, Al is able to select the songs that are part of (or about to become a part of) mainstream culture, and create funny versions of them that the audience will enjoy. His parodies tackle regular and recurring subjects that will reach a wide audience, such as television, food, Star Wars and aluminum foil. Such topics are widely recognized, allowing his music to reach a wide audience. This is the first marketing rule that we can learn through this goofy musical comedian: success is dependent upon understanding your audience and creating content to suit their tastes.
Under the “fair use” provision of US copyright law, parody is perfectly legal, and Al technically doesn’t need permission in order to record his work. However, as part of a personal rule, and in the spirit of creating good relationships with musicians, Al always makes it a point to seek personal permission from stars before he publishes his parodies. This is another important marketing rule: learn to create strong relationships with key stakeholders and give them something of value. When Al approaches an artist asking to parody their work, they consider it as a sign that they’ve “made it”. By collaborating with these artists, Al has gotten both the attention and trust of these well-known people, meaning that they’ll be likely to help promote his parody. Artists such as Chamillionaire, Nirvana and Michael Jackson, among many others, have spoken out in their approval of Al’s parodies.
A “major record deal” 20 years ago was essential for any artist looking to succeed. Now, however, the advent of iPods and YouTube means that artists are seeing a decline in the money coming from their album sales. For example, Aerosmith has now made more money from the game “Guitar Hero” than it ever did from any of its albums. Al, as you would expect from any musician who has been able to stay relevant for three decades, was able to take these changes and utilize them. The release of his newest album was anything but a cookie-cutter launch plan, however. Through a number of features, interviews and posts on his personal Twitter, YouTube and Facebook accounts, Al was able to have a direct connection with his fans. By putting these channels to work during the release of his album, and maintaining a strong Internet presence on each of them, he was able to get a lot of hype. The week the album premiered, he released a new album every day, amping up the effort to drive curiosity and attention.
Even while posting these videos, Al didn’t rely on one exclusive medium, such as YouTube. Instead, each video was a partnership with a different site. The videos were showing up through Nerdist, CollegeHumor, FunnyOrDie, Yahoo Screen and many others. By using these mediums, Al was able to reach the niche markets that each of these sites served, allowing his work to reach even more people, while also redirecting more traffic to each of the sites that hosted the videos.