Mixtapes, YouTube videos, dedicated playlists, ancillary products, viral marketing, epic chart stays. These are buzzwords you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original-cast recording.
Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record held by Adele’s “21” for longest stay in the sales top 40, with an awareness assist from auxiliary releases like “The Hamilton Mixtape” (featuring the Roots and Chance the Rapper) and monthly online Hamildrops, of show-related content. Atlantic’s “Dear Evan Hansen” had the highest chart debut for a cast album since “Camelot” in 1961 and proved popular among young people who haven’t attended the show.
The indie Ghostlight label issued an album of Joe Iconis’ “Be More Chill” score when the show was still launching in New Jersey, and racked up 200 million streams, a number so powerful that Off Broadway and eventually Broadway producers took notice. Those bigger productions helped add another 100 million-plus streams to the album’s total. Ghostlight co-founder Kurt Deutsch says “Rent,” which “broke around the same time as the internet and Amazon,” was Broadway’s first viral touch point. Ghostlight rewarded “Be More Chill” fans with videos of Iconis’ new wave-y stage songs. “If the story moves them emotionally,” says Deutsch, “they’ll watch our YouTube videos and listen to the music over and over.”
With stories like these, it’s no wonder Decca Broadway, the label behind the first-ever cast album, 1943’s “Oklahoma!,” has just been relaunched. Dickon Stainer, Universal Classics’ president-CEO, looks at the imprint as an opportunity to market its past and future. “When we knew we were going to release the cast album for the ‘Oklahoma!’ revival, we wanted to emphasize the connection to our legacy.”
Says Atlantic A&R head Pete Ganbarg, responsible for bringing “Hamilton” and the upcoming “Jagged Little Pill” to the label: “It’s popular music, always was. As a kid growing up, my family listened to ‘A Chorus Line’ on car trips, singing ‘One.’” Atlantic used digital-streaming platforms and playlists to market “Hamilton” — concepts that will come into play again for the impending Alanis Morissette-based musical. “Once an audience is onto something special,” Ganbarg notes, “we make sure people know they can consume it however they like.”
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