Blogs & Comment

Tom Waits: media genius

Amazon steals his thunder, so he uses the occasion to entertain fans anyway.

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(Photo: Getty)

Generating hype for an upcoming album is tough these days. The global economy is tanking. World events are unfolding with ever-increasing speed and monopolizing airtime. And the internet has made music free for those who choose not to pay.

More importantly, it’s becoming very difficult for artists to prevent their music from leaking prior to launch.

So what do you do if you’ve just recorded an album and got your marketing plan set to roll out, only to discover that someone has leaked details of the effort?

If you’re Tom Waits, you fight fire with fire.

The gravelly-voiced songwriter had told his fans to expect an announcement on his website on August 23, only to have Amazon.com mow his lawn by publishing the title track of his Bad As Me album a week early.

Where most baby boomers might send a strongly-worded email (likely in all-caps) to the offending party, the 61-year-old Waits did what he does best: responded in kind. His private listening party video is a tongue-in-cheek slap at Amazon in which he manages to make his point, entertain his fans and never once mention the object of his anger.

“Apparently there’s no such thing as private anymore,” Waits explains. “Here’s the way I see it: if you were having a birthday and I came early and I started eating your cake and maybe I opened up all your presents and started playing with your toys, you’d be OK with that?”

“Or what if you had a root canal and I asked you to gargle with raw sewage,” he deadpans. “Would you be OK with that? Or would it be safe to jump rope with a live electrical wire? No.”

A clever communicator, this isn’t the first time Waits has used the web to promote an album. His press conference for the 2008 Glitter and Doom tour was a study in viral marketing, using only a threadbare set and his own brand of bizarre humour.

While Waits remains somewhat of an anomaly in the music industry—he also acts, scores films and plays and was a regular guest on Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour show—he serves as an example of a truly multimedia artist, able to promote his work in one medium through the use of others.

In a world where music makers face an increasingly crowded market due to the likes of YouTube hopefuls and Canadian Idol winners (and losers), it is interesting to see an old hand like Tom Waits show us how to use media for promotion and advocacy in the same breath.