Kelechi Reimagined the Album Format And Tripled His Audience With Stem

Cutting through the clutter demands creativity.

For better or worse, art and content flood the internet, leaving even devoted listeners overwhelmed. Simply providing people the opportunity to see or hear your work presents enough of a challenge. Creators must think differently in order to encourage engagement among potential fans. All artists face these obstacles, though indie acts lacking massive marketing budgets must operate outside the box to turn awareness into conversion.

Playlists have transformed an industry built around the album. For many, music has become a singles game. With each release comes a ‘moment,’ a chance to convey part of your story. Both everyday fans and powerful curators take note when these small steps begin to accumulate into sustained momentum.

Given the impact of editorial placement from major streaming services, we’re seeing artists embrace a more segmented approach to sharing music. Artists frequently shy away from cohesive bodies of work in favor of regularly releasing singles over a period of time. Each song is another chance to make an impression or continue conversations with curators, who can exponentially expand an artist’s reach. But, with so much content out there, how do artists make sure their stories even make it to the curators?

Telling your story means you own how it’s told.

We came across Atlanta rapper & storyteller Kelechi when he began releasing music via Stem. Week after week, a new single made its way to DSPs. Curiously, each track shared the same artwork. It took us some time to realize his team’s intention: build Kelechi’s album, Quarter Life Crisis, one song at a time.

“The story of Quarter Life Crisis has a somewhat linear narrative to it, and it was important to tell that story,” Kelechi tells us. “I know a lot of the time, people’s attention spans, especially for new artists, might not be as willing to give 45-minutes to listen to an album all the way through. So what I did was I broke it up. I’m of the belief that I’d rather people ask for more than say that they have too much.”

Withholding supply can organically grow demand.

A simple but important economic theory—“throttling the supply in order to increase the demand,” in Kelechi’s own words—proved fruitful. Fans began engaging with him regularly on Twitter. They followed along, anticipating his story’s next chapter. Word of mouth multiplied, and so did Kelechi’s listenership. When Quarter Life Crisis began its journey in August 2017, Kelechi’s Spotify profile boasted 53,000 monthly listeners. That number rose to 70,000 in November. By the end of December, he had ascended to new heights, hitting 194,000.

“I think it worked on a creative level as well as on a business level,” he says. “I’ve never had this much attention on any of my albums before, and I think that comes from us being patient and releasing each song one-by-one and focusing on each song individually and having [Quarter Life] become a sum of its parts.”

About three weeks into his release, Kelechi saw the traction and set a personal goal for himself: surpass one million streams on Spotify before the end of 2017. The day after our December interview, that goal was reached.

stem interviews kelechi breaking apart the album
Photo by Tristan Ervin

Making it in music requires more than music.

Music creation encompasses only part of the release process. Artists and their teams must plot drop dates, discuss and execute marketing plans, ensure timely distribution uploads with correct metadata, and notify streaming services early enough to make editorial placement possible. Most music platforms prefer to receive materials 30 days in advance of release day.

Breaking down an album into 12 singles isn’t easy. Only meticulous organization and clever execution make such a feat possible. The process can also incur costs, depending on who you use to distribute. Stem afforded Kelechi and his team both financial independence (we simply take 5 percent) and flexibility (a short turnaround time of five business days).

“I think that being nimble is the most important thing for a company. If I finish a song tonight, and then send it to Stem tomorrow, it would be up fast… That swiftness of not only getting product out, but in how fast you get back to us, in communication — all of that matters. Plus, the interface looks so good. Having an aesthetically pleasing dashboard that’s simple was a big part of wanting to use Stem, too.”

Adjusting to success poses a new kind of challenge.

Kelechi rolled the dice with a creative rollout for Quarter Life Crisis. His gamble paid off, but new challenges come with exponential growth and massive indie milestones. How do artists rise to meet increased excitement surrounding their work?

This Atlanta artist responded with fitting ambition: Make enough music to last five years and spread it across 12 months. 2018 will see 48 new songs from Kelechi, split into 12-track packs thematically tied to each of the four seasons. Woke Up to Winter will lead off the year-long marathon sprint. His game plan inherently appreciates how so many of us interact with anything digital in the streaming era.

“In 2017, I became more aware that attention is a commodity. When you have people’s eyes, you have to do as much as you can with as little time as possible. That’s the reason why I’m wanting to release these next albums in this way… There’s so much content out there that releasing it one thing at a time, one song a week, it extends your moment. Rather than releasing an album and having it be like, my album dropped today and then next week it’s over, it’s like, my album’s been dropping for the last three months. It extends that moment and it extends the excitement and it gives people a chance to catch up… We’ve seen that this strategy works so we want to double-down – or quadruple down – on it.”

Kelechi’s next project, woke up to winter, starts rolling out to streaming services February 7.

kelechi new album artwork woke up to the winter

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