Why the “A Place With No Name” single was a complete flop + ‘XSCAPE’ album sales wrap (Week 17)

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It has now been four months since the release of the ‘XSCAPE’ album, and one month since the release of “A Place With No Name” – the album’s second single.

Statistically the album – off the back of an overwhelmingly successful lead single in “Love Never Felt So Good” – has been a commercial success and is continuing to sell steadily around the world. To date ‘XSCAPE’ has sold more than 1.4 million copies worldwide and despite being released four months ago remains one of the world’s Top 40 selling albums this week. ‘XSCAPE’-related videos on the official Michael Jackson YouTube/VEVO channel have been streamed an incredible 117 million times over the past four months.

Thanks mainly to the appearance of Justin Timberlake, more than 82 million of those 117 million streams come from various versions of “Love Never Felt So Good” – which was just certified Platinum by the RIAA for sales in excess of 1 million in the United States. Two versions – one a solo Jackson version and the other the JT duet – of the single were released, with more than 80% of online streams and digital downloads coming from the version featuring Timberlake. The percentage of airplays credited to the Timberlake version are even higher.

And that leads us to the second single – “A Place With No Name” – which was officially ‘released’ by Epic Records one month ago.

To put it bluntly, the “A Place With No Name” single has been a gigantic flop, suffering from a disastrously misguided (and at times confusing) release at the hands of Epic Records. While “Love Never Felt So Good” was Jackson’s best-performing single in more than a decade, “A Place With No Name” was the exact opposite. In fact, “A Place With No Name” is among Jackson’s worst-performing singles of all-time – alongside the posthumous “Hollywood Tonight/Behind The Mask” release in early-2011. Neither of the two singles entered the Billboard Hot 100. Both peaked at the very bottom of the UK Top 200 – “Hollywood Tonight/Behind The Mask” at #152 and “A Place With No Name” at #172.

This, of course, is in no way Jackson’s fault. He’s not here to complete his own music, pick the tracks he wants released, strategise and participate in the promotional campaign or collaborate on or appear in his own short films.

Sony/Epic Records and The Estate of Michael Jackson decided to enter into a social media cross-promotion for the launch of the “A Place With No Name” single by allowing Twitter to host the world-exclusive premiere of the song’s music video. It would also be shown simultaneously on the Sony screen in Times Square, New York City.

The launch was hyped up as being the world’s first ever Twitter video premiere and a PR campaign was written to boot, with the world’s biggest online publications buying into the hype.

In my opinion the decision to launch exclusively via Twitter’s media player, rather than simply upload the video to YouTube/VEVO as per usual, was a big mistake.

For starters, the media player Twitter used had several bugs. I personally couldn’t get the “A Place With No Name” video to play for more than 3-4 seconds at a time without it freezing, lagging or completely crashing to black. While some fans claim to have had no issues, others reported that they could not get the video to play at all – not even for a few seconds.

Not only was Twitter’s media player highly problematic for users, but Twitter itself is an unusual platform to exclusively launch a video on if your aim is for people around the world to view it and buy what you’re selling in it – in this case, the song.

Twitter has approximately 271 million active users per month – just a fraction of the 1.23 BILLION that Facebook boasts. In fact, Facebook has three times more users on a daily basis – approximately 757 million – than Twitter does in an entire month.

Michael Jackson’s social media presence is also far more powerful on Facebook than it is on Twitter. Jackson’s official Facebook page has more than 78.7 million fans (one of the most popular pages in all of Facebook) whereas his Twitter account has a mere 1.75 million followers – just 2.2% of his Facebook figures.

Had the video been uploaded to YouTube/VEVO from day one, and embedded in a post on Jackson’s Facebook page, it would have been exposed to nearly 50 times the audience who had the option to view it on Twitter. Views on the YouTube/VEVO video would have also been considered ‘streams’ and counted towards the songs overall chart position. Because they did not go down this route, they missed the opportunity to capitalise on all the millions of eyes who could have viewed the video right there in their live Facebook news feed.

Click here to read my review of the “A Place With No Name” music video.

One month after the video made its debut, its YouTube/VEVO view count stands at just 3.8 million – 2.6 million of which were racked up within the first week. The “Love Never Felt So Good” video, which was released traditionally, was viewed more than 23 million times in the same timespan.

Further to the video launch issues, “A Place With No Name” was not released as a stand-alone single on iTunes. This was another major downfall in the song’s ability to make any kind of impact on the charts.

Immediately following the premiere of the high-successful “Love Never Felt So Good” single on the iHeart Radio Music Awards, two versions of the track – the solo and the JT duet version – were released on iTunes as ‘singles’. Theses ‘singles’ could be purchased by fans around the world, and quickly began rising up the iTunes ranks, eventually entering the Top 10 in a plethora of regions including the United States.

Soon after, the tracks were made available for pre-order from within the ‘XSCAPE’ album. Once those versions started to catch on, the ‘single’ versions of the track were deleted from the iTunes store and the album versions took over. Ads were placed on the iTunes homepage as well as Justin Timberlake taking to his social media accounts in promotion of both versions of the track. The reaction was huge and the single remained at the top of the charts for weeks.

However, when the “A Place With No Name” video was released there was no companion ‘single’ made available on iTunes for fans to buy in support of the track. Sony and The Estate simply expected the public to actively seek out and purchase the individual track by locating it within the ‘XSCAPE’ album. The problem with this, however, is that any fan who already owned the digital version of the album could NOT buy the track – because, as stated, they already owned it!

As a consequence of this, coupled with the fact that Sony did not advertise the single on the iTunes homepage, the track never moved up the iTunes charts, failing to enter the Top 200 in any major market. In fact, despite being a brand new single “A Place With No Name” reached its peak as only the fourth-most-popular song on the ‘XSCAPE’ album – behind both remix versions of “Love Never Felt So Good” and the remix of “Slave to the Rhythm”. Had they issued a stand-alone ‘single’ version of “A Place With No Name” on iTunes it may have been a different story. Unfortunately, however, we will never know.

In the days and weeks after the so-called ‘release’ of the “A Place With No Name” single, Michael Jackson’s official social media platforms seemingly acted like it did not exist. Rather than encouraging the 78.7 million fans that “like” Jackson’s Facebook page to go check out the video and buy the (non-existent) single, those who run the page posted unrelated items such a link to the history of a track called “Don’t Be Messin’ Round” and excerpts from several Jackson-related books. This, while not a negative thing, did no favours to the performance of the “A Place With No Name” video or ‘single’.

On August 27, two weeks after the video came out, Sony Music announced the release of an “A Place With No Name” CD Maxi Single. The disc is listed as featuring three tracks – 1. A Place With No Name (Radio Edit), 2. A Place With No Name (Album Version) and 3. Slave to the Rhythm (Audien Remix Radio Edit).

This release also came with its own problems. I have not personally been able to access the page on which Sony are said to be selling the disc. Fans from all around the world have also complained that the link does not work, instead taking you to a page that states: “The requested page could not be found.” Despite alerting Sony and The Estate of this weeks ago, the issue has not been rectified. Given this, even if I were a potential customer (which I’m not), I could not have purchased a copy.

I’ve been told right from the outset of this album that the likelihood of a “next single” is highly dependent on the performance of the current one. When “Love Never Felt So Good” was a blockbuster success Sony felt confident that the public would react well to a second single. However with the commercial failure of “A Place With No Name” Sony/Epic Records will without doubt be considering whether a third single and accompanying video is worth their while.

In order for a single to be successful they need the MUSIC to hit the headlines – not the method of release. Creating a media hype around a Twitter premiere was never going to sell a video or a song.

The reason that “Love Never Felt So Good” was successful, as much as some fans don’t want to admit it, was the presence of Justin Timberlake on the duet version because it created headlines. The MUSIC created headlines. As noted earlier in this article, more than 80% of sales, streams and airplay was thanks to the version featuring Timberlake. If Sony/Epic Records are still open to a third single, and they’re looking for another hit, their song choice needs to make headlines.

Perhaps they’ll consider releasing the title track, ‘Xscape’, as the third single, by using the Rodney Jerkins-produced remix featuring a rap verse from the legendary Tupac Shakur. The Jackson/Tupac version of ‘Xscape’ was played at a New York listening session earlier this year and received rave reviews from those who heard it. The King of Pop and the King of Rap resurrected together in a 2014 political and social anthem certainly makes for not only a juicy headline, but a captivating listening experience. You can bet your bottom dollar that music fans all around the world would crawl out of their caves to give the track a listen. And best of all; it’s not featured on the ‘XSCAPE’ album – meaning IF they were to release it, it’d HAVE to be a stand-alone single that NO consumer already owns, eliminating ALL the problems they created for themselves with the “A Place With No Name” release.

XO book layout imageDamien Shields is the author of the book Xscape Origins: The Songs & Stories Michael Jackson Left Behind about Michael Jackson’s artistry and creative process. Click here to order your copy today - also available via Amazon, Kindle, iBooks, and Google Play. Follow Damien on Facebook and Twitter to stay up-to-date with Michael Jackson-related news.

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