×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Breaking ‘Redbone’: The Campaign Behind Childish Gambino’s Unlikely Hit

Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” is an irresistible slice of sweaty, sultry, vintage R&B — but it’s also a song that’s difficult to imagine on the radio alongside Post Malone, “Despacito” or The Chainsmokers. Add to that, Childish Gambino is the stage name of actor Donald Glover, who, owing to a stacked schedule including the TV series “Atlanta,” the forthcoming “Star Wars” film and “The Lion King” remake, was largely unavailable to promote the album from which the song comes, “Awaken, My Love!” The kicker? Gambino is known as a rapper — and “Awaken” has no rapping.

Such situations often lead labels to scale down their promotion on the assumption that it’s throwing good money after bad. However, the opposite was true of Gambino’s label, Glassnote, the proudly independent label founded by four-decade industry veteran Daniel Glass, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, and which landed “Redbone” at No. 19 on BuzzAngle’s Top Songs of 2017 (to date) chart.

“We got the complete album in August of 2016 — and when we heard it we knew we had something so special and unique,” Glass recalls. “So we urged our entire staff to get out of their offices and play it for clients. Then the fire got lit when [Apple Music’s Beats 1 DJ] Zane Lowe played the record nine times in a row! That lit a fuse at Apple Music, within the industry, and our distribution company.”

Next up, during a brief window in which he was available, Glover taped an eye-grabbing, high-profile performance of “Redbone” — in which he appeared shirtless — on “The Late Show With Jimmy Fallon” in December, shortly after the album’s release.

“Our publicity team timed that perfectly,” Glass says. “Then we shifted back to radio, where we convinced urban-adult-contemporary [stations] to play it — and the Shazams were immediately so big that we spread that story through a radio format that neither Glassnote nor Childish had ever been involved in.”

While the urban-AC stations brought the song to an older demographic, the next big boost came from, of all places, the hip-hop world. “In early 2017 we went back to see our clients,” Glass recalls, “And I had lunch with Tuma Basa,” curator of Spotify’s highly influential RapCaviar playlist. “I said, ‘I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s not a hip-hop record but you should be playing it because it’s part of the culture’ — and not long after, it was on RapCaviar, even though it was unlike anything else on it. That helped us get it onto other playlists, and it stayed there for months.”

“Sonically it wasn’t traditionally hip-hop,” Basa concurred. “But it was so dope how could we not include it? ‘Redbone’ is for the culture and RapCaviar is for the culture.”

The streaming and radio campaigns dovetailed with some key work by Glassnote’s synch department. “It was in the opening credits of Jordan Peele’s film ‘Get Out,’ we had two songs on Netflix campaigns, a couple of video games and several others,” Glass says.

Then in May, the company released a special “Virtual Reality Vinyl” boxed set of the album including VR footage from concerts Gambino played in Joshua Tree the previous summer — which prompted another round of office visits to tastemakers to show them the VR experience. “We sold out of [the boxed set] four times, and we’re bringing out a new vinyl package [later in 2017] around the new Grammy season — 15 months later, we’re still coming out with more stuff!

“It’s been an interesting project,” he says, “although it’s been challenging: We didn’t have a tour and we didn’t really have Donald, so we had to get out there and project our confidence. And Donald, to his credit, was always in cultural moments: He was on the Emmys, he was on ‘Atlanta’ and in ‘Star Wars.’ But I’ve gotta give our staff an A+ — and we’re not done! The campaign continues.”

More Music

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things 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 [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

  • Hadestown Broadway

    'Hadestown': Inside the Musical's 12-Year Odyssey to Broadway

    “Hadestown’s” 12-year journey to Broadway was an odyssey in its own right.  Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s buzzy musical, a folk-operatic retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus, a musician who ventures to the underworld to rescue his fiancée, Eurydice, was in development for more than a decade before arriving on the New York stage. The show [...]

  • The Prom Broadway

    'The Prom': How the Little Show That Could Found Its Way to the Tonys Dance

    Does a Broadway musical still count as an underdog if it’s got über-producer Ryan Murphy in its corner? It does if it’s “The Prom,” the labor of love from a team of Broadway veterans that’s carving out a place for itself as an original story on a street full of familiar titles and well-known brands. [...]

  • lucian grainge: cannes lions media person

    Vivendi in Talks With Tencent About Universal Music Sale (Report)

    In the 10 months since Vivendi confirmed that it is seeking a buyer for as much as 50% of Universal Music Group, the industry has watched analysts’ proposed valuations of the company balloon from an initial $22 billion to as much as $50 billion. But according to a report in Bloomberg, private equity investors have [...]

  • Watch Karen O & Danger Mouse’s

    Watch Karen O & Danger Mouse’s ‘Encounter With Lux Prima’ Documentary (EXCLUSIVE)

    Karen O & Danger Mouse’s “Lux Prima” is one of the year’s best albums so far — but it’s more than an album. “An Encounter with Lux Prima – The Art of Collaboration,” a short documentary chronicling the 18-month development of their multisensory art installation “An Encounter With Lux Prima” premieres today exclusively on Variety. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content