Chris Reed
Nov 10, 2014

Foo Fighters and HBO use content marketing to engage fans

The Foo Fighters unleash their new album, “Sonic Highways”, this week with unprecedented hype and a unique content-marketing strategy. Lead singer and band architect Dave Grohl had a vision of recording eight songs in eight countries. However that was shown to be outlandishly expensive so he settled for eight songs recorded in eight American cities.

Foo Fighters and HBO use content marketing to engage fans

While this in itself is fantastically ambitious the real masterstroke was filming eight documentaries from the eight cities where they recorded the eight songs. You will notice that eight is a common theme for this album.

Some of the promotional artwork also includes the number eight entwined within another eight just to press the point. The actual album design reflects landmarks from the eight cities where the album was recorded along with a building in the shape of the number.

HBO is showing the series, which Grohl describes as “a love letter to the history of America music”. The cities were Chicago, Austin, Nashville, Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans, New York and Washington DC. The band based itself at a legendary recording studio integral to the unique history and character of each location. Every track then features local legends from each of the cities.

Each of the HBO episodes features interviews with artists who recorded at the respective studios and who shaped the music of that particular city. Among them are Dolly Parton, Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, Paul Stanley of Kiss, Joe Walsh of The Eagles, Nancy Wilson of Heart, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Zac Brown and Gary Clark, Jr. There was also collaboration with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans which led to a live performance with Arcade Fire and Trombone Shortly.

Each episode delves into the identity of each city showing how each location shaped these musicians in their formative years and how they impacted the cultural fabric of their hometowns with their music.

Even the lyrics for each of the eight songs from the new album were developed in an experimental, unprecedented, locally inspired way. Grohl held off on writing them until the last day of each session, letting himself be inspired by the experiences, interviews and personalities that became part of the process in each location.

This is a highly risky but extremely innovative way to write songs and ensure that they reflect and are inspired by the city that the song is being recorded in and the people who made it including the musicians.

The Guardian gave the series a glowing review saying that it was unlike any other usual music documentary and that it was actually watchable unlike many music documentaries. The Foo Fighters have always used content to market their music but this is a unique blend of TV content linked directly to each song from the new album. One promotes the other which promotes the other.

What I also like about it is that HBO didn’t release all eight episodes in one go but ran it as a normal TV series unleashing new episodes each week and building a buzz and a following for both the TV series and of course the new album.

Having watched the first three they do effectively become mini-documentaries about the local culture and music scene as much as show how the Foo Fighters used that inspiration to make each song. Compelling content marketing.

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