‘Songs of Disappearance’: How an album of bird calls took flight and became a hit
The back end of 2021 has been an embarrassment of riches for pop royalty, with new releases dropping in quick succession from Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, ABBA and Adele.
And from out of a clear blue sky, a surprise hit. A collection of bird calls released into the wild, 53 in total.
Nothing about Songs of Disappearance screams “hit.” And, yet, in the week following its Dec. 3 release, the set debuted at No. 5 on the ARIA Albums Chart.
Another surprise would follow when, a week later, Songs of Disappearance bumped up two places. It currently sits behind blockbuster albums by those superstar British singers, Adele and Sheeran.
Australian Bird Calls’ Songs of Disappearance is no ordinary Christmas novelty. It carries the sounds of our most endangered, feathered friends.
Many of Australia’s precious avian species are threatened with extinction, thanks to policy settings around habitat destruction and ongoing issues with climate change. That’s the unfortunate message carried in a new report from BirdLife Australia, a charitable organisation that benefits from the recording project.
Compiled in conjunction with The Bowerbird Collective and stacked with recordings by wildlife documenter David Stewart and others, Songs of Disappearance pre-sold upwards of 1,500 copies.
TIO caught up with one SGC Group Managing Director Stephen Green for the lowdown on an album with wings.
TIO: When and how did the project come together?
Stephen Green: Anthony Albrecht from The Bowerbird Collective was working with BirdLife Australia who had an important study being released which showed that 1-in-6 Australian native birds could be extinct from the effects of climate change.
He and Dr Simone Slattery had worked on a three-minute compilation track with all 53 of the threatened birds in a chorus called ‘Songs of Disappearance’. Anthony approached me about using the track to get some publicity for the report and releasing it.
It all came together rather quickly with about three weeks from start to release date. We brought in the team from MGM Distribution who got a pre-order store up in a couple of days and we went on sale while we put together the communications.
It was a fun project for me because we got to put as many bird puns as possible, while still making sure the seriousness of what we were trying to achieve could be conveyed.
What were the expectations. And have they been exceeded?
Our goal was to get the record into the chart and then ride the media interest from that to get promotion on the report.
We set up the narrative that it was Adele and Michael Buble vs the most important songbirds of all and then went out to bird enthusiasts through a range of channels during the pre-order campaign.
In reality we did expect to chart, but not as high as we did in the first week (No. 5) and we then expected to get some media, drop the following week and then go and have Christmas.
What transpired was that the hype continued to grow and people legitimately loved the album and wanted to buy copies, so instead of dropping, our second week was actually larger and we popped up to No. 3.
We now have a retail version hitting JB Hifi and Sanity in the new year and over the last three or four days we’ve had coverage on the BBC, CBS, Washington Post and about a million other outlets across the globe.
We’re into our third pressing and we’ve got MGM’s U.S. warehouse shipping for international orders so it’s fair to say it has blown everyone’s expectations out of the water.
It was what we aimed for I guess, but nobody could have predicted this. In terms of how much it’s raised for BirdLife Australia, we haven’t actually stopped to count to be honest, but it is probably in the tens of thousands by now.
What’s the secret to its success? How is it reaching its audience?
I don’t think there’s really a secret. It’s simply that we correctly read that there was a passionate audience there that we knew we could tap to light the fuse and then bet that if we got the messaging right, then we could get media to jump on board and if it captured the public’s imagination then it could work.
We’re now on a massive roll and the project is just hitting new heights every day because people are talking about it, not because we’re waving any kind of magic wand.
At the end of the day, the marketing budget was $0, so the risk was low and every extra person we could get talking about endangered species was a win.
It was simply a case of passionate people pushing a crafted message to other passionate people. Which is essentially all any great marketing is right?
What are your takeaways from this unexpected hit project?
Probably just confidence in keeping things simple. A great plan, a small team of passionate people and a project that we think is worthwhile is essentially the recipe we’ve always used and this one is just a heightened example of how the recipe works.
If there’s any lesson, it’s to work on making sure the product, the heart and the message is right and the rest will take care of itself.
Too many projects are hung up on what the budget is, who the big names are or how they’re going to use “secret sauce” to massage things, when really it’s just about getting the product and the messaging right.
Certainly if we ever do a record of bird calls again, we’ll probably use this as a template, but whether there’s too many learnings for the next indie band we take to triple j we might be better off winging it.
See I can’t help myself.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.