LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
These days, social media plays a big part in most marketing campaigns. A viral video or posting can make or break a product. That's especially true in the world of music, where many bands will tease their new albums online, sometimes for months ahead of the release date.
NPR's Sami Yenigun reports on one electronic group called Boards of Canada who are taking this tactic to new levels.
SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: The rumors started in February of last year, when a BBC Radio personality mentioned that a Boards of Canada double album was on the way. A short time later, a fan asked the group on Facebook if that was true. The response was yes. Then nothing - until April 2013, on record store day, when a mysterious 12-inch was found in New York.
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JOSEPH MORPURGO: And that was I'd say the first step on a long convoluted, labyrinthine and incredibly fun and entertaining pre-release process.
YENIGUN: That's Joseph Morpurgo of Fact magazine, who's followed Boards of Canada for years. The record picked up in New York, was labeled only with the words Boards of Canada, set atop a series of slants, dashes, and X's. Embedded in the music was a string of numbers - 936557. Shortly afterwards, more clues started popping up, another record was found in London, a bit of music was played on BBC Radio 1, and another snippet, with a different set of numbers, made its way onto NPR's ALL SONGS CONSIDERED.
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MORPURGO: Then I believe there was some very complex jiggery pokery that went on involving videos that were up on the Boards of Canada's YouTube site.
YENIGUN: After about a week of code cracking, number stacking and backtracking, the mystery was finally solved. The numbers heard on each snippet were parts of a code that unlocked the details for the new album, "Tomorrows Harvest."
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YENIGUN: Since the late '90s, Scottish brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin have made music that fits their public image: mysterious, introverted, forlorn, nostalgic. As kids, they saw documentaries from the National Film Board of Canada, and that's where they got their name. Their fan base is diehard, and didn't react kindly to Fact magazine's April Fool's joke, a fake Boards of Canada album announcement.
MORPURGO: We had death threats, pictures of animal corpses, just this sort of tsunami of bile came flying our way.
YENIGUN: And that intensity is why the campaign for the real album worked so well says Mike King, author of the book "Music Marketing."
MIKE KING: It's brilliant; it's exactly what you should be doing. So they understand that the fans that they have are similar to them, you know, technology savvy, they're willing to kind of jump through these hoops.
YENIGUN: Almost every major music blog covered the mystery. King says that by going directly to fans, Boards of Canada and their label, Warp, worked the press game backwards.
KING: The fans are leading the charge with the marketing and the traditional outlets - which used to be the first focus - are sort of following along after.
YENIGUN: This isn't the first time bands have leaked clues to upcoming albums. In 2007, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails left USB sticks in bathroom stalls at shows, and created websites for fans to find. But at the time, Twitter wasn't as popular, neither was YouTube.
KING: The real benefit to what Boards of Canada did was, you know, they're floating things out there, they're making fans feel part of what's going on, and then these fans can transmit that information to their worldwide community.
YENIGUN: So that the news of a new Boards of Canada album reaches beyond the base to say, a MORNING EDITION audience.
But Fact magazine's Joseph Morpurgo says, as clever as this campaign was, it could turn off some of the duo's core following.
MORPURGO: Because the mysterious sort of riddle aspect of the campaign was so overt, it almost in a way makes the subtle mystery play that goes on in their music feel a bit less ambiguous and almost a bit more tacky.
YENIGUN: In typical Boards of Canada fashion, the two brothers declined, through an intermediary, a request for an interview.
Sami Yenigun, NPR News.