Musicians Employ the Marketing Power of Pop Ups

Successful music artists don’t make money from their songs. Instead, touring and merchandise sales holds the key to true profits.

According to a 2018 Citigroup report, musicians only received 12 percent of the music industry’s $43 billion revenue in 2017. That’s actually up from their seven percent share in 2000, and it’s primarily due to the growth of concerts and touring over that time.

The true bulk of a successful musician’s earnings is derived from sources other than their music. This means that, in this era of digital streaming, promoting a tour, event, or product is more important than ever.

It’s no surprise, then, that musicians have turned to the marketing potential of the pop ups. These activations have always provided the ability to promote a concept and entertain a crowd, and musicians are fully embracing the variety that pop ups offer.

Billie Eilish

This collaboration between Billie Eilish and Spotify was designed to give attendees a peek into the singer’s creative process. Eilish experiences a condition known as synesthesia, where an occurrence involving one sense (such as sight) may activate another of the five senses. For example, a synesthete may experience a smell in response to a touch or feel something in response to a sight.

The three-day “Billie Eilish Experience” led attendees through 14 rooms, each themed to correspond to one of the songs from her first major-label album, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” The pop up was billed as an “enhanced album experience.”

For instance, the “bury a friend” room contained an oversized replica of the bed featured on the album cover. Visitors were asked to climb under the bed to discover messages written in invisible ink. The “you should see me in a crown” room took a turn for the dark (much like the video animated by Takashi Murakami) by having attendees crawl through webs to reach a spider’s lair adorned with chains, videos of spiders, and a representation of the creature from the video. The “8” room lightened the mood with actual puppies supplied by Marley’s Mutts, a non-profit organization that rescues dogs from shelters. All of the featured dogs were available for fostering. Things went dark again (or very, very bright) in the “all the good girls go to hell” room where attendees stood on a “burning” floor surrounded by LED flames.

Photo Credit: Spotify

Photo Credit: Spotify


“Wow, this mannequin is shaped like me.”

That text came from a visitor of Rihanna’s New York City pop up where she debuted her first Fenty collection. In addition to promoting the clothing line, the activation’s intent was to honor “all colors, shapes, curves, and styles.”

“The fact that I’m seeing a mannequin that actually looks like me is amazing. I always thought my body was wrong growing up (because) I never saw an example that looked like me. Thank you, Fenty. Thank you, Rihanna,” stated another text.

This inclusiveness extended to Rihanna’s next pop up for her new lingerie line, Savage X Fenty. Guests were first allowed to explore an artfully designed showroom. Projections shone along the walls featured models of several different body types and ethnicities. After perusing this area, visitors could then enter the retail store at the back of the shop.

Interestingly, one element missing from Rihanna’s pop up was Rihanna’s music. While there was a playlist curated for the activation, it did not include any songs by the artist. Rihanna wanted to keep the focus on her clothes – and her message of inclusiveness – instead of turning the conversation toward her music.

Photo Credit: Savage x Fenty

Photo Credit: Savage x Fenty

Ed Sheeran

Not content with a single shop, Ed Sheeran elected to open for 32 pop ups on the same day. When his sixth album, “No. 6 Collaborations Project,” was released, Sheeran opened 32 one-day pop ups in cities across the world. The activations ran exactly from 3:06 9:06 p.m.

The pop ups sold album-inspired, exclusive clothing and products, such as vinyl records, hoodies, hats, T-shirts, and additional items created by streetwear brands KidSuper, Chinatown Market, and Rhude. An on-site DJ made sure Sheeran’s new album played throughout the day. Visitors were also given the option to write a message to Sheeran on a giant chalkboard and take a photo with a facsimile of the singer.

Photo Credit: No. 6 Ed Sheeran

Photo Credit: No. 6 Ed Sheeran

The Rolling Stones

To promote their “No Filter” tour, The Rolling Stones opened three pop ups in the cities of London, Manchester, and Birmingham. The shops featured a collection of rare props and outfits from the band’s history. Huge screens displayed The Rolling Stones’ Havana Moon concert from Cuba, and people could take a break from the noisy store to listen to the show on headphones spread throughout the store.

There were also opportunities to purchase a selection of limited-time items, such as leather jackets that were hand-painted by American clothing manufacturer Schott NYC. Other available items included branded hoodies, t-shirts, and jackets from brands such as Comme de Garcons and Levi’s.

Photo credit: The Rolling Stones

Photo credit: The Rolling Stones

The Who

Not to be outdone by their contemporaries from across the pond, The Who celebrated the 50th anniversary of the album “Tommy” with a performance at Wembley Stadium and a pop up located at 52 Brewer Street. Called The Who @ 52, the pop up served as a museum for some rare and archived memorabilia. Fans who were on hand opening day got to hear Roger Daltrey talk in-person by about the band’s celebrated history. Attendees could also test their crazy flipper fingers at the “Pinball Wizard Challenge” on a “Tommy”-themed pinball machine.

In addition, the store featured exclusive band merchandise, like signed copies of their new “Tommy Orchestral” album and “world exclusive” vinyl editions of “Pinball Wizard.” The pop up also had an in-store-exclusive ticket offer for the Wembley Stadium show.

Photo Credit: The Who @ 52

Photo Credit: The Who @ 52

Johann Sebastian Bach

Granted, this pop up, known as The Bach Store, did not actually feature the Baroque musician who has been dead for nearly 270 years. It did, however, heavily feature his music. For five hours every day for over a month, Juilliard-trained pianist Evan Shinners performed Bach compositions for anyone who caught sight of him through the store’s plate-glass window.

Shinners created the pop up to make live Bach music more accessible and available to anyone. The pop up was sparsely decorated with only a Yamaha grand piano and an elaborate saying painted on one wall. The quote was from French harpsichordist and Bach interpreter Pierre Hantaï. A few years prior, Shinners reached out to Hantaï seeking tutelage. Instead, he received a frank, two-page rejection letter.

“He had Googled me and dismissed me as of the generation that tries to make high art accessible through YouTube gimmicks and things like that — and I was certainly guilty of that,” Shinners said in a New Your Times story. Shinners occasionally goes by the alter ego “W.T.F. Bach,” where he can be seen on YouTube playing Bach simultaneously on two different pianos.

“I took it upon myself to face this quote for five hours a day and to try to elevate myself spiritually. And to put myself in a public setting where I could expose myself in a way that I was probably previously afraid to expose myself.”

Still, the pop up was not lacking in whimsey. W.T.F. Bach T-shirts were available to purchase, as were small, brain-shaped stress balls printed with the slogan “Yours≠Bach’s” and condoms featuring a lengthy scribe informing people that Bach fathered 20 children.

Photo credit: The Bach Store

Photo credit: The Bach Store

As different as these pop ups are, they do share a single characteristic: the ability for musicians to connect with their fans in new and innovative ways.

Disclaimer: We’re fans of all the innovative and interesting venues, events and activations that occur across the world, and we like to keep our readers informed as well. This post features projects that were not ours. We applaud their work, and do not wish to appear to take credit.