Case Studies

Mac Miller's "Circles": The Art of the Posthumous Release

Mac Miller's "Circles": The Art of the Posthumous Release

How the Miller family redefined the promotion of a late artist’s music

As social media and direct to consumer services continue to boom, fans are more closely connected to their favorite artists than ever. Thus, the hunger for music releases following an artist’s passing is on the rise. The most recent example of this comes from the family of Mac Miller, whose release of his 2018 “Swimming” companion album “Circles” on January 17th made waves across the industry.

The approach to its release brought his loyal supporters a highly personal project that successfully delivered upon what made him such a special voice in rap. By playing to Miller’s humanity across its release cycle, releasing a cohesive and thematic listening experience, and allowing fans to be an active part of his lasting legacy, “Circles” forged a new lane in the growing market of posthumous albums.


Respecting the Artist

The initial announcement of “Circles” did not follow the traditional strategy of getting the word out across every platform possible. Instead, a single message appeared on Mac’s Instagram account, sharing the details of the impending project:

 The choice to utilize such simplistic, heartfelt promotion expresses the thoughtfulness that went into the release team’s plan of action. There was no desire to do anything extravagant to market the album, a strategy which could potentially take away from the meaning and vulnerability of the work. Rather, they purely sought to make their message public, expressing gratitude for the support of listeners throughout the difficult process. Doing so made it clear that the album came from another person just like them, rather than it being the work of a mythical superstar.

This respect for Mac’s humanity was apparent amongst fans as well. A large subset of the media that experienced the greatest resurgence were interviews with the artist, compilations of his funniest moments, and footage illustrating his journey as a growing young artist. These outlets allowed fans to connect to who he was as a person, not solely as a musician. Having recognized this, the team promoting “Circles” incorporated visuals that tied into Mac’s character and way of life.

Examples of this are apparent throughout the music videos that are associated with each track on the album. Some of these visuals are in the form of symbols that are representative of his personality and possessions that he was seen with throughout his career.

In the video released for “Everybody”, Miller can be seen smoking a cigarette as he plays piano, amongst psychedelic visuals:



The video for “Hand Me Downs” collected footage from studio sessions Mac was involved in, creating a montage of him dancing, playing countless instruments, and making those around him smile:


“Good News” combines these two strategies, incorporating imagery ranging from the Vans shoes Mac frequently wore, to journeys in his G-Wagon with his dog, to additional unseen studio b-roll:

Understanding what makes an artist special to a fanbase can go a long way. Providing personal and symbolic content in this manner assures fans that said content is coming from the right place, and that the artist is being treated with the respect they deserve. Their release statement and videos emphasize the joy the Mac brought to the world, as well as the inspiration his art will continue to provide to many. His individuality won over millions of people, and centering the release campaign of “Circles” around it allowed the project to do the same.


Quality Over Quantity

The circumstances surrounding “Circles” were unique, as the project was approaching completion upon Miller’s untimely death. He worked closely with producer Jon Brion up to this point, a mogul famous for his work with many of today’s hottest artists like Frank Ocean and Kanye West. Their trusting collaborative relationship enabled Brion to encourage Miller that his talents stretched far beyond his own self-imposed limitations. Growing closely with Miller throughout this process allowed Brion to align with his creative intentions, an understanding that was maintained after the artist’s passing.

Working with those closest to the artist ensures that the project’s execution will remain true to its fundamental vision. Simultaneously, this decision reassures fans that the process is in the hands of people that are dependable. Brion’s skills brought fans a cinematic listen that ties naturally into Miller’s artistic style and progression. Doing so involved focusing the track list of the project to more closely resemble the traditional album format that guided Miller’s career.

Although this gives listeners less to consume, as additional cuts outside of “Circles” were not made available, the strategy in turn gives listeners more to digest. Its water-tight format encourages fans to listen to it in one sitting as a complete piece of work, rather than solely adding their favorites to their latest playlist.



Furthermore, a brief interview was released between John Brion and highly respected music personality Zane Lowe. The interview provides an inside look into the process of making the record that the public so anxiously awaited. Their conversation revealed the level of attention and detail that went into the process, making it clear that “Circles” would be delivered with the quality that Mac himself would be proud of.

Creating and promoting an album with the help of highly regarded industry figures upholds the integrity of those behind the process itself. Trust is paramount for any posthumous release, especially when adoring fans are watching closely. Working with Brion and Lowe are a bright example of achieving just that.


Keeping Fans Involved

Fans are the primary catalyst for any artist’s success, so it goes without saying that their ability to be a direct part of the release process is crucial. One instance of this can be seen the video for “Once A Day”, whose visuals are comprised entirely of YouTube comments from content posted to his account:

Incorporating comments in this manner lets fans know that their appreciation was being recognized. It signifies that the content is not for the purpose of maximum commercial appeal, but instead to give a humble statement of thanks.

The most significant gesture made to fans came when in the form of listening parties in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miller’s hometown of Pittsburgh. In addition to celebrating the release of the new album, the events also shone a spotlight on fan art inspired by Mac himself:

The showings were open to the public, and the Miller family expressed their gratitude on the @92tilinfinity Instagram account:

Putting the art of fans on display during official release events illustrates the respect that the release team has for its supporters. Rather than making the album the only focus of the event, these showings were instead a celebration of the people who dedicate their time towards making the album release possible. Keeping followers directly involved allows them to be a part of a community greater than themselves, making the project and its message all the more meaningful. Gestures such as these won’t be soon forgotten, and doing so only strengthens their dedicated base of followers.

The success of recent posthumous releases suggests that the interest in new material following an artist’s passing isn’t a mere fad. Finding creative ways to reach fans in a manner that aligns with their appreciation for an artist builds tremendous excitement, and emboldens others to be a part of that collective thrill. The release of Mac Miller’s “Circles” integrated brilliant models of this kind of promotion, and its continued success speaks to the relevance of others following suit in the release of posthumous projects in the future.