Social Media Saving the Music Industry

Diplo 2014 Black and White
Official press photo for Diplo (Thomas Wesley Pentz), taken 2014. Source: Wikipedia

Can Social Influence Be Translated Into Something Profitable? For Diplo and other artists it has.

I stumbled upon a Youtube video of a chat between record label founder, producer, and DJ Diplo and Head of Music at Twitter Bob Moczydlowsky. This was one of many chats between influencers and power players hosted at the Spring 2014 RECESS Music & Ideas Festival. Their conversation about the current and future landscape of the music and social media industries sparked a thought in me.

The Power of Social Data

Over the past 6 years I would say, social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr (to name a few) have made it easier to get access to social influence data. As Moczydlowsky says “we had to do a better job of giving people access to that kind of information.” Music, it turns out, not surprisingly, is the number one topic of conversation on Twitter. Billboard and Twitter partnered up over a year ago and created the Real Time Charts that tracks social conversation and reflects which artists, albums, or songs are trending, redefining how success is measured; beyond just unit sales.

What’s remarkable to learn is, social data is being used for finding the next big thing in music.

“[Record labels] they’re actually using that data to sign artists. It’s actually finally starting to be true. 2014: invest online, show that you have audience and business opportunities come from that.” –Bob Moczydlowsky

This is not to say that the value in audience is overtaking the value of artistry. What is universally popular is not necessarily average in quality. What this says is that the opinion and voice of the consumer is being more valued and ergo more listened to for leads, and that’s a good thing.

This also indicates that social media is being seen as more valuable not just as a PR or marketing tool, but as a powerful way to mine data and discover potential.

Diplo added by saying:

“Actually making records and selling them is not the same as being famous on Twitter… you have to develop that kind of thing. A lot of artists don’t translate that well when it comes to having a social profile, and actually going to radio, that’s our challenge [create something] as a label.” -Diplo

Diplo goes on to talk about Riff Raff, a caucasian rapper who came up through social media but who didn’t have enough music product to offer. You may remember Riff Raff from his collaboration with Katy Perry on This Is How We Do.

Katy Perry Riff Raff

Essentially Riff Raff took advantage of the exposure Youtube, Myspace, and WorldStarHipHop could bring, and his large following got Diplo’s attention when the rapper reached out to him. Riff Raff’s personality and audience got him signed to Mad Decent (Diplo’s Record label) but it hasn’t translated into chart performance, sales, or cultural significance. Aside from his red carpet appearance with Perry at the MTV Video Music Awards (both clade in head to toe denim, paying homage to Britney Spears and Justin TImberlake’s famous 2001 fashion faux pas), and his inspiring one of the title characters in the summer cult hit Spring Breakers,  Riff Raff’s star has yet to take off and social media hasn’t been able to boost him anymore.

The Great Irony

Since Napster and the Dot Com Boom, the music industry has changed. Success has been redefined. Selling around 100,000 is common place these days. Selling 30,000,000 albums world wide was success a decade ago. Piracy and the easy access to illegal downloading and sharing online has made it so. Taylor Swift was able to sell 4,000,000 units with her recent album 1989, beating veteran pop stars like Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyoncé to name a few. Many industry experts and insiders said her savvy knowledge of social media that enabled her to sell 4,000,000 records and stay at the top of the charts for months.

We’ve been seeing older artists following Swift by going to social media to stay relevant and popular, as if it were the fountain of youth. Social media has become the essential tool for contemporary artists of the 21st century, hence the close ties of the music industry and social companies like Twitter.

The Great Irony is that not all artists are able to translate well on social media.

silent film microphone talkies
The Microphone – The Terror of the Studio

It harkens back to the 1920’s, when the transition from silent films to talkies was happening, and many voices couldn’t translate to the new medium with sound. Many stars of the silver screen were lost, and others rose to the occasion because they had the right voice and “got” the medium.

This begs the question, Can voice be cultivated? Can anyone become a social media star if they have the right “voice” so-to-speak?

One week ago the Twitter marketing company SocialBro released a list of The 100 Most Influential Women on Twitter. It surprised many that Britney Spears was ranked number one.

The secret to cultivating a social media star lies in authenticity. It has taken Spears time to cultivate a more spontaneous and intimate voice online. At her the core of her persona is the girl next door.

Even though Katy Perry has the most followers at 70,000,000, she was only ranked at number 17 because, as SocialBro says, “it’s about how much you engage with other people to make an impact.” The list was looking at influence, which is a combination of quantitative and qualitative factors. Having a lot of followers doesn’t guarantee influence. Just this past December, Instagram conducted a purging of bot accounts that were created to inflate the number of user followers. Many celebrities were found guilty of having a large number of bot followers to inflate their popularity. Buying followers is more common than people like to believe. The next big thing will be buying engagements. Engagement is harder to get and if a celebrity truly has the influence and the audience, their followers are more likely to buy from them.

Many artists are working on their voice, many have made mistakes, a few have taken to social media like fish to water. Social media may become the new standard of measuring success in the music industry and maybe other industries in the future. The thing is,

Data only has as much power as you give.

Data can be used for predictive purposes, but it’s still gambling to base your decision to invest in someone on social media performance. Justin Bieber was a rare case, he was a little boy with a huge Youtube audience and a strong local base. His talent was the thing that carried him through, and although he’s made mistakes legally (list of all charges from 2013-2014), his work has been the core of what’s redeemed him and kept him relevant and popular.

Bob Moczydlowsky and Diplo
Bob Moczydlowsky and Diplo

My thought when I listened to Bob and Diplo was that music is taking a tip from social, which is remarkable. Seeing social media have an influence and a power in business decisions is a great coup d’état. Social media in many ways is helping to save the music industry. The challenge for artists and labels is to make use of social media’s influence and translate that into profit. As data continues to be collected on social performance and what successful strategies, marketers, labels, and artists will learn what “sells” faster than any previous generation. The role of data in music and other industries will be interesting to see. Social media and the music industry have a symbiotic relationship right now, both of their survival depends on another in big and small ways. Social has been tapped by television to improve viewership with the second-screen phenomenon, why couldn’t social help the music industry with their revenue flow problem?

As adoption of social media goes up, it will become crucial for small and big businesses of all industries to embrace social media into their marketing strategy and engagement with customers. Diplo engages with his fans and fellow artists and people of influence on social all the time. It’s become de rigueur for to use social media in their business, it’s more than just a place for updating our friends.


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