News Corp. may be looking to sell MySpace, but social media’s role in the music industry just keeps growing

With the rumor mill almost on fire with news circulating that News Corp. may be on the lookout for a buyer for MySpace, it seems odd to think that such a successful corporation would look to get rid of a social networking Web site at a time when social media is really coming of age as a means of mass distribution for the music industry.

Just recently, Lady Gaga set a record for the number of overall views of an artist’s music videos on video-streaming service YouTube when her total exceeded 1 billion. To announce her reaction, she posted a message on Twitter that stated: “We reached 1 Billion views on YouTube little monsters! If we stick together we can do anything. I dub u kings and queens of YouTube! Unite!”.

This kind of engagement has given the artist – and other performers – a huge online following across multiple networking platforms. Canadian pop star Justin Bieber holds the YouTube record for the number of video streams of a single track, with 398 million views of the single Baby. He also ranks second behind Lady Gaga in terms of total views, but leads in terms of YouTube subscribers with 818,000, compared with 373,000 for Lady Gaga, according to online-tracking service Famecount. The increasing importance of these metrics led US-based media-tracking company BigChampagne to launch its Ultimate Chart in the summer; in addition to logging sales data from the likes of Amazon and iTunes, the chart adds broadcast exposure plus online buzz by measuring YouTube views, MySpace hits, Last.fm and Pandora streams, and Facebook and Twitter mentions.

One musician, indie solo artist AM, has even signed a deal with digital-advertising agency Razorfish to ensure that his social-media bases are covered. The agency says it is helping AM gain exposure to potential fans and marketing partners, and the first step in this offbeat partnership was to launch a design campaign for the cover of a vinyl version of the album Future Sons & Daughters, with content crowd-sourced online from members of artist, photography and design communities, in true social-media style.

Razorfish looks to be experimenting with ways of getting AM closer to his audience: The agency has been streaming his music to 2,000 employees across its offices and created a mobile application so that they can also download tracks by scanning in bar codes embedded in postcards. It’s likely that campaigns such as these will find their way into the public arena at some point.

But unlike Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, some major artists are only just beginning to realize what social media can do for them. Rihanna, for one, had been using her Twitter account solely as yet another platform for formal release announcements, giving followers little reason to pay close attention to her tweets. During the summer, however, she changed tack in an effort to get closer to fans and used both Twitter and Facebook to unveil partial images of the cover of her new album, Loud, urging followers to head to the RihannaDaily.com website to view the artwork in its entirety.

Also aiming to increase his presence on Facebook is James Blunt, who worked with the social network’s new Places feature – which enables users to share their locations with other Facebook users – to let fans check in at the venue for the artist’s recent London album launch and stream three songs free. The location also remained “live” for a few days afterward to enable fans to hear the tracks. Blunt also wants to use Places capability on his 2011 UK tour so that concertgoers can get hold of live versions of tracks when they attend gigs. With these kinds of features, it’s all about giving audiences something to win them over and retain them.

Another artist seeing the attraction of Facebook Places is Cheryl Cole. She and her label Polydor Records are running a billboard campaign in the UK promoting the artist’s new album, Messy Little Raindrops. The outdoor-advertising posters invite fans to check into Places on their mobile phones for a chance to win travel and hotel stays for a recording of the hit UK music-talent TV show The X Factor, on which Cole is a judge. It’s interesting to see Polydor making use of Facebook, because record companies haven’t been too well served by the rise of social networking. Just the opposite, in fact, as the socialization of music has served to remove them and their agents as buffers between artists and audiences.

Although it’s impossible for record companies to gain followers and fans in the numbers attained by major artists – WMG and SME, for example, have mere tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, compared with leading musicians’ millions – they are attempting to gain more control. Last year WMG inked a deal with US technology giant Cisco to use the Cisco Eos “social entertainment platform” to power its artist and label websites and boost direct-to-consumer initiatives. Initially, WMG rolled out sites for rock band Paramore, R&B singer Trey Songz, rockers Halestorm and reggae artist Sean Paul.

More ambitiously, WMG recently launched a website for Elektra Records to celebrate the label’s 60th anniversary. In addition to hosting streamed audio and video in a “World’s Fair-type” environment, complete with multiple entertainment “pavilions,” Elektra60.com also boasts its own community, with members able to comment on content and chat with one another. There are also links to Elektra’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, where the label points fans to YouTube for music previews. Elektra recently used Facebook to showcase Cee Lo Green’s new album, The Lady Killer, before its official release, and then sent listeners in the direction of iTunes for an exclusive purchase. Cisco Eos also provides Facebook Connect capability, so that communities can not only interact with friends on dedicated sites but also share content via their Facebook “walls” and newsfeeds.

Clearly what is required on the part of record companies is more of this kind of push-back when it comes to social media, though it’s hardly likely they’ll be able to wrest any degree of communications control from the artists. What is more likely is that there will be greater use of social media for marketing and engagement purposes – such as SME’s recent campaign for Mark Ronson on Spotify and Facebook, which enabled users to remix his tracks directly within ads. But record companies should be keeping an ear on online trends so that they can identify artists who are able to produce significant noise across social-media platforms before they make it big. Just as there are services to produce metrics for the Lady Gagas of the music world, there are also tools to enable them to track the fastest-rising social talent.

Music & Copyright is a fortnightly research service published by Informa Telecoms & Media.

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One comment

  1. Scott Brown

    Completely agree with your assessment of the opportunities for social media for engaging music fans (and thanks for the call out on WMG’s use of Cisco Eos. One thing we’re seeing across the entertainment genres are three phases of social media usage:
    1) As an additional communications channel,
    2) As a promotional tool,
    3) As a fan engagement and monetization platform (more details in this blog post: http://bit.ly/igW1qw)

    In many instances, the music industry is leading the evolution to jump from social media as just another promotional vehicle, to turning it into a new, value-add experience for fans.