A Little Birdie Tweeted…
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How Social Media is Guiding Labels to Future Hit Singles
WHILST radio is still the best source…
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of music discovery and variation, social media is playing a role more and more. In fact, I guess I sort of split my time between listening to radio and looking at various sites and publications online regarding the best acts around. There is a reason why social media and the Internet is becoming a lot more sourced when labels are looking to see which single is best to put out – rather than float this song from an artist and it getting a rather lukewarm reception from stations. When launching albums, labels and companies put a few singles out so they can build momentum, put their best foot forward and make an impact. Sometimes, an artist will decide which songs they want to put out, but I think labels will get more say in that regard. It might seem obvious which singles sound best or are better to promote an album yet, when those songs are out in the world, they might not always get positive and universal acclaim. Social media is proving to be a useful sounding board and committee when labels are deciding which singles should be released. I saw an article in Billboard that explains how there are some artists/labels turning to Twitter in order to decide which songs are going to be a hit; which ones radio stations will favour:
“When Bay Area rapper Saweetie released her ICY EP on March 29, her label, Warner Records, hadn’t yet settled on which song to promote to radio as a single. So thousands of Twitter users helped.
Shortly after release night, Warner vp fan engagement Elissa Ayadi says that the raunchy track “My Type,” which samples Petey Pablo’s “Freek-a-Leek,” took off on the platform, where fans were quoting the song’s brash, catchy lyrics about exactly what the rapper is looking for in a date.
That persuaded the label to focus its promotional efforts on the track, which comes with a splashy music video that has over 45 million YouTube views, and pushing the #MyTypeChallenge on TikTok, which has inspired 50 million videos.
“We were like, ‘Instead of forcing it, let’s support what the fans are already doing,’ ” says Ayadi. It worked: The song has now spent 14 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 21, and for the chart dated Sept. 28, it reached No. 1 on the Rhythmic airplay chart, where it stayed for two weeks.
Ayadi and others in her field agree that, along with activity on other social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter conversations around a song are an increasingly important metric that decides whether a label will put resources behind a single.
“Now, people are dropping albums without having a set single,” says Lisa Kasha, vp integrated marketing and digital strategy at Epic Records. On the nights the label releases a new project, Kasha’s team sends a companywide report detailing which song titles, lyrics and features are trending, including key tweets and memes for reference. In the morning, she compares that data to the streaming numbers. “If a certain song is trending, and that’s the song that streams the most that night,” she says, “then it’s a fan favorite”.
I guess algorithms and marketing strategy has changed the more we stream music and have resources like social media. Artists still do this, but once was the day when singles were decided before an album arrived. It is understandable that the dynamic has shifted, and artists/labels are reaching out.
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From an artist’s perspective, I guess they will hear a few songs that sound perfect as singles and stand out from the rest. That is a subjective view so, when those tracks go out, are they the strongest when it comes to winning new fans and pleasing the existing base? It can be hard making that call and getting it right, and so social media acts as a useful form of feedback and opinion. The article also notes how, whilst the wisdom of crowds and new algorithms seem sound, there are obvious issues:
But leaning on social media algorithms to “monitor fan sentiment” -- a favored term among digital marketers -- has its limits. With the band Disturbed, for example, data tools like CrowdTangle -- which shows how content is performing on different platforms -- automatically register tweets with the band’s name as negative. And it’s hard to identify mentions at all for artists like Future and THEY.
There’s also trouble with slang. “There are a lot of things people say about music that, if they were saying it about toothpaste, would look very bad,” says Tarek Al-Hamdouni, senior vp digital marketing at RCA. “If somebody says, ‘This toothpaste is hard as fuck,’ that is not going to be picked up as a positive sentiment. But if you say that about an A$AP Rocky record, that’s super positive.”
Still, Twitter is in part responsible for one of Al-Hamdouni’s biggest successes of the past few years: Childish Gambino’s “This Is America.” When the song and music video dropped simultaneously in 2018, Al-Hamdouni predicted that it would make a splash. “We ended up with a tsunami,” he says: There were 2.1 million tweets about Gambino in the first week of the song’s release, according to Twitter”.
I love the fact artists are putting albums out and not having that set single. Maybe, as streaming takes over and we can listen to albums with the click of a button, maybe it is too forthcoming or limiting having a set single. Rather than rely on the artist or label debating which songs make for great singles, fans are giving this useful reaction and telling us which songs they are responding to. Of course, I still maintain that radio is a more powerful tool when it comes to promoting an artist and getting them heard. Social media is great when it comes to things like deciding which songs are best, but when it comes to actually putting that music into the world, radio is paramount. For a start, unless you follow an artist or are ‘in the right place’, as it were, you might miss them altogether. Radio stations are much more effective regarding reaching an audience quickly. I wonder whether we have transcended from the days of singles and the traditional way of working. It used to be the case where a single was put out before an album came along and that was a taster of what you got; there might have been another single or two, but the fans didn’t get that say. Now, social media means fans and listeners can react to songs, lyrics and aspects of a track and that then resonates with labels and management.
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I do think there is a place and role for traditional marketing and single releases, but it is evident the industry is utilising social media more and getting that instant feedback. I will wonder whether artists will push things further and float demos online whilst they are recording in the studio. Maybe it takes all control away, but what would it be like if fans and artists had that interaction and conversation before a song was even completed? It is interesting seeing how we can make use of platforms like Twitter without removing the human touch and an artist’s/label’s role. If the inherent bugs can be worked out on platforms like CrowdTangle, we could see something huge. Radio is wonderful, but it is hard for labels and artists to gauge feedback because of the nature of the medium. Social media gives all this useful date regarding which songs are trending and the ones fans are responding to. Whilst radio can never be replaced, social media is playing a vital role when it comes to deciding which songs are hits and the ones that are most resonant. Think about it the next time you tweet about a song or an album. Your comments, reactions and thoughts could well be used to decide possible singles or give labels information regarding the best tracks. I think that this is…
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A positive and useful step.