In early December, Billboard launched a new chart called The Social 50. It factors
in all the times an artist is mentioned across various social media outlets
and ranks them accordingly. When I heard about this, I was expecting to see a mix of both big name artists and a few lesser-known-but Internet-relevant musicians sprinkled throughout the second half of the chart.
How wrong I was.
Turns out, the Social 50 isn't all that different from the Hot 100 singles
or even the Top 200 albums charts. A quick glance through the list and
you'll see some familiar names: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Linkin Park, Eminem,
Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Usher. The rest of the list plays out the same.
But unlike the other two charts, which use marketing, radio, and retail to
more or less produce controlled results, the Social 50 is, in theory, a
reflection of the raw, unfiltered, populist voice of the Internet. Using
stat-tracking technology from metrics startup Next Big Sound, it compiles plays, fans, page views, links, and mentions from users on Web 2.0
and social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube,
Soundcloud, and Wikipedia.
Admittedly, we're all affected by the marketing efforts of the major labels,
even if we control what come out of our mouths and minds. But if
we're all just using the Internet to talk about the same types of
artists that were MTV idols 10-15 years ago, what does this say about the Internet's role in the future of music?
Take, for example, the cases of Justin Bieber, OK Go, and Bay Area locals
Pomplamoose, who all found their first wave of buzz and exposure through the
Internet (specifically YouTube). In order to take that momentum one step
further, they've all linked up with major labels or large companies (TV advertisers in the case of label-less Pomplamoose), using
more traditional channels as they build mass followings. I'm not saying that's good or bad -- it's just the way it is.
That's also not to say you can't carve out a more stable (and possibly more
rewarding) career by avoiding "the machine." Consider the case of the
reclusive rapper/producer Madlib. He first generated buzz prior to
the Internet era, and thanks to the savvy web marketing of his record label,
Stones Throw, he's enjoyed a longevity that probably wouldn't have happened
in the '90s. But he'll never become a mega-star (and he probably
likes it that way).
I still maintain that avoiding the major labels in this era is the best
thing you can do for a career centered around the music. But for those
seeking celebrity-like fame, exposure, and of course, mountains of cash, the
Billboard Social 50 is proof that you can't do it alone.