Music Marketing

Guest Post: With Mixtapes & Social Media, Is The Album So Far Gone?

Alex Mann is the director of Trendrr, a business intelligence platform for social and digital media. You can read more by Alex on his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

Dhntv4t5_241hq7twqg9_b At first glance, Drake's success as an artist appears similar to his hip-hop peers. The actor turned Grammy-nominated rapper performed at the 2010 Grammy Awards and starred in a recent Sprite commercial during the NBA All-Star game.

Here is what's new: Drake has yet to release a full-length retail album. So Far Gone was the 6th best selling rap release of 2009, despite being just a seven song mixtape. His radio airplay was demanded organically, lacking the traditional push from a major label. Although a supposed album is in the pipeline, current social patterns tell us he's built a sustainable career from a few singles and a wildly popular mixtape, a distribution formula unique to the digital era.

Drake By The Numbers

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First, let's look at the conversation volume around Drake on Twitter. Beginning to buzz in the middle of 2009, Drake has remained at the center of the hip-hop conversation, hovering around 5,000 Tweets per day for the second half of 2009. He has edged out hip-hop heavyweight and current label mate Lil' Wayne with buzz and recently benefited from a post-Grammy bump of over 60,000 Tweets in one day.

A Closer Look At The Data –

A glimpse at the real-time Trendrr dashboard suggests Drake's top geographic markets include New York, Atlanta, Toronto, Las Vegas and London. The demographic data suggests Drake's audience is skewed towards women, with 57% of the conversation deriving from females and 43% of the conversation deriving from males.

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While the conversation volume around Drake is dense on Twitter, what are people actually saying? Using Curatorr, we filtered the signal from noise around Drake's accelerating fanbase. The conversation, organized in a curated bucket below, is certainly in Drake's favor.

People are talking about Drake, but the question remains: Are people actually listening to his music? According to the listener stats, the conversation around Drake is complemented with significant listening patterns. Drake passed Lil' Wayne in total listeners in November 2009. Since then, listeners of Drake have skyrocketed, reaching close to 380,000 per day. This is an exponential increase over the last three months, with Drake nearly quadrupling his listeners.

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What The Data Tells Us –

The Trendrr data sets reveal two findings. The first is that Drake has been an item of popular and trending conversation on Twitter, increasing rapidly since his Grammy performance. Second, listening behavior for Drake is increasing in frequency and volatility, consistent with the increase in conversation. Together, the data shows appearances at seminal media events such as the Grammy’s pay dividends in social media and reap rewards for the artists in terms of consumption, further proving the interconnection between television and social media.

Drake has developed a budding musical career without the release of a full-length album and initially without the backing of a major label. He has already affiliated himself with hip-hop's most popular stars and is making money from concerts and brand endorsements.

This brings us to a final question worth considering:

Can artists still afford to rely on the success of an album, or has Drake defined a unique marketing model for emerging musicians?

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  1. If you’re playing the Grammys and competing with Lil Wayne and you’re the kind of “artist” who cares about profit to the point of allowing a silly thing like media format to dictate what and how you create, then yeah, maybe don’t worry about albums and focus on hit singles.

  2. You’re missing the point here Jason.
    We don’t need a Drake analogy or Trendrr analytics to prove that we are currently in a singles based market.
    Because the average selling point of an album these days is well…FREE, it makes sense to spread your music out over a longer period of time. If you slave away in the studio for two years and put out a full length album today, chances your buzz will die down by tomorrow.
    That’s just the way it is. Can you hear Bruce Hornsby in the background?
    Thanks for the guest post Alex. I’m taking a second look around your site now.

  3. I’m somewhat agreeing with both these posts so far. Where this data could be useful those in more in breaking an artist and better understanding where the initial interest is and building out from there rather than looking at an artist like Drake who got put on by the Cash Money camp anyway so was definitely going to get early leverage. Thing is, if you are already working in hip hop, for example, then you already know a lot about the market before digital stats even enter the picture. Mixtapes were/are always used as a tool. Also, over-use of stats (even though we create digital strategy for music brands) makes me pause because it’s not to say, for example, that Drake’s audience is more female just because more of the digital chatter is from women. This would seem to be because women out-index in social media use anyway, from the stats I’ve seen. So it’s all about interpretation. Overall, I think the verdict is still out on stats and analysis, but I think it deserves dialogue.

  4. Very well stated Lauren. (Are you on twitter?)
    In my opinion, we must not lose site that the media loves to champion & romanticize a story like this. The truth of the matter is that single off of his mixtape was being worked at radio. It wasnt a viral sensation until after it impacted radio.
    Now, I do think that the strategy of scarcity that Drake used really helped with the digestion of his new music and lead to more chatter/buzz. He wasnt goin in dropping 4mixtapes a month like Weezy or Gucci. He had his two tapes & two singles and stuck to guest features where he would arguably outshine the star.
    If you really look at it, all Drake really did was make a hybrid model of the indie band & apply it to hip hop with mixtapes. Most hip hop/urban acts cant tour everywhere because of the element they bring, but Drake is more clean cut, so he could could get CHR/urban & top 40 markets and the venues that come along with it.
    Indie rock acts usually drop an EP and tour like hell, thats what Drake did.
    just my 2 cents as a hip hop head.

  5. Great point about Drake applying the touring indie band model to hip hop Danny!
    Never before have we had access to these sorts of statistics. We should learn how to use them before it becomes mandatory. After all the CD is just about dead anyways.

  6. Thanks Kevin!
    Your def right, whats said is that more people outside of the major label industrial complex are seeing the value in this data.
    Meanwhile the guys at the label with power are still doing the same thing they were doing in 2006, adding a twitter account & fb fan page and thinking they are hip to social media and they way people consume/discover music.

  7. Drake is a statistical anomaly and does not represent a new model. His case is very unique, yes. But his is not a strategy more than one or two artists a year could employ and be successful. Needless to say, if the backbones of a new model are a Grammy performance and radio play, that model is going to be limited to a select few artists. A developing artist is better off penciling in “succeed through dumb luck” in a marketing to-do list than try to emulate Drake’s rise to success.
    How much an artist should rely on the album as the basis for a marketing plan depends on the genre and the artist. Rock, jazz and classical are more album-oriented than hip hop and pop. Albums still matter. A lot. They’re not the end-all-be-all of recorded music, but they matter. Far more tracks are sold through albums than are sold on an a la carte basis.

  8. This is an anomaly. Drake is different. His music is different. And that’s where it starts. Analyze all the stats you want. At the end of the day its about the music… That being said, it also helps that he was on a TV show in his teen years. Maybe some of that money and fame helped to move the needle to critical mass??

  9. I think you missed my point actually. I don’t care about the “market” or the “industry” and neither do many, many other artists. We do what we do because it’s interesting to us. I am a musician, manager, and label owner and we release plenty of full-length records. We tour and have sold plenty, thanks. Your priorities are backwards if you let industry trends dictate what you create. But whatever, you guys keep making the rules and we’ll keep ignoring them.

  10. So much HYPE with this artist – major label undertones?
    Looks like he is out doing the college circuit with 2 other acts to try and give his project credibility.
    You still can’t beat a great album by an great artist that can actually PLAY and SING at the same time.
    Long live The Who, Queen, ACDC….
    I’m rapped out??

  11. Good for you Jason. Whether you like it or not, the people who buy your “albums” are your market. The community in which your business functions is called an “industry”.
    If you didn’t care…you wouldn’t be here arguing a moot point. We all care about the music silly.

  12. Does this world really need more musicians who see people as just markets, communities as just industries, and their own music as just a product to be marketed and consumed? Do we really want to hear more music that follows every rule in order to appeal to a mass demographic? Isn’t this the exact same narrow, greedy mindset that’s put the major label industry in the predicament it’s currently in? Is this really the best advice we can give struggling musicians desperate for help?

  13. Yes. Some artists prefer to work in the format of the album, plain and simple. Not all musicians are out to create a 3-minute top-40 hit.

  14. Hi Jason,
    Those are the questions of the decade, but not relevant to this post. Instead of clogging the comments section here, I’ll write a post of my own about it. I’ll let you know once its up.
    Best of Luck,

  15. Jason, this is not anything like the black and white issue that you paint it as, artists are not either crass capitalists or independant free-thinkers thumbing their noses at the “industry”.
    Commercialisation is a spectrum and every artist sits somewhere along that continuum according to their personal preferences and goals.
    Even if you are an artist who only wants to do a little bit of commercialisation there are still lessons to be learned in order to make the best of the small amount of resources you wish to put into it.

  16. Good Discussion here. A few additional points worth noting: 1> This is not a DIY Artist case; 2>Drake’s affiliation with Wayne and Cash Money pre-date Drake’s actual signing to the label. Drake’s hard work and great team placed him in a position to where major artists wanna work with him(sans Sade), blogs and mags feature him, brands wanna work with him, etc., etc. The industry has made him their new front runner, and the fans their new #1 Stunna. Despite the great data points shown here, the success of major label hip-hop Artist has always been measured by(and judged on)# of Albums sold, PERIOD. Not singles, ringtones or EPs. The Trendrr and Curato stats presented here, only show you Drake’s block, front yard or porch. I’ll leave it up to the great minds in the hypebot community to figure out how 2 see out the rest of the house. Meanwhile can we please come up with a suitable definition of a D.I.Y. Artist?

  17. Drake had someone with a shitload of money to start his buzz campaign> so its inaccurate to say he did it all from just word of mouth>

  18. It’s definitely important to point out Drake came in with a ton of support from Lil Wayne musically. You don’t need a major label when you have the hottest rapper in hip hop as your biggest fan. And you also don’t need a label when you have the best management team in hip hop working as your label.
    He didn’t do this without major support. Indie artists thinking they can do the same thing without major co-signs and features are crazy. It’s possible but your chances are as slim as Kate Hudson.

  19. Drake is not an anomaly at all… he has been building his fan base for years. He spent 8yrs on one of the most popular television shows with children, teens and young adults. The Episode where he was shot was viewed by half million US viewers alone…That exposure along with being affiliated with the the latest rapper to sell one million records in a week can’t hurt. He was also able to avoid the Fresh Prince type back lash and enjoy more of a Tupac like cult following so far(some ppl have said hes the best rapper ever which is a bit premature to say the least). Where Tupac was able to make his role as Bishop from Juice believable off screen, Drake seems to make the wealthy, boy next door rapper come off flawlessly as well. In my opinion he has the fan base of Michael Jackson(maybe sales will tell) before Thriller because his core audience has grow up with him and can relate or enjoy being entertained by his subject matter which does not consist of your average guns, drugs and crime tales. So if you want to talk new models (which is not really new see: Justin Timberlake and Brittany Spears) maybe having more fan connection and over exposure of your career might be it. As far as the Grammy’s It didn’t hurt, what really impressed me was the way Drake and Lil Wayne attacked radio after a great introduction through the mixtape(So Far Gone). They have both maintained an aggressive and consistent radio presence since Drake dropped So Far Gone. The constant great singles too me are what will now make new artist successful. (pun intended)

  20. The days of the album are dwindling. Drake’s mixtape was a major turning point in the industry. Artists are going to have to be true entertainers now and the majority of their money will have to come from concerts and endorsements. There once was a time in the music industry where people could not own a copy of the music. Then we were able to by the method of tapes, records, CDs, mp3s… but that time is coming to a close.

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