Music Marketing

Social Media Impact For Musicians: How Conan O’Brien Beats Out Other Late Night Shows

Conan1By Liv Buli (@lbuli)), Resident Data Journalist for music analytics company Next Big Sound.

Last March, jazz-funk jam band Galactic took to Conan O’Brien’s stage and performed the track “Hey Na Na” off their recently released album Carnivale Electricos. Joined by R&B vocalist Corey Glover and brass ensemble The Soul Rebels, they brought “a little bit of New Orleans to the stage,” as Conan himself put it. Over the next 24 hours, Galactic saw a 335 percent increase in daily traffic to their Wikipedia page.

Comparing the immediate impact across online/social metrics for artists that have appeared on major late night television shows like Saturday Night Live, Conan, Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel Live! and Last Call with Carson Daly – all of which are broadcast nationwide – proves that not only do these appearances have a measurable impact for artists, but that certain shows can result in greater reactions from audiences than others.

Included in the study are late-night performances as far back as 2009; the number of bands depends on the individual show. For most of the shows that air during the week, we looked at data for about 300 acts, however for Leno as many as 400 were included, for Daly about 200, and only about 50 in the case of SNL given that it airs on a less frequent basis.

For all of the above, Wikipedia is the most reactive metric. This suggests that late night show appearances do in fact increase the awareness around a band, and that a viewer’s first reaction will often be searching for the act online. Artists performing on Saturday Night Live saw an average increase in views to their Wikipedia page of 300 percent, a 175 percent increase for performing on Conan, and more than 130 percent on Letterman. Another interesting tidbit – late night shows that air their musical performances later in the evening, like Fallon, Daly, and Kimmel (the latter only recently switched to the 11:35ET timeslot), all gave a lower increase, with Carson Daly trailing at around 30 percent Wikipedia page view increases for music acts who performed.


Late night performances also help artists grow their fan bases on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, although the impact on these metrics is significantly smaller than what you see from Wikipedia. Artists appearing on Saturday Night Live saw the highest average increase in new Facebook page likes, but only by about a 63 percent in daily likes acquired. In the case of Twitter increases, performers on Fallon showed close to an 80 percent increase in daily followers, second only to Conan at 95 percent. Once again, Carson Daly shores up the rear with no significant change.


The impact on daily YouTube video views for artists on any of the shows was surprisingly low. The immediate impact for artists performing on Conan, Letterman and Saturday Night Live are the highest across all late night shows, but the increases are barely significant. One explanation could be that videos of the performances are typically published the following day, but can be found on the official channels for the shows as opposed to those of the performers (Next Big Sound only counts video plays towards an artist if the video falls under their official channel.)

Perhaps more importantly, a significant reaction does register in iTunes sales data, both on the album and track level. Only artists that appeared on SNL saw more than a 100 percent increase in track sales on average, but those on Letterman, Conan and Fallon saw increases above 40 percent.

The band that stood out as having the biggest overall boost from a late night television appearance is folk-rockers The Spring Standards, who appeared on Conan on June 18th of last year. The following day, the New York-based trio saw a 5480% increase in Wikipedia page views, an 868% increase in new Facebook page likes, and an 1844% increase in new Twitter followers. While this staggering impact was immediate, it also seemed to translate to a fairly significant long-term impact at least in terms of awareness. Their Wikipedia page views more than doubled in month following the performance, versus the month leading up to it.


On the value of an appearance, band manager Jonny Kaps of +1 Music says, “A television performance is a tremendous opportunity for a band to get people talking. It is often the first time that many fans get to experience the band live.” Kaps looks for both the immediate and long-term impact, and not just in terms of sales. “The goal is to grow an artist’s preferred social networks steadily, with moments like television performances or other great content releases hopefully increasing activity. For my artists, their fans that follow and interact on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is their core fan base that lives and breathes with them on a daily level.”

Kaps still recalls when The Heavy, one of the bands signed to their associated record label +1 Records, had their television debut on Letterman. They performed ‘How You Like Me Now?’ and killed it. “Dave wound up demanding an encore of their performance for the first time in the show’s history.” It catapulted their career. At the time of the performance they had sold about 1400 albums in the US in 3 months. The following week they sold more than 2,200 albums, and went on to sell more than 1500 albums a week for the next six months.

Looking at the full picture, Conan emerges as the late night show that lends the biggest boost following an appearance, with Letterman trailing close behind. Artists appearing on the charismatic redhead’s stage on average see a 50 percent increase in iTunes album sales and Facebook fans, and a 40 percent increase in traffic to their website. What makes the impact from Conan even more impressive is that although the show starts 35 minutes earlier than Letterman, Leno and Kimmel, it airs on basic cable as opposed to network television. According to Nielsen estimates, his ratings are generally much lower.

If a bigger boost was identified for Saturday Night Live across several of the metrics, one might wonder why the argument here is that Conan comes out on top. First and foremost is format. The comedy skit show stands apart from the rest not only because it is a cast of comedians versus a single talk show host, but also because it airs live only once a week, meaning there are less opportunities for artists to score an appearance. In addition, those slated to play here have generally reached a much higher level of popularity prior to their appearance. The typical number of daily Wikipedia page views for an artist on Saturday Night Live lies above 10,000. Artists on weeknight shows more often fall within the range of 80-500.

If you are an established artist it may very well be that performing on Carson Daly is more beneficial for Daly’s ratings than it is for you. On the other hand, if you are up-and-coming, any exposure should be considered good exposure. But if you had to pick, Conan appears to be your best bet for overall impact.

This post originally appeared on Liv Buli is the resident data journalist for music analytics company Next Big Sound. Buli is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and her work has appeared in Newsweek Daily Beast, The New York Times Local East Village, Hypebot and more.

Research contributed by Adam Hajari, data scientist at music analytics company Next Big Sound. Hajari received his Doctorate in Physics from Washington University in Saint Louis and has a part-time career playing the banjo.

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