Lil Jon and T-Pain. (Source: Instagram)
Amid the pandemic, the music industry has begun to accept live streaming as a new industry norm. Adapting to platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitch as the points of most powerful engagement is unique, and may not last. But for now, these are the leading spaces developing hits.
Recently, digital marketing agency Gupta Media hosted The New Normal, a Zoom panel featuring RCA Records’ Executive Vice President of A&R (and Keep Cool co-founder) Tunji Balogun, Friends At Work founder and CEO Ty Stiklorius, entertainment lawyer Doug Davis, and moderator Bill Werde, the director of Syracuse University’s Bandier undergraduate music industry program.
“We are trying to monetize these things on the fly and not wait for touring to come back,” Doug Davis said. “‘Sit and wait’ is not a good business model for what we do.” Davis has put this theory into practice. In under seven days, he, alongside Balogun, engineered the official release of Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris collaboration “SexBeat.” The track was “premiered” during T-Pain and Lil Jon’s Verzuz producer battle on Instagram Live on April 4. By April 10, the track was officially released as a single.
“We have this group chat, where a lot of the A&R team talk about what’s going on, and we were all watching the battle, and as soon as that song started to get previewed, everyone was like, ‘This needs to drop immediately,'” Balogun said. Doug Davis continued, “The beat battle was Saturday, we were doing the record deal on Monday and Tuesday. We had done a three-way record deal, Usher, Ludacris, Lil Jon by Wednesday to get the record out on Spotify by Friday. That’s how fast we are moving and seizing an opportunity. Tunji’s label was unbelievable in how they seized it. That’s how fast it is happening. We are trying to monetize these things on the fly and not wait for touring to come back.”
As for expanding the reach of a hit, look no further than songs like Megan Thee Stallion‘s “Savage” and Drake‘s “Toosie Slide” and their growth via the platform TikTok. Users of TikTok, an app on which two billion people are spending 14 hours a month watching short videos, are isolated in their home recording videos of themselves dancing to hit songs. “Toosie Slide” is particularly well-suited for the platform, as it includes brief dance instructions repeated in the hook. Regarding how TikTok has grown during the COVID-19 era, The Hollywood Reporter notes that the app has “become the great equalizer, collapsing the distance between a ‘capital s star’” and non-star content creators.
Finding ways to monetize this sudden change in content creation is essential. “Tech companies, Instagram Live, are going to get smarter about how to empower artists in those spaces, how to make it worth our while so that we are not just having 300,000 people tune in and not have any access to data around that or access to income from that,” says Stiklorius. “That is going to keep evolving in a way that is long-lasting and will create new revenue streams for artists.”
Twitch’s established growth in the gaming industry as a monetizable platform has intrigued music industry executives during this era. According to Balogun, “The people at Twitch, which is a monetizable platform, unlike Instagram, are working with a lot of different artists and tapping into that technology and looking forward to finding new ways for artists to make money in that space.”
“You are going to see the live stream world continue to grow,” Balogun continues. “It wasn’t really a legitimate form of entertainment until this happened.” Stiklorius agrees, noting, “I can’t imagine that DJs and artists aren’t going to continue doing [live streams].” Moreover, she imagines that “much-reduced” ticket prices will spur the continuation of streaming as a solution.
Social media’s adaptations in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak has led to what The Hollywood Reporter refers to as “a community riffing off each other and inspired by developing amazing creativity.” The music industry appears to be adapting for the speed at which hit songs are being created and spread.
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