Thanks to the ubiquity of social media and streaming, artists have been given new ways to reach their audiences at the literal click of a mouse. But these platforms offer artists more than just easy access to fans. Each one harbors a goldmine of data. _______________________________ Guest post by Carter Wilson from Berklee College of Music: Music Business Journal Introduction Since the rise of social media and other online platforms like YouTube and Facebook, artists have been able to reach their audiences with more ease and efficiency than ever thought possible. While social media platforms have emerged as the predominant mediums for artists and businesses to advertise directly to their target demographics, the information that these platforms can provide its advertisers is much more than what meets the eye. Built-in metrics that detail the frequency of a page’s visits, the age ranges and cities in which audiences are from, and other numerous insights can be invaluable for things like tour routing and advertising for independent artists. Before the advent of these platforms and their competitors, artists were incapable of accessing this kind of information. This was what gave major labels and talent agencies the edge that has been crumbling in the age of information. Data Metrics Social media’s rise in popularity granted its users and advertisers a voice which can only be mediated by them. Naturally, this created a lot of noise through which it is profoundly difficult to be heard. According to Meltwater, a prominent media intelligence company, Facebook averaged over 2 billion monthly users in 2018, each of which were subjected to countless ads every time they used the site. 1 While there have been several attempts by advertisers and DIY artists to find a way to stand out amongst the crowd, a majority of these attempts boil down to simply paying some sort of premium to whatever platform they wish to engage on, in exchange for a wider audience. This has led to a concentrated focus on the number of views your content is earning, known as vanity metrics, rather than the impact it’s having on people, known as actionable metrics. 2 Many content creators have taken to literally buying views, a practice that involves paying third parties for fake profiles across several platforms to engage with the buyer’s content, simulating an organic interest in their content and/or presence. It’s worth noting, however, that music marketers and agencies are more than capable of determining whether or not engagements with online content are organic, especially when looking to place songs on playlists or for synchs. While vanity metrics may appear to reflect large amounts of engagement, more important data such as number of returned views, average watch time, and continual playlisting reflects a healthy fanbase. How to Utilize Data Knowing which platforms are most advantageous for your audience and understanding each platform’s formats and strengths is essential for independent artists Ultimately, your content has to be able to grab and hold onto a user’s attention immediately and resonate with them, but before even that can happen, content must be found, which is where search engine optimization, meta data, and tags come into play. For example on YouTube, which is the second largest search engine in the world, 3 users can use several different components to make their content searchable: title, tags, description, file name, and playlist. 4 Setting up this data on the backend is vital in order for your music to be found, suggested, and viewed again—all of which accounts for actionable metrics. After this is set up, creators can see their viewer data (i.e. watch time, average view duration, shares, etc.), and use that to adjust their content accordingly. Other data-essential platforms are Spotify and Instagram, which keep track of user engagement thoroughly. On Spotify, analyzing which songs are most liked, added to playlists, and more importantly, continually streamed by returning listeners, is highly informative for artists trying to reach fans, plug music, and set long-term goals. With Instagram, business pages for artists account for consumer interest and demographics, which is informative for tour routing, album promotion, and overall fan engagement. Knowing which platforms are most advantageous for your audience and understanding each platform’s formats and strengths is essential for independent artists. Additionally, understanding already successful campaigns can help give artists an idea of what they can do to stand out and find the same kind of success. Ask questions like – What kind of incentives are they offering? Are they targeting the same audience as me? How can I implement the same methods without simply recreating their business model? This is not to downplay the incredibly nuanced nature of finding ways to stand out as a DIY digital artist or crowdfunding campaigns, but there are ways to pinpoint what’s working on these platforms and to build off of that success. Digital Strategy Recently, companies like Ingrooves, who were acquired by Universal Music Group on February 12th of 2019, 5 have developed a deep understanding of how these platforms work and have built a market around this knowledge. Independent artists and record labels can work with these companies to find out how to effectively navigate these platforms and use their algorithms to their advantage. Companies like Ingrooves can offer independent artists and record labels a personalized plan of action that can further assist them with widening their audience more effectively and efficiently based on the platforms they’re using, their content, and their target demographics. In addition, other websites like Chartmetric can provide artists detailed analytics showing them who is listening to their music, what streaming platforms their audiences are using, and in what cities they’re based. Universal’s acquisition of Ingrooves proves that the momentum behind these platforms is growing and has major labels wanting to understand how to effectively tap into these markets and grow with them. As an artist, it can be difficult to come to terms with the notion that your artistic values and goals might not resonate with as many people as you had expected. At a time where it’s never been easier for people to have access to a platform for their creative voice, it’s important that artists manage their expectations starting out and learn how to read the data they’re collecting from platforms in order to set goals accordingly. What cities are your songs getting the most plays in? How many people from those cities follow your social media pages, and how old are they? These are all important metrics that can make all the difference when setting goals for growth and development that are attainable. Defining expectations and setting short-term and long-term goals for yourself that are attainable can also help prevent artists from feeling like they’re not finding success. It’s important that you have the ability to look back and see the progress you’ve made and also understand that building and growing a fan base is not an overnight process. Conclusion Artists have never had access to as much information as they do now, and developing a keen understanding of how to build your career through this information is what will make all the difference. Follow the trends. Find out what’s working for you, and use the data you’re collecting in the meantime to understand what isn’t working, and why it isn’t. Gone are the days of major labels and talent agencies being the “gatekeepers.” In the age of information, and ubiquitous artistry, DIY musicians have been given the ability to build their own careers and at their own discretion. Simply put, there has never been a better time to be an independent artist. Works Cited: “Social Media Marketing for Everybody.” Meltwater. February 2018. Laberge, Jonathan. “Please Stop Relying On Vanity Metrics In Your Online Strategy.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 27 July 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2018/07/27/please-stop-relying-on-vanity-metrics-in-your-online-strategy/#109975a34e85. Smith, Kit. “46 Fascinating and Incredible YouTube Statistics.” Brandwatch, Brandwatch, 4 Jan. 2019, www.brandwatch.com/blog/youtube-stats/. Basner, Zach. “YouTube Analytics: 5 Youtube Metrics You Need to Track to Measure SEO.” Impact, Impact, 3 Apr. 2017, www.impactbnd.com/blog/youtube-video-seo-essential-metrics. Ingham, Tim. “Universal Fully Acquires Ingrooves Music Group.” Music Business Worldwide, Music Business Worldwide, 12 Feb. 2019, www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/universal-fully-acquires-ingrooves-music-group-upping-distribution-power/.