One second you had no idea who he was, the next you couldn’t get the haunting wail of “Somebody that I Used to Know” out of your head. Could the data have told you that Gotye was all of a sudden going to be the biggest thing since sliced bread?
Talk to anyone who works in Artist & Repertoire and they will tell you – it’s all about what you hear and what you see. There is no substitute for the trained ear and the feeling you get from watching live performances when it comes to determining whether an artist is solid or not. And that may very well be true. However, with an ever growing amount of information about what people are listening to and sharing online, the question arises of whether this data can be used to help pinpoint the next big smash hit. Given the ease with which artists can now record, produce, and publish music on their own the pool of potentials is overwhelming, and at the very least we should be able to use this data to narrow the search.
In July 2011, when Belgian-Australian indie artist Gotye released the track that would soon become a global sensation, he had already been an established musician for a decade and had two independent releases under his belt. Almost immediately after the single dropped, his numbers started blowing up, including being the fastest accelerating artist on social streaming service SoundCloud, yet he wasn’t signed to a US label for another three months.
The first step is to tackle the question of when artists get signed. Are there certain heat zones or thresholds that we can define? Looking at a group of successful artists and their signing dates, we found that 50 percent of them were signed to a record label before reaching 20,000 Facebook fans and 5,000 Twitter followers. This would indicate that artists are often picked up fairly early in their social trajectory. At the same time it highlights that a significant number of artists – the “Gotyes” of the world – are several years into their career before landing a record deal.
As mentioned, the growth of D.I.Y. recording and publishing means that there is more music out there today than ever before, ranging from absolutely amazing to the worst of the worst. With that in mind, how can we use social media data to determine whether someone is actually going to be a success? The momentum an act sees during the early stages of their career can serve as a powerful indicator of exactly this. The amount of time it takes for the average artist to go from 20,000 to 50,000 Facebook page likes is 257 days, but for those who later reach one million, joining the likes of Faith No More, Colbie Callait and James Morrison, the average is less than half that, at only 117 days. What is more, the typical artist has less than a five percent chance of reaching this benchmark, but those who speed through this early stage in 60 days or less, see that percentage chance increase near five-fold.
While there may never be a true substitute for the human aspect and art of A&R, these findings demonstrate the value of applying social media data to the process of uncovering new talent. With this in mind, we applied a statistical model based on the social trajectory of artists that have been successful in the past to the Next Big Sound database. If you are looking to find who is really going to blow up in 2013, acts such as Atlas Genius, HAIM, Jessie Ware and Trinidad James come highly recommended. Or at least that is what the numbers say.
Photo Credit: By Brennan Schnell/Eastscene.com via Wikimedia Commons
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com. 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 Victor Hu, data scientist with music analytics company Next Big Sound. Hu is a graduate of Harvard University and has previously worked uncovering insights for the New York Yankees and the U.S. Department of Defense.