The symbiotic relationship between artists and increasingly ubiquitous social media was confirmed last week in the U.K. following a deal between MTV U.K. and Musicmetric, the rapidly growing London-based social media measurement company, which this year is helping the network choose one of its Brand New For 2012 nominees.
This year for the first time, thanks to Musicmetric's web-based data analysis, the 10 finalists will include one unsigned act who will compete with the nine signed artists -- including the American singer/lightning rod Lana Del Ray -- for the 'MTV Brand New For 2012' crown. This year's lone unsigned act is Context (formerly Context MC), a Bristol, U.K.-based purveyor of a dubstep/hip-hop fusion.
Previous Brand New For winners and finalists include Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Ke$ha, Tinie Tempah and Adele.
"We love working with superstars who appear on events like the MTV European Music Awards, but getting to work with acts at the very beginnings of their career is very satisfying," says David Mogendorff, digital media director, talent & music programming at MTV U.K. & International. "And these days, there are so many points of data that are relevant and the labels are very keen for, and that's why we've been talking to Musicmetric for a few months about using their data."
The 'Brand New For' concept was triggered by the need to trim down the number of new faces to promote to MTV U.K. music fans. Every year, around October, as many as 90 newly signed artists jostle for the network's attention via label promoters and TV-talent pluggers. The rankings had previously been made exclusively by the network's music and talent team and the editorial staff at the channel's other divisions. Until 2009, when for the first time MTV U.K. invited fans and audiences to participate in the selection of the 2010 winner and the 2011 winner.
An indication of the large number of unknown acts using social media to gain recognition can be seen from the 2,500 unsigned acts that applied for MTV U.K.'s consideration. The network worked with SoundCloud, the online-promotion platform for sound recordings, to whittle down the number to 540 unsigned acts. "This was to make sure all the potential finalists came from the U.K. and Ireland, and that they had more than 50 social-media followers across at least one of the networks," Mogendorff explains.
This is where Musicmetric came in. Using its proprietorial system, it was able to track and measure the buzz following each of the 540 unsigned acts, their fans' sentiments, the number of (music) plays, the frequency with which these unknown artists used social media tools to interact with fans, and their fans' geographical reach, among other metrics, in real time. The social media covered included Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Twitter.
This led to a shortlist of 20 unsigned artists that were put forward for voting by the public via SoundCloud and by MTV UK staff. On Jan. 6, MTV announced that Context had clinched the coveted spot to be considered for the 'Brand New For 2012' accolade with the nine signed finalists: Angel (Island Records), Charli XCX (Atlantic Records) Clement Marfo & the Frontline (Warner Bros.), Conor Maynard, (EMI), Delilah (Atlantic Records), King Charles (Universal Republic), Lana Del Rey (Interscope), Lianne La Havas (Warner Bros.),
Michael Kiwanuka (Polydor Records)
From Jan. 9 to Jan. 31, MTV UK's TV and digital audiences can vote online for the overall 'Brand New For 2012' winner, who will be announced on Feb. 1.
"Ever since Live Nation agreed to acquire Big Champagne, it has been confirmed that the entertainment business wants to be influenced by what is happening on social media," says Marie-Alicia Chang, co-founder/head of business development at Musicmetric, which also has a global analytics contract with one of the major labels.
She argues that the industry can no longer rely on music sales alone to determine an artist's legitimate popularity.
"We had been tracking Lana Del Ray since Aug. 17, 2011, long before the release of her second song ("Born To Die" on Interscope) in January. She didn't have a big marketing push at the time, but we were able to show MTV U.K. how much buzz she had. MTV allowed themselves to be informed by what they saw in our stats."
She continued: "Our Fantracker services and buzz tracker enabled MTV to see how hard Context was working to get fans to respond, which was a big factor in the decision-making, and without relying on (music) sales, they could be reassured he was indeed the top unsigned artist."