Mod Sun

Mod Sun photographed in 2014.

Eric Gorvin

The Internet and many of the direct-to-consumer tools its spawned have essentially eliminated the barriers between an artist wanting to sell their work and a fan looking to buy. Even so, many artists still struggle to connect with fans beyond a link to a store page, and even more remain unable to generate a sustainable living without the help of a major distribution network.

Things are beginning to change. The major social networks are not only increasing the ways in which artists can connect with fans, but are taking an active part in their promotion, giving a boost to participating artists' reach, and the effective "depth" of that reach.

Rising rapper Mod Sun is a fireworks show of positive energy with a quixotic and sincere personality that is resonating with the fan base he's built on Twitter, where he's generated 154,000 followers. But this Minnesota native, who now resides in Los Angeles, doesn't call them fans or followers -- to him they're his friends.

"Growing older, boundaries between the artist and the listener are something that nowadays should be completely demolished," says Mod Sun -- born Derek Smith -- in an interview with Billboard.

"I never wanted to be called a fan, and that's no disrespect to any artist who calls them fans," says Mod Sun, "but I never wanted a boundary in between the people listening to my music and me -- for them to feel like i'm doing something that they can't do. I don't want to travel around this world and have these kids treat me like I'm someone they're not, because I'm not doing anything that they can't do. There's no boundaries between the kids listening and the kids making the music."

Mod Sun works with Rostrum Records, the independent known for discovering Wiz Khalifa and for releasing one of the most successful independent albums of all time, Mac Miller's Blue Slide Park, which topped the Billboard 200 in November 2011. On Tues., March 10, Rostrum and Sun released Look Up, Mod Sun's first full-length record -- but not before working direclty with Twitter on a unique rollout campaign.

In the ever-familiar strategy of pre-empting an album's release date, Mod announced to his friends on Twitter that he'd be previewing the album in a video uploaded with Twitter's new native video player, launched Jan 15. 

Mod then introduced the entire record on Twitter using Twitter's Audio Card feature (since removed following the record's official release on iTunes). The feature, introduced October 16, allowed users on Twitter to listen to Look Up on SoundCloud, directly from the Twitter timeline without having to leave the app or the website, effectively allowing anybody on Twitter to listen to the record without barriers (other than being on Twitter, of course).

Rostrum Records then kicked in its support, using Twitter's "Buy" button integration (launched in September 2014) to sell signed copies of the record.


The three-pronged Twitter integration detailed above worked in harmony with promotion from the Twitter music team, which is actively expanding their efforts to promote and feature the works of emerging artists who are uniquely engaging fans on the platform.

"On Twitter, developing artists have the opportunity to establish long-lasting connections with their fans. In return, music fans are rewarded with a unique, shared experience," says Matthew Plotnik from the Music Partnerships office at Twitter. "Twitter is a valuable real-time resource that allows all tiers of artists to directly connect. And now, more than ever, artists can utilize media-forward features on Twitter to share engaging content with fans all around the world."

These efforts are paying off. According to Mod Sun and Gumroad -- an ecommerce platform that allows creators to sell directly to their audiences -- Mod's Twitter campaign generated nearly $10,000 to date. (That $10,000 represents all direct-to-consumer purchases made through Twitter's Buy button, and a number of other Twitter-exclusive commerce activities run by Mod Sun and Rostrum Records.)

Success isn't just limited to Mod Sun -- on March 9 pop punk rockers All Time Low debuted its new single "Kids in the Dark" exclusively on Twitter, selling 24,000 copies within the first 24 hours of release, which helped increased pre-orders of their album by 400 percent.

Amanda Palmer, no stranger to novel ways of fan outreach, has also had success in successfully utilizing Twitter's new suite of direct-to-consumer tools, raising more than $19,000 in 10 hours in a "Twitter flash sale." Palmer is an artist that has many parallels to Mod Sun -- just as Mod received a push by being featured by the @TwitterMusic account on the Twitter platform, Amanda Palmer's famous million-dollar Kickstarter campaign received a prominant feature on the Kickstarter homepage. In both cases, the strength of each technology platform's network helped to promote the independent artists to new potential audiences.

But most importantly, it's the relationship Palmer and Mod have with their fans that make them similar. Just as Palmer has "perfected the art of begging" and crashed on couches for years to develop intimate relationships with her fans, Mod's outgoing and inclusive personality, constantly tweeting and engaging with his fans/friends on Twitter, forming lasting relationships along the way.

This suggests that there's a certain type of artist, or more specifically a type of artist/fan relationship, that's conducive to success on direct-to-consumer platforms. In Mod's words: "Rather than being somebody that is making something and somebody that needs support, it all comes together and becomes one thing. When we dropped the album at midnight, everybody felt like they made this album with me. We are the power behind a movement."