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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Billboard Social 50 Proves Internet Fame Can Only Get You So Far

Posted By on Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 11:39 AM

Bieber: Fame via YouTube
  • Bieber: Fame via YouTube
In early December, Billboard launched a new chart called The Social 50. It factors

in all the times an artist is mentioned across various social media outlets

and ranks them accordingly. When I heard about this, I was expecting to see a mix of both big name artists and a few lesser-known-but Internet-relevant musicians sprinkled throughout the second half of the chart.

How wrong I was.

Turns out, the Social 50 isn't all that different from the Hot 100 singles

or even the Top 200 albums charts. A quick glance through the list and

you'll see some familiar names: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Linkin Park, Eminem,

Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Usher. The rest of the list plays out the same.

But unlike the other two charts, which use marketing, radio, and retail to

more or less produce controlled results, the Social 50 is, in theory, a

reflection of the raw, unfiltered, populist voice of the Internet. Using

stat-tracking technology from metrics startup Next Big Sound, it compiles plays, fans, page views, links, and mentions from users on Web 2.0

and social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube,

Soundcloud, and Wikipedia.

Admittedly, we're all affected by the marketing efforts of the major labels,

even if we control what come out of our mouths and minds. But if

we're all just using the Internet to talk about the same types of

artists that were MTV idols 10-15 years ago, what does this say about the Internet's role in the future of music?

Take, for example, the cases of Justin Bieber, OK Go, and Bay Area locals

Pomplamoose, who all found their first wave of buzz and exposure through the

Internet (specifically YouTube). In order to take that momentum one step

further, they've all linked up with major labels or large companies (TV advertisers in the case of label-less Pomplamoose), using

more traditional channels as they build mass followings. I'm not saying that's good or bad -- it's just the way it is.

That's also not to say you can't carve out a more stable (and possibly more

rewarding) career by avoiding "the machine." Consider the case of the

reclusive rapper/producer Madlib. He first generated buzz prior to

the Internet era, and thanks to the savvy web marketing of his record label,

Stones Throw, he's enjoyed a longevity that probably wouldn't have happened

in the '90s. But he'll never become a mega-star (and he probably

likes it that way).

I still maintain that avoiding the major labels in this era is the best

thing you can do for a career centered around the music. But for those

seeking celebrity-like fame, exposure, and of course, mountains of cash, the

Billboard Social 50 is proof that you can't do it alone.

Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Adrian Covert @adilla, and like us at

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