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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Can an artist tweet themselves into musical obscurity?

This is a question Soulja Boy must be asking himself after the first week sales of his latest album, The DeAndre Way, clocked in at a pitifully small 13k, while his number of Twitter followers rose past 2.5 million. If all of his sales came from his Twitter followers it would mean that a little more than half a percent (.5%) of those followers purchased his album. Clearly social networking is not working for Soulja Boy, and this may turn out to be the norm, rather than an anomaly, for mainstream artists.

Soulja Boy seemingly did everything right in terms of engaging his audience, responding to fans, and telling people his album was out to the tune of 70 tweets on his album release day, 20 of which were directly related to the album dropping (which is a number so high I would have unfollowed him immediately). All the self-promotion didn’t matter, though, and that’s what’s really interesting. Why would 2.5 million people following someone if they aren’t interested in their work?

This is where underground and independent artists have a distinct advantage. Years ago it was posited that the internet would level the playing field in regards to mainstream versus independent artists, but in reality it’s just accentuated their differences. In the case of social networking, it’s shown the extreme chasm between mainstream and independent artist-fan relationships.

Mainstream fans care about the details of an artist’s life, underground fans care about an artist’s music. So even though an underground artist may only have a couple thousand followers, of those thousand followers a much higher percentage are actually interested in the music the artist creates. They’re not following to be taken along for a ride through a Hollywood lifestyle, because there is no ride through a Hollywood lifestyle to be had with these artists, there’s only the music.

I follow a lot of local emcees. I follow Big Stat (@BigStat) because I love seeing how his career is progressing, getting up to date videos from his shows, and reading news about which tours he’s opening up for. I follow godAWFUL (@godAWFULPBX) because I want to know what he’s up to musically and I’m looking forward to getting updates about his upcoming year-long tour around the country. These are artists I’m invested in as far more than just a distraction. When they release new music I want to hear it right away. This is why I follow them.

At the same time I follow a bevy of mainstream artists and celebrities just out of curiosity. I don’t follow them because I’m going to support everything they do, I follow them because they’ll occasionally say something interesting, and I think it’s funny when their lives are mundane.

Unfortunately for Soulja Boy, his first week album sales indicate most of his 2.5 million followers only clicked “follow” out of a similar curiosity and aren’t invested at all in his career. They want to read his 140 character musing about Kat Stacks, or whatever the latest hip-hop controversy is. The news of a new single, or album, dropping doesn’t even register on their radar.

Fame is not all that it’s cracked up to be. At least not anymore. Celeb-Reality TV, the shows we all watch, but rarely admit to enjoying, on VH1 and E!, has turned the lives of celebrities into fodder for a relaxing 30-60 minutes, or a semi-juicy conversation with a friend. Celebrity has less and less to do with talent, and more and more to do with the general interest of the masses. Those masses, however, are only connected to those celebrities when they want those moments of relaxation or gossip. Soulja Boy found out the hard, and very public, way that just because people are interested in his life doesn’t mean they care about his work.

It may seem odd to say, but on the internet not being famous can be a distinct advantage. Sure, you’ll have significantly less fans and followers, but at least you’ll know they actually care about your work. I think Soulja Boy would gladly give up 2.4 million of his Twitter followers if it meant the 100k that were left were as rabid about his music as those who follow indie acts such as Immortal Technique.

The fact of the matter is, the more fans a mainstream artist has, the smaller a percentage of those fans are truly invested in his (or her) career. Thanks to Soulja Boy we now have the numbers to back that up.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.

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