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

Categories: internets
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.

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