The GRAMMY Awards Is The Social Event Of The Year

The GRAMMY telecast set a record for social TV engagement last year. What's next for the intersection of music and social media?
  • Photo: Don Arnold/
    Psy's omnipresent "Gangnam Style" became YouTube's most-viewed video of all time within six months of its release
  • The GRAMMYs are taking another social step forward this year with the "#TheWorldIsListening" campaign, the first GRAMMY campaign to prominently feature a hashtag
  • Photo: Kevin Mazur/
    Social media is a primary marketing tool for Jay-Z's Roc Nation entertainment company
February 08, 2013 -- 5:55 am PST
By Natan Edelsburg /

(The Recording Academy will once again recognize the pioneers and influencers in social media at the 4th Annual Social Media Rock Stars Summit —The Music Industry Then & Now: How Digital Changed The Game on Feb. 8 at the Conga Room at L.A. Live. The event will be streamed live from 2–3:30 p.m. PT/5–6:30 p.m. ET via GRAMMY Live — a three-day online broadcast of the VIP events leading up to GRAMMY Sunday.)

Less than three decades ago, cassette tapes were the height of mobile music, allowing us to play our music of choice in our cars or on our Walkman players. For a time, cassettes outsold LPs. In the '90s, CDs upped the ante for the mobile music market as a more reliable portable format. Both cassettes and CDs ushered in greater peak recorded music sales as music was more widely available for consumption outside the home.

But digital music made these tidal market shifts look like mere ripples in a pond. It's now difficult in some areas to even find a music retailer, yet we are listening to and sharing more music today than ever before. The accessibility of platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are becoming the primary forces driving digital music sales and brand awareness for musicians, bands and labels. Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud,, iTunes, and Shazam are changing the way we discover music and share our favorite albums, tracks and playlists across social media.

According to Next Big Sound, a company specializing in music industry analytics, "Social media has a concrete and measurable impact on sales … and can serve as an aid to the industry when it comes to determining where to focus marketing efforts." For example, Next Big Sound found that music discovery on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter "had a strong relationship to single sales."

The popularity of music and social media hit an unprecedented peak during last year's 54th Annual GRAMMY Awards. According to Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics company, there were more than 13 million social media comments about the telecast, a 2,280 percent year-over-year increase. Additionally, the GRAMMYs had more social media comments than the MTV Video Music Awards (12.8 million), Super Bowl XLVI (12.2 million), the 2012 BET Awards (8.1 million), and Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals (6.3 million). The more recent XIII Latin GRAMMY Awards also made a huge splash across social media. According to SocialGuide, a Nielsen social TV company, "#LatinGrammy was the top hashtag across all of social TV."

The GRAMMYs have taken another step forward this year with the "#TheWorldIsListening" campaign, a highly social marketing program for the 55th GRAMMY telecast and the first GRAMMY campaign to prominently feature a hashtag. At the heart of the campaign was a newly created website,, which allowed musicians to share their tracks via SoundCloud for a chance to have their music tweeted out by a panel of music icons, including Linkin Park, RZA and Snoop Lion.

Social media has transformed the entire music ecosystem, affecting not only Music's Biggest Night, but top-tier stars and major labels as well as independent companies and indie artists. And when the full impact of social media's possibilities kick in, the results can be astounding.

When South Korean rapper Psy launched "Gangnam Style," the video spread across the globe and in less than six months reached a record 1 billion views, becoming the most-viewed YouTube video ever. "Gangnam Style" and Psy's signature galloping jockey dance move became so popular that even major worldwide brands began to adapt the rapper's comic meme to market their products. According to the Shorty Awards (which honors the top social media users) and their official social media analytics and benchmarking partner, Unmetric, Intel garnered more than 500,000 likes for a "Gangnam …"-style photo they posted and promoted on their Facebook page. Brands such as Sharpie and Virgin Media, among others, also saw similar success in leveraging this viral piece of music for fun, sincere and simply effective social marketing.

While in the past artists turned to their labels to create and manage marketing plans for their latest releases, artists today find social media allows them more direct access to fans and greater tools to reach them, sometimes in collaboration with their labels, but often truly hands-on, with artists checking in with their mobile devices.

Since 2001, Alicia Keys has been nominated for 27 GRAMMYs and has won 14 awards. She launched her latest album Girl On Fire, in November 2012 and the title track shot to No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks in part to social media. Keys has more than 10.7 million Twitter followers and nearly 24 million Facebook "likes."

"In the past three years, social media has become such a big part of my life, bringing me closer to my fans than ever before," says Keys. "I love that I can quickly jump on Twitter or Facebook to share my work and gain insight on how my music makes someone feel; read about opinions on various topics related to politics or social issues; and get a better understanding of the joys, worries and concerns we unknowingly share in life. It's so inspiring to see the ways in which we are all connected and relate to each other. With Instagram, I love how visual the platform is and how it brings us together through moments and perspectives we've captured in beautiful photos. I love to think it's making us access a more creative place in ourselves. Social media isn't something I only do for fun, it's an integral part of my life and the way I connect with the world as an artist, entertainer and mother."

Keys has used social media platforms not just as another tool to market her music, but as a point of engagement and sounding board with fans.

"I've been sharing my new album Girl On Fire with my fans since the day I felt ready to open the doors into my creative process," she says. "They've been with me every step of the way and it has been such an exciting process. Social media has given me a place to share everything, from behind-the-scenes videos and photos to first looks at the music and creative art. We also partnered with Google to do the first-ever global album premiere with fans in a YouTube live stream and Google+ Hangout. It was crazy fun to share the music I've been working on for over a year directly with my fans and in such an intimate setting. I love how social media is like a meeting in someone's living room."

In 2008 Live Nation joined Jay-Z to form Roc Nation, an entertainment company that encompasses artist management, music publishing, touring, merchandising, film, television, and new business ventures. Roc Nation now boasts artists such as J. Cole, Calvin Harris and Rihanna. The company is devoted to investing in popular music platforms and social technologies. Dorothy Hui, Roc Nation's vice president of digital marketing, recognizes that "mobile and tablet media consumption will continue to grow and become primary viewing platforms," further changing the music industry.

"We're using artist social media to lead the launch of new content and news," says Hui. "We look at fan comments and feedback to get a sense of general sentiment and what's working and what's not. We look at stats, data trends over time and demographic information, as these can be powerful early indicators of market response, especially during early stages of artist development."

Hui notes that social media has created both new opportunities and new challenges for artists. While artists have greater control of their messaging and the ability to shape their persona, once the province of traditional media outlets, they also have more responsibility to invest time in the business side of their careers.

"The proliferation of social platforms … puts pressure on the artists to distribute — and differentiate — content and cultivate a following on the various networks," she says. "This is a significant new responsibility that was not present say, 10 years ago. The artists' network of fans play a central role in spreading information quickly and comprise the new 'mass media.'"

Hui sees artists' participation in social media growing in ways that are difficult to anticipate, but certainly assured.

"Mobile and tablet media consumption will continue to grow and become primary viewing platforms. Look to responsive Web design as a must for site destinations. Who knows, something else new will pop up. Things change quickly. What worked six months ago may not work now. Always analyze, reanalyze and adapt."

In December, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, GRAMMY winners such as Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney came together to raise money for storm victims with the 12-12-12 Hurricane Sandy benefit concert. Funds were raised for the Robin Hood Foundation, an organization dedicated to ending poverty in New York. The benefit concert drew participation from Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr, YouTube, GetGlue, Shazam, and many more social media partners.

"It was great to collaborate with so many strong social producers … as well as cutting-edge partners like Foursquare to a startup called Mahaya, who were all integral in helping amplify the event and our cause," says Harish Bhandari, Robin Hood Foundation's digital media manager. "The main challenge was the timing and how everything had to get figured out right away. As soon as we fired up the social media channels, there were tons of questions that we didn't have answers for that we had to triage.

"To promote the show we worked with GetGlue on exclusive stickers, Google+ on integrating the live stream on our profile pages, and received a very generous Twitter for Good grant. Viewers could Shazam the concert, which brought up a donation link, buy a $25 Facebook Gift, and via Foursquare they could virtually check in to receive a Be Robin Hood badge and trigger a donation from Samsung Mobile USA. We also relied heavily on the artists promoting the hashtag and concert on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as on viewers who were using Instagram."

Bhandari emphasizes that the social media outreach has continued following the concert, a major advantage fundraising events didn't have in the past.

"Our main focus is connecting fans with the merchandise and concert album on iTunes, both benefiting the Robin Hood Relief Fund," he says. "We are also promoting our celebrity auction on Charitybuzz, which features a large range of concert items, donated goods, and experiences. And soon will begin showcasing how the money raised is going to help those affected by the storm."

What's next for social media and music?

Major artists such as Keys are building such large followings on social media that these channels may grow into the number one place for artists and labels to help fans discover music. Viral YouTube videos, popular Spotify playlists and featured iTunes tracks will continue to grow in importance and impact. Future multi-platinum artists and GRAMMY winners will not only know they need to be on social media but will thrive in innovating how they engage fans and leverage the industry and partners around them more than ever before.

(Natan Edelsburg is senior vice president and senior supervising producer at Sawhorse Media where he's the supervising producer of the Shorty Awards (honoring the world's top social media users and influencers) and handles the business side of Muck Rack (the largest community of journalists on the social Web). Edelsburg covers social TV for Lost Remote where he interviews top executives at TV networks about the impact social media is having on their companies.) 

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