Study Finds Surprising Links Between Social Media and Music Sales

December 10, 2012 Paul M. Davis

Image via the NextBigSound blog.

With the music industry still scrambling to make money in the age of digital distribution, companies and musicians are increasingly turning to data to crack the code. In response to the low royalty rates paid by streaming audio services, cellist Zoë Keating recently declared on her blog, “the law only demands I be paid in money, which at this point in my career is not as valuable as information. I’d rather be paid in data.” With record labels and digital distribution services increasingly turning to social data to uncover reliable new ways to monetize recorded music, Keating’s is a savvy stance. As a new study by music analytics company Next Big Soundreveals, correlating fans’ social media activity and music sales reveals intriguing — and in some ways surprising — insights for musicians and the larger industry.

It turns out that going viral on the major social networks does not directly translate to track or album sales. The causality of social media activity on digital album and track sales doesn’t map directly to the dominant services. According to the study, traditional radio, Wikipedia pageviews, artist websites, and even Myspace prove more effective ways to predict sales than tweets or “likes” on Facebook.

Also intriguing are the distinctions between which social media effect track sales versus full album sales. Researchers Victor Hu and Lic Buli discover a key difference in their findings:

Social media has concrete and measurable impact on sales, certain metrics more so than others, and can serve as an aid to the industry when it comes to determining where to focus marketing efforts. People will hear a single on the radio or YouTube and buy it. But before they invest in a more costly album they want to find more about the artist via the artist’s website or Wikipedia.

Read more about the study, and Hu and Buli’s conclusions, at the Next Big Sound blog.

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