The Music Industry and Creator Economy Are Colliding: Analysing Addison Rae’s New Release
Revisiting my notes on pop music in the attention economy, frictionless tools for music licensing, and more
Welcome to Issue #10 of Appetite for Distraction, a newsletter exploring how technology is bridging the gap between art and commerce. My goal is to make this a resource that cuts through the noise; helping creators and creative industry professionals make informed decisions.
If you know someone who prefers their industry insight in Spanish, direct them towards Apetito por la Distracción for the Spanish versions of this issue
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Notes On Addison Rae’s New Release “Obsessed”
Addison Rae Easterling, TikTok’s second most popular creator with 78.4 million followers, 36.7 million followers on Instagram, and 4.71 million subs on YouTube, recently released her debut single ‘Obsessed’. In around 24 hours, the song had 5 million views on YouTube.
Answering the Perennial “Do Artists Need a Label Anymore?” Question
What makes Addison’s release interesting is that unlike some of her other TikTok counterparts who delved into music, the likes of Dixie D’Amelio, Nessa Barrett, Jaden Hossler and others, she did it without a label. While that’s technically true, a quick look at her team reveals that there is more to it than meets the eye.
Here’s a list of her team, alongside their clientele:
Studio: Jacob Kasher Hindlin a.k.a Jkash (Charlie Puth, Jason Derulo, Maroon 5, and 5 Seconds of Summer)
Manager: Adam Mersel (Bebe Rexha and Ben Platt; also runs his own label Immersive Records, a JV with Interscope)
Producers: Benny Blanco, Ryan McMahon, Blake Slatkin (Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Halsey, and Ed Sheeran)
Publicists: Katie Greenthal and Courtni Asbury (The Lede Company, Def Jam Records)
Director: Diane Martel (Robin Thicke, Pharell Williams, Miley Cyrus)
Photographer: Marcus Cooper (Sephora, Warner Brothers, Steve Madden, Universal Studios, Atlantic Records)
Makeup: Mary Phillips (Kim Kardashian West, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Jennifer Lopez, and Bella Hadid)
Hair: Jenny Cho (Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Lucy Boynton, and Emilia Clarke.)
Nails: Thuy Nguyen (Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, and Reese Witherspoon.)
Styling: Kyle Luu (previously worked with Solange, Lizzo, and Travis Scott)
Choreography: Calvit & Sara (Camilla Cabello, Major Lazer, and Nicki Minaj)
Sounds like a major label team, without the infrastructure of a major label! The fact that she put together such an A-team without the support of a label (financial or otherwise) is a testament to the power and network effects of social capital.
With a revenue stream of $5 million a year from TikTok, financial capital was not a problem for Addison. Marketing, usually forming a sizable chunk of a debut artist’s budget, was presumably much easier because of the 78.4 million people that follow her on TikTok and 36.7 million who follow her on Instagram.
As labels have realised that artists have multiple ways to acquire financial capital to fund new releases, they have instinctively flexed their ability to ‘make connections’ and ‘open doors’. While this release may be an exception to the norm, what is immediately puzzling about the creation of ‘Obsessed’ is the presence of an established network of songwriters and producers—an indispensable ingredient to create a ‘certified bop’, as some people say. Addison’s social capital allowed her to garner the firepower of a major label, without actually signing with one.
“I feel so honored to be able to work with people that really have a love and passion for this, knowing that I have a growing love and passion for this as well. They’ve been very patient and understanding in helping me about every single step.”
I really admire Addison’s awareness of the undeniable learning curve she faced while releasing this single. In an interview for the Rolling Stone, she admitted to not knowing what musical keys were before starting this project.
“[Those] are basic things that people in music, people who have done this their entire lives, know… I’m a little late to the game when it comes to knowing all this information, but I won’t stop learning,”
Pop Music in the Attention Economy
Around 60,000 songs are uploaded to Spotify every day. How do you craft a pop hit that competes with Netflix, Instagram, even Headspace? Crafting pop music is an art and a science. Back in 2019, I wrote about how pop music is changing in the attention economy. An analysis of Billboard’s Top 10 Singles from 1986 to 2015 (n=303) based on five parameters yielded the following conclusions:
Number of words in the title: (1 in this case) A consistent decreasing trend was observed. Songs with shorter names had higher recall value, translating into higher consumption.
Main tempo: An increasing trend was observed—on an average, music was about 90 bpm in 1986, as compared to around 100 bpm in 2015. Songs with higher tempos seem to be more effective at capturing a listener’s attention.
Time before the voice enters: A decreasing trend was observed over the years. (00:07 seconds in this case) The abundance of music content means that listeners will skip to the next song if they are not instantly engaged. Playlist curators are constantly monitoring skip rates to quantify engagement levels—songs need to be crafted to cater to an increasingly impatient listener.
Time before the title is mentioned: A decreasing trend was observed over time. (00:39 in this case) Since many listeners are drawn by the title of a song when they select it, they are subconsciously waiting to hear the title once they hit play. Listeners need songs to ‘get to the point’.
And now for the most fascinating one: Self-focus in lyrical content: A study conducted in 2011 with a sample of top singles from 1980 to 2007 observed that the use of self focused lyrical content used in pop song lyrics has increased over time. The title is probably a spoiler, but lets see how Obsessed does on this parameter:
Even though Obsessed is a great case study and another addition to the ever growing “how to make it in the modern music business” recipe book, it’s important to note that the release is an exception and not the norm. It must not distract from the still prevalent, heavily skewed power law in music.
How TikTok Turned Into a Viral Popstar Factory | Nana Baah, Noisey (Vice)
Licensing Music Might Be Painless In The Future
Obtaining licensed music is a high-friction activity for early stage social platforms and emerging creators. With the rising proactivity of ContentID and DMCA takedown systems, Two intermediaries are trying to ease this pain point:
Songclip helps emerging social networks license in-app music. Songclip’s API can be used by an early-stage network’s users to search for and share music. The company recently raised $11 million led by Evolution VC Partners.
Epidemic Sounds, a marketplace with 32,000 songs and 60,000 sound effects, offers licensed music to content creators. The company recently raised a $450 million funding round led by Blackstone Group and EQT Growth, at a staggering valuation of $1.4 billion. The company seems to be capitalizing on the rise of D2C “direct-to-creator” tools.
Cover image for The music business in 2021: Joining the dots | Mark Mulligan, Midia Research
Midia’s Mark Mulligan sets out a great paradigm joining the big news pieces from the last few weeks.
Another nine-figure music industry acquisition is coming… and it's Brazilian | Tim Ingham, MBW
MBW speculates the potential acquisition of Som Livre, Brazil’s third largest record label, which has a bigger marketshare than Warner!
Music-related NFT sales have topped $25m in the past month | Tim Ingham, MBW
MBW’s roundup of the top NFT-related news in the past few days. In my moderately informed view, even though NFTs offer promising new monetisation opportunities and are a natural extension of the 100 true fans theory, I hope fans who bought digital merch (with very little long-term value) will survive the inevitable trough of disillusionment.
For Creators, Everything Is for Sale | Taylor Lorenz, NYT
NYT’s in-house creator-culture anthropologist, Taylor Lorenz, looks at NewNew, a platform that lets fans vote in paid polls to control their favorite creator’s life. (Yeah, I know!)
Amazon Music is also a merch store now, as streamer integrates in-app product sales from Billie Eilish, Selena Gomez and other artists | Murray Stassen, MBW
Amazon is finally capitalizing on the detailed consumer purchasing data they have.
Triller buys Timbaland and Swizz Beatz's platform Verzuz | Wendy Lee, LA Times
Triller continues its linear programming strategy and high value content deals. But spending $$ on user acquisition only works if you have a strong user retention strategy.
Big Hit and BTS just raised the alarm on the record industry's future | Murray Stassen, MBW
‘The death of the artist?’ — A hit oriented, playlist driven streaming environment has led to widespread apathy towards recording artists. The significance of songwriters and producers (seasoned songsmiths) is increasing.
Techstars Music announces its 2021 class and a partnership with Quality Control | Greg Kumparak, Techcrunch
What I’m Reading
Welcome to AirSpace | Kyle Chayka
Kyle Chayka brilliantly dissects the rise of the ‘faux artisanal aesthetic’.
“We could call this strange geography created by technology "AirSpace." It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes and cultural influencers like Schwarzmann take advantage of. Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started.”
What I’m Listening To
Kenny Burrell’s suave meets Grover Washington Jr’s funk.
I'd love to get some feedback on your experience reading the newsletter. It'll really help me focus on what you'd like to see more of, and what would be best left out.
If You’ve Made It This Far..
You can make it all the way.
What I’m Brewing — Ethiopian Geta Bore Microbatch from Bluebell Coffee Roasters
Also check out this great video about the Exciting Potential of Amazonian Robusta, which busted a lot of myths surrounding Robusta for me.
tl;dr — Robusta is not inherently bad, but the result of a lax supply chain.
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Until next week,