Jay-Z’s new album Magna Carta Holy Grail was projected to sell 450,000-500,000 units, not counting Samsung’s bulk purchase. The actual tally, according to Billboard: 528,208. And it’s hard to imagine the 325,000 Twitter mentions and the extra 46,000 followers he gained during the impromptu Q&A didn’t somehow play into giving Jay-Z his 13th number one record.
Justin Timberlake and Kanye West, the other top album sellers this year, have also been socially active and promiscuously sharing with fans, leaving Daft Punk the odd man out with hardly a social presence. Are fans, subconsciously or not, now demanding artists to be social media aware?
Thomas Meyer, who does artist relations for Sonos, says that as a fan, he doesn’t need his favorite artists socially active online. “If an emerging or even an established act doesn’t put in the time to understand how their fans are absorbing them, the fans will move on,” he says.
Hype Machine’s Anthony Volodkin sees musicians providing a different product that can’t necessarily be changed by social media’s instant feedback. He describes it as “…musicians aren’t making websites or iPhone apps where bug reports actually improve the product, they are creating something expressive which hopefully doesn’t instantly bend to feedback.” And adds, “I bet if you asked the musicians that are relatively active on the networks, they’d also point to a complex relationship with those tools. It’s not all great.”
Twitter’s head of artist relations Tatiana Simonian indicates the trend is clear: “In recent months, we’ve seen contemporary and legacy artists like Jay-Z, Rod Stewart, and Neil Young turn to Twitter during release week, particularly by doing real-time Q&As with fans.” Late last year after Neil Young participated, his album rose on Amazon from the 10th spot to 5th. Beyond Jay-Z’s impromptu Twitter conversation contributing to increased sales, it also led to him giving good advice for a new, social generation of artists: “Unlearn anything they taught you. They know not what they speak.”