Thursday, February 28, 2013

Can Macklemore Go Gangnam?

My previous post introduced the story of Macklemore, an independent/unsigned rapper from Seattle who went to the top of the Billboard charts.

I remember seeing the video when it came out in the fall of 2012 and thinking it was cute/cool but not thinking much more about it. Until I started seeing Macklemore's name pop up everywhere and the next thing I knew he was up to 50 million YouTube views by the end of the year. Seeing that this was beyond my wildest expectations and the song had already been out for a few months I figured that was going to be his level of success, and very impressive it was.  Until I checked again...and it was 70 million views a month later, and then 125 million views a month after that.  Further research was called for.

As we saw in the earlier post Macklemore was a young guy from Seattle who rapped. He toured locally, then regionally, and recorded independently.  He started his musical career around 2000, more or less the same time as Korean K-Pop sensation Psy, himself having been a rookie rapper, around 2000/2001 (before he went on to complete his mandatory military service).  By 2010 Psy had released 5 albums. While people like thinking of those that turn up on YouTube as overnight sensations, a look around often proves otherwise.  Now that we have two more or less parallel stories I thought it would be constructive to compare their paths to popularity and the related numbers.

I just checked the YouTube counter and the video for Macklemore's Thrift Shop is now closing in on 131 million views  (it was at just over 125 million when the previous blog post was written on 2/26/2013) it's now netting around 2-3 million views per day, up from an average of 1.8 million views per day last month.   The video and song were released 5 months ago, so this has been a slower build than what is usually seen with videos that get termed viral; they generally hit a flashpoint quickly, within the first week, swell to a large number, and then plateau.

Compare Macklemore's rate of growth with Thrift Shop to Psy's with Gangnam Style, which started getting 5 million views per day in early September 2012, just six weeks after its release. By the third week of December 2012 it had become the first video to amass 1 billion views on YouTube.  So that's the yardstick for the volume and velocity it takes to get to one billion.  The time to get from release to one billion was 5 months.

As another point of comparison between the two examples: Gangnam was at the top of the iTunes charts in 31 countries in September 2012; the same time the video started getting 5 million plus views per day. Macklemore's Thrift Shop, released the first week of October 2012,  has been #1 on Billboard's digital charts for 7 straight weeks, and currently is or has been #1 on the charts in the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Belgium, France, Denmark, Norway,and Finland.

48 hours from now Macklemore will appear on Saturday Night Live, which usually averages about 8 million views for the live broadcast and then draws additional (official) views on Hulu as well as from the various clips that are uploaded by, to use prison parlance, general population.  I will continue to track the numbers on the video after Macklemore's appearance on Saturday, in an attempt to gauge what we'll call 'the SNL effect'. He has appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' popular daytime TV show twice (which, coincidentally, draws an audience of approximately 8 million per show, but Ellen's show is daily, not weekly) and each time there was not only a considerable jump in the number of Thrift Shop YouTube views but also in the incremental daily rate of views.

This chart shows the increase of Google searches on Macklemore. Note that points A and B on the chart correlate to his appearances on Ellen in October 2012 and again in January 2013.

Here's a similar chart for searches related to the word Gangnam.  The ascent from mid 2012 to late fall 2012 is clear; then a bit of an ebbing, then another bump up, likely due to end of year lists and Psy's New Year's Eve performance on CNN, and then we see the expected downward tick in interest.

 In future posts I will look at how Macklemore seeded and cultivated his fan base so that when he broke out beyond the Pacific Northwest and later the U.S. he had a solid system in place for acquiring and keeping fans that would do almost anything for him.  (Note: this is not another of those blogs that suggests that doing the same thing Macklemore did will net you the same results; things are more multi-factorial and complex than that, for better or worse).

My hunch -- and we'll see if things unfold this way soon enough -- is that there will be another surge in both searches on Macklemore and Thrift Shop and YouTube views after the SNL appearance on Sat. March 2nd.  In the meantime I'll continue to pull together more stats and thoughts on the Macklemore phenomenon.  (Oh, also waiting for Suze Orman's endorsement of his relevant message in fiscally challenging times. Poppin' tags with twenty dollars in your pocket is something I can see her being strongly in favour of.)

To help us all bide the time here's interviewer extraordinaire Nardwuar and his encounter with Macklemore from SXSW 2011.

So what happened? See follow up post here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Story of Macklemore - Or how a guy from Seattle with no label & no budget made it to #1

Ben Haggerty was just a white kid from Seattle.

In 1990, at the age of 6, he was introduced to rap by way of Digital Underground.  (I can relate. The Humpty Dance is darn catchy). Ten years later he was a teenager who decided he wanted to give the rap game a serious go.  In junior high he had picked up the nickname Professor Macklemore, so it was an easy leap to use it as his nom de rhyme. His entry into the music business was not unlike most. He had limited financial resources, no real connections in the industry, and a dream. "If only I could get signed to a major label....then I'll have made it", thought Macklemore...along with pretty much every other unsigned artist.

Macklemore (he dropped the Professor along the way) made a number of independently produced and distributed releases. He played shows ranging from house parties to arts festivals like Seattle's Bumbershoot, and along the way picked up a collaborator in Ryan Lewis, a guy five years his junior who had a lifelong interest in photography and graphic design, and more recently in audio production and DJ'ing. The two started working together and touring together.

As musicians without a label to help them with promotion and marketing they took to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to spread the word themselves.  They had become particularly popular in their home state of Washington, where, by the fall of 2010, they were able to attract a crowd of 4,000 to an outdoor multi-performer show at Washington State University's (WSU, or wah-zoo as it's known to locals) annual CougFest, so named for the school's mascot (not its middle aged sassy women).

Macklemore at WSU's CougFest 2010

It had now been ten years since Macklemore began his serious commitment to a career in music. Between 2009 and 2012 Macklemore and Lewis packed in as much touring as they could, and at the same time worked on what would become the full length album "The Heist". The album was set for release on iTunes and Macklemore's own web site on October 9, 2012. Distribution would be handled by Alternative Distribution Alliance.

About ten days prior to the official release the whole album was made available for free streaming on NPR's website. Within hours of the album's official release it had soared to #1 on the iTunes chart. The album went on to sell 78,000 copies in its first week, making it second only to the enormously popular middle of the road folk rockers Mumford & Sons. Eventually Mumford & the boys would get bumped off by Macklemore & Lewis, marking the first time an unsigned artist went to the #1 slot since  Lisa Loeb's "Stay", from the soundtrack of the 1994 movie "Reality Bites", made the flight to slacker power ballad supremacy,

At YouTube, the video for "Thrift Shop", an ode to cruising the aisles at Goodwill, had been uploaded on August 29, 2012. Within six weeks it had amassed 8.3 million views.  (Ed. Note: My favourite rhyme in the song is: "Mocassins, someone else been walkin' in").  As a single "Thrift Shop" went to #1 in approximately a dozen countries and went on to sell over 3 million copies. Other songs on the album had themes of same sex marriage, music industry corruption, and homophobia. Ellen DeGeneres invited the duo of Macklemore & Lewis to perform on her TV show at the end of October 2012,  The video for "Thrift Shop" then hit 30 million views on YouTube.  Macklemore's Twitter following had grown to 100,000.  By the end of 2012 "Thrift Shop" had been viewed almost 50 million times on YouTube and the guy from Seattle that had previously thought his life would have only worked out with a major label deal realized how mistaken he'd been.

Macklemore & Lewis' Thrift Shop is now in the 100 million plus view zone on YouTube

But it wasn't over yet. Far from it. 2013 saw even more exponential growth for Macklemore.  In mid January he was invited back to the Ellen show and by the end of the month "Thrift Shop" was up to 70 million views on YouTube.  Now, a month later, that number is 126 million.

Here are the Youtube stats for Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" showing the growth of views from the date of posting, on August 29, 2012 to the date of this blog post, February 26th, 2013.

And here are the YouTube stats for "Thrift Shop" for the period of January 26th - February 26th, 2013:

 So, to recap, 5 months to 70 million views, and over 57 million views this past month (February 2013) alone. In the meantime Macklemore & Lewis were booked to appear on Saturday Night Live on March 2, 2013. Where would things go next? Could this go Gangnam?  Is it catchy enough? Is it universal enough? Is it spoofable?  Is the fan base big enough?  Consider Exhibits A, B, and C:

Exhibit A:

One of several pages of "Thrift Shop" parody videos on YouTube:

Exhibit B:

Facebook fan pages for Macklemore as of end of February 2013

Exhibit C:

Macklemore Social Media ScoreCard

YouTube (views of Thrift Shop)

End of 10/2012
~30 M views
~320,000 fans
End of 12/2012
End of 1/2013
End of 2/2013
~790,000 fans

In future posts I'll use the case of Macklemore as a jumping off point for a consideration of success in the entertainment industry without (technically, at least) being a part of it.

Quick update:

Click here to see Macklemore's '1 year later' blog post from October 11, 2013, in which he chronicles the unlikely events that took him from the status of an unknown to a global star in a 12-month period.

Click here for the April 2013 edition of Overthinking It: Musical Talmud - Justin Timberlake's Suit and Tie vs Macklemore's Thrift Shop.

Click here for some 'Macklecore' mashups on Soundcloud.

Click here for my blog post on the similarities between Macklemore & 'mommy porn' blockbuster book 50 Shades of Grey.

End Part One.

Part Two: Can Macklemore Go Gangnam here.

Part Three: SNL bump for Macklemore? here.

Part Four: Macklemore and the new speed of viral here.

Part Five: Macklemore and the business of Indie Part 1 here.

Part Six: Macklemore and the business of Indie Part 2 here.

Part Seven: Macklemore just made how much? here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Entertainment Without An Entertainment Industry


...and welcome to the blog for my independent research project

 Entertainment Without An Entertainment Industry

What is an independent research project, you ask? Well, it means that this is a topic I think about, a lot. I collect data, harvest articles, and when opportunities arise, write up and present the findings to date.  I have also worked with groups of students (so far from Tufts and Harvard Business School) that are looking at similar or related topics in their research or field projects.  This project has also been accepted for Research Affiliate status at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a place of deep thought and good sandwiches.

Here are the basics:

Is small the new big? Are niches the new centers of power?  Have we gone from Warhol's famous for 15 minutes to Clay Shirky's famous to 15 people to famous to 15,000 people? Or 50,000 people?

This blog is called De-mass'd because I'm interested in the de-massification of media we are currently experiencing. Media is moving from something exclusive that was traditionally the domain of broadcasters and institutions towards new models where media production is distributed throughout the population. I'm interested in the micro-stars of the Internet: the YouTubers, musicians, artists, bloggers, podcasters, and online personalities whose fame has been facilitated by open and ubiquitous digital media platforms.  I'm not talking about viral videos and phenomena, but, rather, the people whose names you probably don't know, who are finding a new way of being in this new environment.  At the same time some of these people will experience a level of success that could be described as viral, and if/when that happens I will chronicle and analyze the situation here.

But generally I'm interested in the process by which people can rise to a level of celebrity without reliance on a traditional industry infrastructure.  Part of this is asking how, and to what extent, we the people make fame. What is the balance between celebrity manufactured for us, and celebrity manufactured by us?

Some slightly academic talk...but just for a bit

Traditionally, as Turner (2006)[1] has observed, media like television were conceived of as carriers of power located elsewhere, in the state or commercial interests. The media were so-called because they 'mediated' between the locations of power and their subjects.  To some degree, today, subjection is a mischaracterization of audiences. Audiences have power, and one measure of their power is the extent to which media, the mediators of incumbent power, play a diminished role in the creation of celebrity.

This process can take one of several forms.  For example, a person with a set of accomplishments and talents can now achieve success, in both the cultural and economic senses, while circumventing the traditional infrastructure. The insurgency of such people is facilitated by online media platforms and social networks powered by us, the everyday people who are users of the platforms and networks. Depending on the person, their level of success, and their desire for success, the process may end here. Or this may be just the beginning.  There may be a second step of the process, in which initially circumvented institutions and organizations co-opt the success. Or a third step in which new intermediaries enter the space, providing services that aim to amplify and optimize the cultural products for a new marketplace. In so doing, of course, these parties recover the mediator role, but now not only of state, or political interests, and commercial interests but of audience interests too.

And so a dialogue emerges between digital and traditional media, as the capabilities of tools and platforms develops and their accessibility to audiences grows. A new center of economic and cultural value emerges, in which the person of talent, the “ordinary celebrity,” (Turner, 2006) can either be commercial product or independent agent. They can choose between a shot at the high life as a media product, and being their own agent in a more stable, if modest, self-managed career.

This is a new form of viability that can be found throughout the chain of value; not the virality that takes video clips to millions if not tens or hundreds of millions of views and makes them part of the cultural vernacular -- but rather a quieter form of existence. In earlier media structures those falling into the nether reaches of this chain were relegated to cult status at best or complete obscurity at worst. Now players in a variety of niches can find audiences that are ‘big enough’ and have influence in ways which were previously unattainable. As an economic phenomenon this is something new. This new location of viability can be thought of as success without celebrity. These individuals are not famous in the traditional sense, or perhaps even well-known, but they have their constituencies, and this is something that was not previously achievable, due to the constraints placed upon them by geographies, gatekeepers, and the relatively high cost of market entry.

Online sites such as YouTube and U-Stream offer fare ranging from animal webcams to video clips of people’s vacations, pets, and children, to performers, interviewers, and self-styled topic experts. The distribution of viewers for these videos is not unlike what one would find in any one of a number of hit-oriented businesses such as publishing recorded music, and movies: the head of the distribution represents the thinnest slice, and is where the bulk of the audience and the revenues are, with the numbers trailing off sharply from there.[2]  What is worthy of note is not the existence of this pattern (also known as a power law or power distribution) but that those in an extended section of this distribution can:

 a) attract significant amounts of attention and/or notoriety
 b) potentially earn a living from the sale of advertising priced on the basis of their volume of clicks.

At New York’s Parsons School of Design a course entitled Internet Famous[3] is taught, in which students are challenged to use the Internet to get their work seen by the largest audience possible. But the course description offers a caution: “just because a lot of people see your stuff doesn’t mean it’s good… but it does mean you’re famous — Internet Famous”. This research project hopes to supplement the concept of “Internet famous” with a more nuanced definition of online success -- with qualitative and quantitative data to support the observations. By analyzing the path of content from individual creators to end users a determination of new locations of value is possible.

The terminology we currently have to describe the participants in this interplay is no longer particularly helpful. For example, the definition of incumbent, the position usually occupied by the company, and insurgent, the position usually occupied by the disenfranchised outsider, are no longer applicable in a hard and fast fashion. When individuals have direct, unmediated access to online communication channels, and each other, via platforms and social networks the result is that they often wield power over the monoliths of industry and culture.  And so we need to think about the shift from the disintermediation made possible by digital media to an increasingly reintermediated system – i.e. from the removal of a ‘middleman’ or series of middlemen to a reintermediation via platforms, aggregators, and exchanges.

A framework for thinking about these issues is offered in this chart that contrasts the traditional media model of broadcasting, publishing, and advertising-based marketing with the networked, digital model that now exists.

Traditional Model
Networked Digital Model

Original Content
User-Generated Content
Push Model
Pull/Self-Serve Model
Paid professionals
Combination of paid, unpaid & amateur/hobbyist
Gatekeepers/Editorial Staff
Fans as curators / Content voted up & down
Perishable Content
Content may be less time-sensitive & is always alive online
Broadcast Model (1-to-many)
Interconnected model (Many-to-Many)
Advertising & Subscription Revenues
Advertising & Merchandising Revenues
Pay for Access
Relatively high cost per acquisition
Low cost per acquisition
Hit-oriented businesses
Long tail businesses
Front-end loaded model (up front investment, obstacles at start of process)
Back-end loaded model (entry is easy, but players are abundant)
Long path to success
Swift market entry

Some Research Questions:

How does power arise from the distributed network vs. the top down, mediated environment?

What are the relative values of the elements of the ecosystem, such as the aggregators and platforms?

What are the limits to working outside the infrastructure of traditional media and industry?

If/when partnered with industry infrastructure (e.g. record labels, physical retailers or larger digital retailers, YouTube channel initiative) what are the measurable effects on product, service, and audience?

 How is consumer perception of the product/service affected?

What are the adjusted definitions of success  -- when access to media creation & distribution systems is more available than ever but the pie is being divided many more ways?

Don't be a stranger

Should any of this be of interest to you do drop me a line at leora.kornfeld<at>  It's the Internet, so operators are always standing by. Thank You.


[1]The mass production of celebrity : 'Celetoids', reality TV and the 'demotic turn” Graeme Turner, International Journal of Cultural Studies 2006 9: 153
[2] Of the 48 hours reported as uploaded to YouTube each minute (figure reported for 2009), 30% receive less than 100 views, 3% received between 10,000 and 100,000 views, 1.7% received 100,000 to 500,000 views, and 0.33% received over 1 million views. As of 2012 the number of hours of video uploaded to YouTube each minute rose to 72. More recent statistics re the distribution of views have not been made publicly available.
Source: Tube mogul stats re YouTube: May 20, 2009
[3] Parsons graduate Design & Technology program offers a class called Internet Famous, described as being dedicated to learning how to spread your work to the widest possible audience online”. The program description also points out that “just because a lot of people see your stuff doesn’t mean it’s good… but it does mean you’re famous — Internet Famous.”

Please note that I do not own the images used in this blog and am using them simply to add some color to what could otherwise be drab chunks of text. If you hold the copyright to any of the images used in this blog and would like them removed, just email me at leora.kornfeld<at> and I'll get on that pronto. Thank You.