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When Pop Music Went Real Time

James Turner, Founder & CEO

When Pop Music Went Real Time

James Turner, Founder & CEO 

COVID-19 Impact Tracker

How real-time data changed the promotion of pop acts

Since its inception, the pop charts have been a vital part of British culture.  Music has been a barometer for our lives for decades, reflecting the attitudes, mood and fashion of each generation. So, what can the data world learn from the music industry? And what role has real-time played in the making of music legends?

For many people growing up before the internet and streaming giants like Spotify and Apple Music, our exposure to new music came largely from two sources – TV (most likely Top of the Pops on BBC1) and the radio.  Both of which featured what is quite possibly the most entertaining and eclectic sales chart in history – The Official Top 40.

Almost in real-time

Gallup took over recording the Official UK Singles and Official UK Album charts from BMRB in January 1983. They introduced a computerised system of data and digital monitoring to replace the old ways of handwritten records and manual checking. It was revolutionary, allowing for a faster, more accurate representation of the week’s music sales.

The all-important weekly announcement was historically made on Tuesday lunchtime. But by 1987, Gallup was able to move announcement forward to Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the Saturday sales were counted. Not real-time as such, but when the Top 40 rundown aired, it revealed an accurate snapshot of the week’s music sales that was pretty impressive for the time.

In those days, getting into the charts was an important gateway to more publicity and increased sales, and there’s been a long history of singers and bands that have been ‘manufactured’ for success.  Would Kylie Minogue have reached such heights of popularity without the early days of Stock, Aitken, and Waterman?

Audience participation

As culture evolves, so do the charts. The Top 40 adapted to incorporate CD sales, downloads, and now music streaming. Top of the Pops, however, had lost its appeal and ended its long TV run in July 2006. By then we were already gripped by a new TV format, a new way to promote budding musical talent.

X-Factor was already essential weekend viewing for millions, allowing the public to participate in the creation of new pop sensations. We followed their journey, their struggles, and their performances. Then we phoned in to save our favoured act from elimination, with real-time results revealed mere moments after the polls closed. And as soon as the final was over, we flocked to buy the first single released by the winner. Artist success was tracking closer to real-time.

The rise and speed of digital

But it was digital that brought a real-time revolution to pop music. As documented in the excellent BBC series “Celebrity: A 21st Century Story“, the emergence of online networking brought about a new dimension to popular culture, giving fans the opportunity to engage with their idols in an unprecedented way.

The producers of X-Factor had already introduced social media channels on the show as part of the interactive experience, creating accounts for each of the acts to post messages, and post backstage and rehearsal material.

This investment really paid off with the band One Direction, formed on the show by Simon Cowell in 2010. They made it all the way to the final (spoilers!) but didn’t win the final vote.  But by that point, the producers were aware of the massive interest in the band on their social media feeds and were already providing content to a global audience waiting to propel the band to rapid success.

Social strategies

The always-on, always available access of social media had created a thriving online community from an excited audience. And the constant stream of feedback gave the music companies vital insights into their acts which opened up new channels of marketing and PR.

The industry found they could engage with their fanbase in exciting new ways: share previously unseen pics, announce new releases and secret gigs, and test the effectiveness of music, videos, even the outfits their artists would wear. The industry was able to learn more about their audiences than ever before, using that information to shape the way that music acts were developed.

The democratisation of data

Now, streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer, give artists and promoters the data analytics to understand who and where the audience is. The data is in the hands of the user. They can take immediate control and see the impact as it happens, crafting the music story in real-time.

This kind of always-on, relevant and real-time data is now available to marketers. Beyond simply counting views and likes. We can be rock stars too if we have the right tools, with access to consumer and industry data and the technology to move beyond insight and into action.






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