First published on www.usatoday.com
AUSTIN — Lorde’s debut album, Pure Heroine, recently topped 1 million in sales, but it was another of her performances that became the topic Wednesday at South by Southwest festival.
The 17-year-old double Grammy Award winner is the rare case of a talent who rose from, rather than floundered in, the digital din on social media and streaming music networks. She initially gained prominence on music streaming service Spotify.
Last April, when Napster co-founder Sean Parker (who’s on the Spotify board) added her track Royalsto his “Hipster International” playlist, the song went viral. “It was on our viral charts for weeks, which almost never happens,” says Sachin Doshi, head of content and distribution at Spotify, which took part in a SXSW panel looking at the changing music sales landscape. That enabled her record label “to take it to radio and say, ‘This song is real. It has a passionate audience on Spotify,’ and that’s when it really hit that next level.”
Tracking social media influencer opinion is just one new tool the music industry uses in the increasingly fragmented marketplace. The traditional method of a label alone backing an artist and relying on radio for exposure has become passe.
Streaming music has, for many, replaced radio and physical and digital sales. More than two-thirds (68%) of U.S. consumers have streamed music through services or via YouTube, according to Nielsen Entertainment’s Julanne Schiffer. Streaming usage rose 40% between 2012 and 2013.