One year ago, Susan Boyle represented just one of the several million unsigned artists with serious talent obscured by anonymity. At 48-years-old, the choirgirl with self-described "crazy hair" would have been forgiven for thinking the window of opportunity had passed on her dream of becoming a professional singer. Fortunately for Boyle, a confluence of recent developments in technology and culture provided the conditions for a rapid ascent.
While the music industry responds to the recurring nightmare of continually decreasing CD sales by sleepwalking through the same failed practices that stopped working years ago, Boyle's "Dream" provides clues on how to revitalize the business of music.
Today, Boyle's album, I Dreamed a Dream, is topping the charts for the fourth week in a row. It was also the second best-selling album in 2009. Her album sold 701,000 copies in its first week, the biggest opening sales week for any debut album since 1993. Boyle's audition video attracted more than 120 million views online in 2009, far eclipsing the other top videos (the runner-up had just 37 million). According to Google Trends, the search term "Susan Boyle" was extremely popular across the world in multiple languages. Her name was the second most typed-in term on Twitter in '09, topped only by Michael Jackson. Even 50 Cent expressed his desire to partner with Boyle. The rapper recently told Billboard, "We'd make a hit... She's got an amazing voice, and together we'd get everyone dancing."
What does Susan Boyle's meteoric rise to international superstardom tell us about the evolving landscape of the music industry?
Susan Boyle represents a surging wave of new content creators:
With over 12 million musicians and more than 100 million songs accessible on the Web today, Susan Boyle stands at the vanguard of an explosion of creative musical talent unprecedented in its global breadth. Easy access to music production tools and the success of shows like American Idol have enabled and inspired many of these artists. However the sheer volume of new music only adds to the challenge facing new talent like Boyle who are looking to build a large fan base and differentiate themselves.
The Web helps musicians build strong, viral relationships across the globe:
Susan Boyle wowed the audience at her Britain's Got Talent audition, but her sales would never have skyrocketed if her online video had not been so incredibly popular. Recent studies show people spend more time on social networks than information portals like Google and Yahoo, and that the average time spent on Facebook has increased by nearly 700% in the last year. Artists launching compelling content virally on social networks like Twitter and YouTube have the potential to reach more than 600 million people.
Niche targeting revitalizes the fragmenting market of the music industry:
Today's online tools allow for targeted marketing, meaning consumers get precisely the right music exactly how they want it. According to the New York Times, Columbia Records said one of the reasons that Boyle did so well was the fact that they determined Boyle's album needed to reach an older, primarily CD-buying audience, and prepared for that by placing the album through non-traditional retailers like QVC and Walgreens. The targeting strategy also leverages viral social networks, which allows music to spread through multiple niches unrestricted by location.
Record labels are being forced to re-construct their business model. A hungry digital audience awaits sincere artists looking to make meaningful connections, as demonstrated by Susan Boyle with the fulfillment of her "Dream." Boyle's story proves there are many talented artists waiting for an opportunity to have their music heard and new approaches for them to connect with fans on a global scale.