Guest Post: With Mixtapes & Social Media, Is The Album So Far Gone?

Alex Mann is the director of Trendrr, a business intelligence platform for social and digital media. You can read more by Alex on his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

Dhntv4t5_241hq7twqg9_b At first glance, Drake's success as an artist appears similar to his hip-hop peers. The actor turned Grammy-nominated rapper performed at the 2010 Grammy Awards and starred in a recent Sprite commercial during the NBA All-Star game.

Here is what's new: Drake has yet to release a full-length retail album. So Far Gone was the 6th best selling rap release of 2009, despite being just a seven song mixtape. His radio airplay was demanded organically, lacking the traditional push from a major label. Although a supposed album is in the pipeline, current social patterns tell us he's built a sustainable career from a few singles and a wildly popular mixtape, a distribution formula unique to the digital era.

Drake By The Numbers

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First, let's look at the conversation volume around Drake on Twitter. Beginning to buzz in the middle of 2009, Drake has remained at the center of the hip-hop conversation, hovering around 5,000 Tweets per day for the second half of 2009. He has edged out hip-hop heavyweight and current label mate Lil' Wayne with buzz and recently benefited from a post-Grammy bump of over 60,000 Tweets in one day.

A Closer Look At The Data -

A glimpse at the real-time Trendrr dashboard suggests Drake's top geographic markets include New York, Atlanta, Toronto, Las Vegas and London. The demographic data suggests Drake's audience is skewed towards women, with 57% of the conversation deriving from females and 43% of the conversation deriving from males.

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While the conversation volume around Drake is dense on Twitter, what are people actually saying? Using Curatorr, we filtered the signal from noise around Drake's accelerating fanbase. The conversation, organized in a curated bucket below, is certainly in Drake's favor.

People are talking about Drake, but the question remains: Are people actually listening to his music? According to the listener stats, the conversation around Drake is complemented with significant listening patterns. Drake passed Lil' Wayne in total listeners in November 2009. Since then, listeners of Drake have skyrocketed, reaching close to 380,000 per day. This is an exponential increase over the last three months, with Drake nearly quadrupling his listeners.

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What The Data Tells Us -

The Trendrr data sets reveal two findings. The first is that Drake has been an item of popular and trending conversation on Twitter, increasing rapidly since his Grammy performance. Second, listening behavior for Drake is increasing in frequency and volatility, consistent with the increase in conversation. Together, the data shows appearances at seminal media events such as the Grammy’s pay dividends in social media and reap rewards for the artists in terms of consumption, further proving the interconnection between television and social media.

Drake has developed a budding musical career without the release of a full-length album and initially without the backing of a major label. He has already affiliated himself with hip-hop's most popular stars and is making money from concerts and brand endorsements.

This brings us to a final question worth considering:

Can artists still afford to rely on the success of an album, or has Drake defined a unique marketing model for emerging musicians?

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