Instagram performance has become a central measurement of an artist’s fame and the ability to drive sustainable sales. Especially A&Rs heavily rely on these figures to predict an artist’s success and thus signing them to the label. But how much value can the social media channel really add to your strategy?

by Markus Schwarzer, 09. January 2019


First, labels need to ask themselves what they consider a “success”.

Social media has become increasingly important for the music industry – not only to increase fan engagement and sales figures, but also to measure the general success of a band or an artist. The calculation is simple: the more followers, the more successful. 

Follower = Success.

However, the real definition of success remains unclear. Success always means the degree to which a product or service fulfills the goals of a business model. The business model of the music industry is to discover, promote and market musical talents, or to cut it short: to sell music products. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the artist’s focus – but it is definitely the label’s business model! Labels need to earn money so they can continue their job of promoting great new artists and developing the music landscape. Ergo:

Sales = Success.

To bring the equation together it would have to be:

Follower = Sales = Success.

And this is exactly where the problem lies. Many followers don’t necessarily bring much profit to the business model of the music industry. It’s naive to think that you can drive your sales with just a large reach, if you don’t know who you are communicating to.

Great social media performance does not necessary result in big sales.

An example: I recently stumbled across the profile of the musician Jake Henson alias “Mild Man”. 45k+ people follow him on Instagram – a sizable number for a newcomer artist. He’s also married to Colombian YouTuber Grace Villarreal alias HappySunnyFlowers, who brings almost 900k followers on YT and 500k+ followers on IG to the table. Jake’s posts get between 6k and 10k likes. What a range for a newcomer! Awesome. But even though he and his prominent girlfriend advertised his album “Into the Sky“ (released in April 2017) in almost every post, his Spotify stats don’t look too promising. Two songs cracked the 200k Plays mark, one has just shy of 70k, after that nothing is worth mentioning. According to the above mentioned assumption Follower = Sales, every song should have at least clicks equal to the number of impressions, right? After analyzing his content for 30+ minutes I still didn’t know what Mild Man sounds like.

Screenshot jake_henson Instagram

Here are the 5 reasons why your Instagram says nothing about your success as an artist:

1 – Your followers are not your fans.

Instagram is and remains a primary visual platform. The music feature won’t change that either. Those who follow you on Instagram will primary follow you because of your beautiful photos, not necessarily because of your music. Full stop.

2 – There are no direct sales channels:

Sure, swipe up, swipe up, swipe up. Instagram has improved with the “link protectionism” but everyone is riding that bandwagon right now. The danger of simply getting under the wheels of the algorithm is too great and thus the success of communication is endangered.

3 – There are no measuring mechanisms.

Labels should embrace concept of the sales funnel. In order to use this method, you must always know exactly who is where in the sales process. The data Instagram gives you is not sufficient for that purpose!

4 – Not every follower is your customer. But you treat everyone as the same.

Whether it’s someone quickly flicking through the feed or a hardcore fan awaiting the next release, you can only communicate to them in one and the same way. How can you manage your target groups in your sales funnel if you can’t even segment them? Your new hit single might be more interesting for a new fan when your loyal fans are keen on an unreleased B-side.

5 – You don’t have enough time to present your music.

Do you know how long a person on average stays on a normal IG post (not a story)? 1.5 seconds. Not even enough to reach the first chorus.

These 3 suggestions can help bypassing these negative aspects of Instagram and using social media to generate sustainable sales:

Way 1: If you’re a musician, post your freaking music, easy as that
a. Research shows that the more often someone is confronted with a certain thing, the more they tend to like it. It’s back from when we lived in the Savannah. An animal that you’ve seen before is not likely to have killed you on your last encounter, right? It worked on me and Justin Bieber’s „What do you mean“. First I couldn’t escape it – now I like it. But I don’t see many bands posting what they’re working on so hard to show their followers their music.
b. Let me ask you this: How can a potential new fan who comes across your IG profile via hashtags learn about your music? If they follow you, they’ll only do it because of your beautiful photos. Show them your music! Believe me, they will be looking for it!
c. Another positive effect: People who only like your photos but don’t like your music don’t follow you in the first place. They won’t let you fall into the „Follower = Sales“ trap. That’s good. You don’t need them.

Way 2: Create private channels and invite only certain fans
Hardcore fans are easy to recognize. They usually seek your attention. For example, they are the ones who are still at your merch stand at the end of your gig, waiting for you to come out of the backstage. After each tour you have 100 new ones. Give them a “ticket” to your closed, super exclusive IG account at the merch stand. Tell them to take a picture of this ticket, put it on instagram and tag it with the tags @*insert_bandname*CLOSED and #*insert_bandname*closed. Now you can allow them as followers on your band’s secret IG-Profile. They will be the first to hear about new tours, pre-listen to new songs drafts and give you feedback, design their own merch and everything else. The same works on Whatsapp, Snapchat and so on.

Way 3: Groovecat
Groovecat is a new social media platform that combines the visual side of Instagram with the auditory side of Spotify. It’s specifically designed to overcome the presented shortcomings of IG as a music sales channel.
Groovecat combines engagement with sales, because every view of a post („Music Moment“) on Groovecat also counts as a stream on Spotify. All automatically – no links, no swipe up, no clicks. Views = Streams = Sales.
Users can save the songs in their personal playlists with one click, exactly where you want to be. They’re more exposed to your song, getting used to your sound, become fans and subsequently only follow you because they like your music. Streams = Fans = Recurring Sales.
Groovecat’s statistics will help you see exactly who has noticed your music, where it is in the sales funnel, which song locations are particularly popular with your fans, where your fans listen to your music and how they feel about it.
For example, statistics show that Groovecat users spend an average of 18 seconds on a post – 12 times more than IG. They save an avg. of 2 new songs to their playlists every day. You have much more time to place your music and get people excited about your music in the long run.

Social media isn’t the only topic that artists and labels will have to adress in the future.  My publication “Business Model Innovation in the Recording Industry” will appear as part of the Jahrbuch für Musikwirtschafts- und Musikkulturforschung 2019 later this year. Follow me on LinkedIn to stay tuned.