Back in the sixties, during the rise of counterculture, it was pirate radio stations that paved the way for a new sound, giving airplay to new artists and unknown bands. They didn’t have to play into the wheelings and dealings of huge record companies, and that freedom allowed them to present a wide range of new musical genres to a bigger audience. Now, we’re returning to that same democracy of choice via very different channels; with the advent of sites like MySpace, YouTube, Spotify and a multitude of other music sharing platforms, discovering new music has never been easier and for the intrepid musician finding an audience has never been so straightforward. The internet has democratised music in an unprecedented way; not only is it the indicator of an artist’s success but an invaluable tool for any artist wanting to get their music heard.
While YouTube is now one of the most common and widely representative go-to indicators of popularity these days, we can’t ignore the huge impact that (the now somewhat defunct) MySpace had on the music industry and talent scouts. In those early days, it seemed incredible that what people were listening to online – and largely on MySpace – was being picked up by major record labels on the strength of its online popularity. Now, so ubiquitous is the influence of music sharing sites, so ravenous is our consumption of music online, that the whole process has gone full circle. Established artists like Beyoncé are releasing internet-only albums, built around the popularity of viewing music videos online and the guarantee of a loyal audience that it provides.
To get an idea of the extent to which our cyber habits have shaped the music industry today, we’ve gathered essential information on the biggest musicians who have the internet to thank for their status. This list looks at the most popular artists who started online and maintained their fame online: The artists you’ll read about here are ranked in order of songs with the single largest number of hits – and each and every one of them was discovered online. It provides us with an insight into how quickly the online music landscape is changing and the difficult balance musicians need to strike between getting their songs out – and getting paid.
5. Avicii – Wake Me Up – 233,950,112 views
Our first in the list is the most recent success story and perhaps the most intriguing. Swedish house DJ, Avicii (real name Tim Bergling), began making music when he was 18. This might seem late, given our modern propensity for adolescent popstars, but he certainly didn’t mess about once he got there. Bergling first mixed music on his laptop in his bedroom, posting his efforts in the comments section of music blogs where they were spotted by Ash Pournouri, then a club promoter, who used his contacts to get Bergling gigs. Even the name, Avicii, is owed in part to the internet – originally it was Avici (the lowest level of Naraka, a Buddhist hell) but Bergling added an extra “i” because Avici was already taken on MySpace. In six years, Avicii’s popularity has grown and grown, riding the wave of a new found taste among the young and reckless for electronic dance music. At the ripe old age of 24 Avicii’s become one of the most successful DJs in the world. His video for the song “Wake Me Up” has been watched 233,950,113 times on YouTube. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular, blending house beats with a catchy, bluegrassy melody – it’s a perfect example of “crossover appeal” if ever there was one. The video itself is pretty unremarkable marred as it is by the horribly heavy-handed product placement although at 233,950,113 and counting, it clearly hasn’t hurt it too badly.
4. Jessie J – Price Tag feat. B.o.B. – 300,017,319 views
Jessie J wasn’t exactly “discovered” online – she’d been signed to Sony as a songwriter, writing hits for other artists, before she made it big. That being said, the moment that transformed her career – when people “in the biz” realised she was a bankable star in her own right and not just a songwriter – happened online. Head of her current label Lava was sent a link to her MySpace page by a publisher from Sony and loved it. Chris Brown’s manager saw a clip of her on YouTube and booked her to support some of Brown’s shows in the US, no mean feat for someone then all but unknown. In addition to this, Jessie had garnered a substantial online following before any of her singles were released, with one of her live clips already having upwards of 300,000 views. However, this pales in comparison to the number of views of her second single, Price Tag, which currently stands at 300,017,319.
3. Nicki Minaj – Superbass – 381,725,138
Nicki Minaj has been called the Gaga of rap because of her outlandish stage persona and penchant for crazy costumes. She deserves more credit than that, though, because whilst there is gimmickry in her performances she has revolutionised the image of a female rapper. In doing something audacious and new she’s brought rap into a different sphere. Minaj began with acting when she was a teenager but when that didn’t take off she took to music and rapping, and in the process melded the two forms together. She began working as a backing singer and started putting her own music on MySpace where it was picked up by the CEO of a New York record label who subsequently signed her. Minaj has multiple personalities that she assumes in her raps tapping into her flair for theatre. She also seems highly aware that Nicki Minaj is her creation, a star and a business investment separate from the real Onika Miraj. Minaj’s ambition knows no bounds and she fully intends to create an entertainment empire, if the number of YouTube hits on her songs and songs she’s featured in are anything to go by, she’s well on her way, five videos with over 140 million views and counting.
2. Adele – Rolling in the Deep – 465,844,282 views
She might be number two on this list but the sheer scale and scope of her influence is unparalleled. Adele’s album 21 broke records, as a stunning commercial and critical success winning 7 Grammys and turning Adele into a household name. Adele studied at the BRIT performing arts school which produced Amy Winehouse and many others; she famously never expected to be signed as an artist because of her size. However, Adele was reaching the end of her school career at a particularly interesting time for British music. British singers Lily Allen and Kate Nash had established their fan following on MySpace before hitting the big time. Record Labels had started to tap into this and realised the incredible potential of a site where everyone could upload their own songs. They started to employ scouts just to trawl MySpace and lo and behold a couple of Adele’s songs – ones she’d written as part of a school assignment – had been uploaded to the site. It’s not hard to imagine how just two of Adele’s songs would be enough for her label, XL, to bring her in and sign her up. Adele ticks all the boxes; great songs, great singing, a broad range of influences and a unifying theme to which we can all relate; heartbreak. Five of Adele’s videos are on YouTube’s most viewed (140 million + hits) list but the one with the most is Rolling in the Deep with 465,844,282 views.
1. Justin Bieber – Baby feat. Ludacris – 970,009,385 views
He’s been a bit of a naughty boy recently but there’s no denying Justin Bieber holds the reigning crown of internet fame. His song Baby has close to a billion views with a whopping eleven videos with over 140 million views each. He came to the attention of manager and record executive Scooter Braun via videos of Bieber singing RnB covers that his mum had been posting on YouTube. It’s not hard to work out why Bieber, who has one of the largest followings of female, teenage fans ever seen, has found such success online. I have to admit that I’ve hardly heard any Justin Bieber songs because the places I hear music don’t really play Justin Bieber. However, it’s easy to imagine how, if I were a teenage girl with a bit more spare time on my hands and a penchant for cute, brown-eyed boys singing RnB ballads, I might listen to Justin Bieber on repeat. Justin Bieber is really just a sign of things to come, whilst my generation discovered MySpace the new kids on the block are all making it big on YouTube. Whether this translates to international stardom and incomparable riches for all is unlikely but you can but hope.
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