Posts from Lupe Fiasco

From Scans To Listens

For years the number that musicians and their business partners, managers and record labels, would focus on was the soundscan results. From the soundscan website:

Sales data from point-of-sale cash registers is collected weekly from
over 14,000 retail, mass merchant and non-traditional (on-line stores,
venues, etc.) outlets.

My friends in the music business would always say things like "we scanned 25,000 units last week". In a world where the sales of CDs (and before that albums) was the key goal, it made sense. Scans were revenues.

But the world has changed and more and more music is available on the Internet for free or via subscription services every day. And just because you scanned a record, doesn't mean you listened to it.

I think it is time to stop focusing on scans and start focusing on listens. But how do you do that?

I bumped into my friend Spencer Hyman yesterday at breakfast. Spencer used to run I asked him if you could use as a panel, like Nielsen or comScore, to measure music listens. He said you could but you'd need to do some statistical weighting by geography and genre.

If you look at the charts for 2009, you'll see that Lady Gaga was most listened to artist on with 755,000 different listeners and 18.5mm "album scrobbles". If you go to the Lady Gaga page on you'll see that her song Poker Face has been listened to 235,000 times in the past six months.

If you think of the people who scrobble their listens to as a panel, then you can scale up these numbers to get to worldwide listens. hasn't done this work but they should. They could be the new soundscan as the key metric moves from scans to listens.

As an example of why this metric will be increasingly valuable, let's go back to that Lupe Fiasco mixed tape that includes the HP advertisement as a track in the mix. That advertisment track is called HP Skit. says HP Skit was listened to 3,850 times last week. Let's say 50x is the right multiplier for this artist and song (it's an educated guess). Then HP Skit was listened worldwide about 200,000 times last week. If that ad is worth a $20 cpm, then Lupe could have earned $4000 in ad revenue last week.

All of that is hypothetical to some degree but hopefully instructive. Music is moving from a physical good where scans is what matters to a virtual good where usage and engagement matters. So let's start measuring it correctly. That may help the artists get paid correctly.

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Lupe Fiasco's Enemy Of The State Mixtape: A Study In Music Business Models

My daughter turned me onto Lupe Fiasco a couple weeks ago. When I start listening to a new artist, I often will go to the Hype Machine and listen to a stream of their music. In the process of doing that, I came across Lupe’s new Enemy Of The State mixtape which is the “artist of the weekend” on this weekend.

Enemy Of The State is a mixtape which means it is a bunch of tracks that Lupe remixed and put out for free on the Internet. Artists who Lupe remixed on Enemy Of The State include Radiohead, Lil Wayne and Jay-Z.

I don’t know what the economic relationship is between Lupe and all of these artists he remixed. Clearly that impacts the cost of putting out a mixtape. But the fact that a major recording artist like Lupe is putting out free music is pretty interesting to me. He plans to put out another mixtape called “Friend Of The People” later this month.

The last track on Enemy Of The State is called “HP Skit”.

HP Skit

Give that track a listen and then watch this HP advertisement which features Lupe and others.

So Lupe included an HP advertisement on the Enemy Of The State mixtape. Let’s say Enemy Of The State is downloaded a half million times. And let’s say that the average downloader listens to the mixtape all the way through five times. Then that HP ad would be listened to 2.5 million times. At a $10 cpm (high but not crazy high), that would be worth $25,000 as an audio ad buy. If Lupe could put out one of these mixtapes a month, then that’s $300,000 per year. 

I was in a board meeting last week and one of the company founders made a very interesting assertion about the difference between old media and new media. He asserted that old media is about how much money you can charge each viewer. New media is about how many viewers you can get.

Now that’s a gross oversimplification of his assertion, but the point is useful. The whole free mixtape movement is about getting as many listeners as possible, using existing music for the most part. The idea of monetizing it with lightweight advertising (nobody forces you to listen to HP Skit and it comes at the end) is very interesting to me.

It will be interesting to see if we get more of this kind of thing. I think we will.

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