It started with a Twitter video, announcing: New music coming Friday.
Then, an Instagram video—revealing a beat, and some lyrics. But when globally famous pop star Ed Sheeran wanted his fans to experience the first true listen of his new music, he turned to Snapchat.
With an augmented reality lens, people could put on a pair of sunglasses, surround themselves in lights, and listen to the first 30 seconds of Sheeran's new track. Fans who uncovered the hidden surprise along with fellow artists like Shawn Mendes (who isn't a stranger to the power of social apps) helped hype the track before Sheeran released it later that night. Sheeran's use of Snapchat is just the most recent example of how the app—and its community—have emerged as powerful distribution tools for new music.
Where other digital platforms are plagued by piracy issues, Snapchat has taken on the role of a DJ, with artists hoping to partner up, and get their song played within innovative, fun, engagement-heavy formats. For example, over the last two months, Snapchat users have been able to wear a different pair of shades, and bob their heads to a clip of rapper Sage the Gemini's song "Now and Later." But unlike other marketing rollouts, for both Sage the Gemini and Ed Sheeran, there wasn't even any mention of the artist on the Snapchat filter.
But users eventually found their way to the name of the song: And the artist himself had the opportunity to close the mystique gap, and re-promote himself as the one behind the track: "This type of partnership had never been done before with an emerging artist," said Chelsea Gavin, director of marketing at Artist Partners (who works with Sage the Gemini). "Together we were able to enhance a lens sonically," explained Gavin, "maximizing user experience, which translated into a lot of curiosity around the artist." In other words: They knew they had a good song on their hands.
They delivered it to Snapchat's users.
And Snapchat's users then went looking for the song.
The plan was simple.
The results? Substantial.
From November to December, Sage the Gemini's "Now and Later" jumped from 1.1 million to 5 million monthly listeners on Spotify. Snapchat's been getting deeper into offering a wide variety of different types of media, including news, politics and sports.
In some cases, Snapchat is paying a licensing fee for the content.
In others, there's an ad revenue split between publishers and Snapchat.
Entertainment and music are perhaps the most lucrative to (and in line with) the company projecting itself as a lifestyle brand as they convince influencers, publishers and advertisers to spend more time and money in the app.
It's all the more important to the company's fate, as Snapchat prepares to go public later in 2017. While other digital networks like Facebook and YouTube combat the wrath of the music industry hoping to secure more rights, Snapchat has cemented a good reputation with the artists and label—for now.
In order to keep its place of prominence, it's building more experiences that cater to the discovery and sharing of new music—a promotional machine for an industry that needs all the help it can get. Snapchat's embrace of artists isn't that surprising, given Snap CEO Evan Spiegel's publicly evident passion for music.
His tastes are available to peruse via his Hype Machine account, where you can see he's a fan of Goldroom, Chance The Rapper and The Chainsmokers. "Sometimes there can be challenges as a platform grows, but [at Snapchat], they're all passionate music fans, and have the interest of advancing the artist," said Chris Mortimer, head of digital marketing at Interscope Records. Regarding opportunities, Spiegel was once interested in buying a record label and partnering with video hosting site Vevo, as revealed in leaked emails by Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton from the 2014 hack.