In yet another a
grim perky and all-smiles example of how music marketing now leeches off of the enthusiasm of young people allows them to make money (like selling Grit!) while also helping to promote the bands they love, a 17-year-old girl from Detroit named Ashley Qualls (no relation to DJ) gets more hits for her Web site Whateverlife than probably all of the music blogs you read put together. (About 7 million a month, in fact.) Not just that, but the canny/lucky Qualls is making a buttload of cash because the creator of a YouTube-style online video widget–which must be downloaded before it can be installed on your own Web site, rather than just C+P’ing the code–told her she could make a lot of money depending on how many readers downloaded it from her site:
After being hired by Columbia Records to launch an inexpensive online campaign to create Hanson Brothers-like buzz for the new group Jonas Brothers, More surfed MySpace to research the band’s fans and discovered Whateverlife was a routine stop for free layouts. He asked Qualls, then 16, to feature the video player on her home page. She’d get paid based how many people took the widget elsewhere. In less than two months, Nabbr had 60,000 new distribution points for its video Mandy. The song eventually reached No. 4 on MTV’s Total Request Live, despite no radio play. Zilch. That just doesn’t happen, says Steve Greenberg, the former president of Columbia and the producer behind the Hanson Brothers. But it does now.
“That’s what made the whole thing intriguing,” says Greenberg. “This teenager girl in the Midwest got more views for our video than YouTube. Way more. It wasn’t even close.”
Whateverlife is now a key member of Nabbr’s network of influential teen sites. “She’s helped break Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and 30 Seconds to Mars,” More says of Qualls. “She was instrumental in breaking Lily Allen.” Which is why Allen thanked Qualls in a Nabbr video that appeared on Whateverlife. Fans, of course, shared the spot, spreading the word and giving Whateverlife instant cache. See how this works?
Hasn’t this guy ever heard of street teams? They’ll do it for free, you know.
Now there’s no direct relation to the popularity of Qualls’ Web site and the fact that the Jonas Bros made it to TRL, at least that I can figure from this article, but Mr. Greenberg’s got something of a point. Except one must remember that the first Jonas Brothers record tanked pretty soundly thanks to tomfoolery at the label, which just proves you can lead an audience to TRL through viral video but you can’t necessarily make them buy the album if you can’t easily, you know, buy the album. So far this is a one-off phenomenon, but things should get interesting if and when more labels/companies start throwing money (or the potential for money–clever, that) at teenagers simply because their sites get a lot of hits from other kids looking for Zac Efron wallpapers. We’re either looking at another viral marketing dead end, a generation of kids being used as drug mules for teenpop videos, or a future crop of record-exec Doogie Howsers.
When Nabbr Met Whateverlife [Fast Company with a tip o’ the hat to reader Michaela Drapes (a.k.a. The Rich Girls Are Weeping‘s Cindy Hotpoint), who shares our rubbernecking fascination with the means of marketing being put in the hands of high school juniors.]