Shawn Mendes in on top of the world (and the Billboard 200 and Album Sales Chart) as his debut LP, Handwritten, sold more than 100,000 copies and confirmed his status as a star. He's the first performer to use the video-sharing service Vine to find fortune, but he's far from the first performer to use social media to grab a record deal. Here are five other recognizable performers who got big on the internet...some of whom who have gotten so big that you may have forgotten they started out by sharing music on YouTube and MySpace, from Lana Del Rey to Justin Bieber. From "smallest" to biggest successes:
05) Unlocking The Truth (YouTube)
We can't say just how successful Unlocking The Truth will become, as it hasn't released an album yet, but the initial prognosis is good. If any record label is looking for a good way to market a metal band to the masses, Unlocking The Truth may have hit it right on the head: Find three otherwise adorable Brooklyn youths and have them play thrash metal in Times Square. It doesn't matter if it's black metal or hardcore hip-hop...people love when high schoolers make good music. This band's example is interesting in that they themselves weren't promoting themselves. They just set up shop in the middle of the nation's busiest few blocks and let passerby's do the work. More and more videos found their way to YouTube and the trio became a sensation, gathering invitations to play Coachella, open for the Guns N' Roses, and sign a five-record deal with Sony Music. And, we remind you, the band is still preparing to release its first EP. That's efficient use of social media...having other people generate your fame for you.
04) Colbie Caillatt (MySpace)
Circa 2005, social media wasn't the most popular way to make it big as a music performer...people were still in rapture of American Idol and the television talent competition wave sweeping the nation. Thus Colbie Caillatt tried to break it big by auditioning for Idol. She got denied at the pre-audition round her first time around, and then got to perform for the judges during her second attempt at auditioning. Once again, she was turned down. What track did she perform for Simon Cowell and company at that second appearance? A track of her own, titled "Bubbly." Fortunately she didn't take the rejection notice too badly and promoted her track on MySpace instead. It caught on and, as we would say nowadays, "went viral" on the service, bringing in thousands of views. It would eventually be her first single during 2007, peaking at no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Five Grammy nominations later, it's safe to say that Caillatt never gave up on MySpace, even when we all broke for Facebook.
03) Soulja Boy (YouTube)
Your correspondent was a student at Ohio State University during 2007 so yes, he has distinct memories of when "Crank That" by Soulja Boy was the thing. Every party. Every event. Every time you turned on MTV..."Crank That" was getting cranked. The lyrics were just awful...so how did this happen? For what he lacked in lyricism, Soulja had marketing genius beyond his age: Although the concept of "going viral" already existed, Soulja was the first to use video accompaniment to sell his song online. The dance that went along with "Crank That" was what really drew in the viewers, spawning numerous knockoffs and an army of drunk girls at every college party mirroring his moves across the nation. It's the same formula that has been used by Cali Swag District ("Teach Me How To Dougie"), Bauuer ("Harlem Shake") and Bobby Shmurda (The "shmoney dance" from "Hot Nigga") find fame: Post a sample video and hope that thousands of fans post their own takes. "Crank That" spent seven weeks at no. 1.
02) Lana Del Rey (YouTube)
More often than not, performers use social media to get past the hard part: sending dozens of tapes around to labels and trying to drum up interest. Sometimes YouTube can be used to accelerate your career after being "discovered" as well. Lana Del Rey had done the hard part, and even released an album as early as early as 2010. Lana Del Rey (a 5 Points release) didn't spawn any singles however, so the vocalist began shopping her work around on YouTube, trying to draw fans (not necessarily a new label). Her track "Video Games" grabbed national attention however and she blew up the blog world. The performer got signed to Interscope and Born To Die went to no. 2 on the Billboard 200. Her sudden rise to prominence was overwhelming, and there was initial concern that she couldn't overcome her anxiety and take to the big stages—and indeed, the question of whether a YouTube user could get over the hump, from performing in their bedroom to performing in a packed concert hall, had been asked previously. Fortunately she got over that hump in a big way and will be a secondary headliner at Governors Ball this summer.
01) Justin Bieber (YouTube)
The viral nature of the internet makes it easy for record labels to scout out what's tearing up the internet and then offer a record deal to the acts behind the song/video. Sometimes, curiously enough, success is found entirely by luck. Justin Bieber had placed in a few local talent shows and his mother had uploaded some videos to YouTube, mainly so that her relatives could take a peek. One way or another, Scooter Braun clicked on one of the videos during 2007, when Bieber was 13. Impressed, he approached the family about signing Bieber. Braun wasn't just some aspirational talent scout—he had founded Raymond-Braun Media Group with Usher. It would be three years before My World 2.0 would debut, but that was more than enough time for Braun to employ YouTube and build hype for his future star. The album would debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, making Bieber one of the youngest individuals ever to top the chart.