While being able to showcase their talents on late night TV has typically been the best launching pad for artists, but it seems a new venue for such jumpstarts to success has been found in the intimate setting of an NPR studio, or so the numbers would suggest.
Late-night television has always been an artist manager’s dream to showcase emerging artists, from the Beatles’ debut on U.S. television on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 to now, when Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers and more are introducing us to new talent like The Internet and Anderson .Paak. The power is even easier to observe, when social and streaming data can tell us exactly how much of an impact these performances have. For a while, the question — at least among those who are in the business of using data to navigate the music business — was which of these shows would give artists the biggest bump. And for a while, that winner was Conan.
Over the past few years, a much smaller, much more intimate alternative to the late-night stage has emerged. And despite its name, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert can have a huge impact on an emerging artist’s social following. But can a set at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen ever hope to compare to the power of a stage that attracts, in some cases, several million viewers?
In order to find out, we looked at the average social lift that artists see after performing on Tiny Desk compared to the average social lift they saw after a late-night show. Research is based on artists who have appeared on both Tiny Desk and at least one late-night show in the past two years. We looked at the average increases in reach over five social and streaming metrics — Wikipedia page views, Facebook page likes, Twitter followers, Instagram followers and Pandora artist station adds — in the week after their performance. We ruled out instances where another event seemed to be driving the spike — like when Chris Stapleton appeared on Tiny Desk the same week he swept up at the CMA Awards — or instances in which an artist released an album during the same week as their performance.
Judging from the 42 artists we analyzed, the answer is yes. In fact, Tiny Desk delivered slightly more significant lifts for these artists than late night delivered. The typical (median) week-on-week lift from Tiny Desk was around 45%, ahead of late night’s 42%. But that gap is bigger when you focus on emerging artists. Ruling out artists who are Mainstream or Epic (based on Next Big Sound’s Taxonomy of Artists), Tiny Desk’s typical lift was around 59%, while late night’s was 52%.
For example, after their September Tiny Desk appearance, singer-songwriter duo The Secret Sisters saw a week-on-week average lift of over 1,800%, much of it driven by an increase in Wikipedia traffic. (Wikipedia is the most reactive metric among the metrics we looked at, considering a listener’s first action after hearing a new band is to look up that band’s Wikipedia page.) When they performed on Fallon, they saw an 111% lift. The most impactful late-night performance was back in 2015 when Nathaniel Rateliff performed on Fallon and saw a lift of 840% week on week. His Tiny Desk performance drove a 10% week-on-week lift.
Let’s look a little closer at which performers did best on each platform. Tiny Desk clearly worked for Margaret Glaspy, a seemingly soft-spoken singer-songwriter based in New York. Her performance on Conan last summer drove a 50% lift, while her Tiny Desk set a couple months later gave her a 300% boost. Her Tiny Desk set has racked up over 575,000 views on YouTube, while the Conan performance is around 45,000. It also worked for Mitski, who used her Tiny Desk performance as a chance to half-sing/half-yell into her guitar and saw an 115% lift in reach, outpacing her 85% lift from Colbert.
One of the standouts on late night is Gallant, who saw a 167% lift after his TV debut on Fallon last May and another 100% lift after visiting James Corden in November. His Tiny Desk appearance earlier this year failed to give him a boost at all. Likewise, country artist Margo Price saw lifts of over 100% when she visited Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, while her Tiny Desk appearance delivered a 45% lift.
On a weekly basis, both Brad Sands and Jason Gibbs, managers of Latin psych-rock band Chicano Batman — artist stage: Established — are monitoring spikes and dips in their artist’s social media followings, playing particularly close attention to weeks of big performances. And they have a few theories as to why Tiny Desk is so impactful. (Chicano Batman saw a lift of close to 100% after Tiny Desk, while their Conan appearance gave them a 50% boost.)
“One big thing is the fact that Tiny Desk is focused just on music, you’re not playing just one song, but three or four,” Sands said. “It always feels like on late night TV you’re kind of just crammed in there, from 12:30 to 12:35. Also on Tiny Desk, you’re not competing for attention on social media with a viral video of another part of the show.”
Sands added that a lot of it has to do with the more carefree nature of Tiny Desk, and how much an artist’s personality shines through.
“It’s stripped down, but it’s not the same old acoustic thing… it just looks fun,” he said. “It looks like you want to see musicians looking like. You want to see them having a good time.”
A third factor that Gibbs and Sands consider is the age ranges that their artists attract. For example, the two demographics that make up the largest portions of Chicano Batman’s audience is men and women age 25 to 34. But late-night television tends to attract older viewers. In 2014, Conan was the only late-night show with a median age under 40 with a median of 39.6, according to The New York Times.
“It’s always very cool to be on television,” Gibbs said, pointing specifically to Conan. “But there’s still a lot of young kids who have no connection to those shows at all. The younger generation seems to view late night as your parents’ thing. Something like Tiny Desk, it’s newer, and NPR’s online presence is larger, so it’s much like other YouTube channels and YouTube series that the younger generation gears itself toward.”
Research contributed by Jay Troop, senior data analyst at Next Big Sound. This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on July 20, 2017.
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