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Premier, which Next Big Sound calls "a Bloomberg Terminal for the entertainment industry," also features map-based geographic tracking. With it, Heisler can see just how many fans his client Chris Gelbuda has in Minneapolis, how their ages and gender break down, and even zoom in to scrutinize a particular fan's Facebook profile.
"This is dope," gushes Heisler — and he's not the only one who's impressed. Next Big Sound Premier already counts Domino Records, Provident Label Group and Country Music Television among its paying customers.
"This filled the void for me," says Tom Mullen, director of interactive marketing for EMI Music, who's been testing a beta version of Premier for months. "There is so much noise going on, and everyone has about sixteen blogs. I have three myself. Do you really think you're going to be able to see through it? This is really that clear light that lets you see through and understand it all." Mullen has relied on the program to determine where to spend Internet advertising dollars, discover which bands are big on Facebook rather than MySpace, investigate if Yahoo banner ads resulted in more online fans and see if a big radio campaign launched in Phoenix actually spurred more spins on sites like Last.fm.
"Radio has the Top 40 charts and retail has SoundScan, TV has the Nielsens, but online, there isn't a clear-cut thing yet," explains Mullen. "Next Big Sound will hopefully be the Nielsens for online."
To help secure that title, Next Big Sound has just unveiled NBS25, a new kind of music chart. Each week, NBS25 will list the 25 fastest-accelerating artists across all the major social-music sites, musicians the company has determined are statistically most likely to become "the next big sound."
As far-fetched as the system seems, "it works," White promises. As evidence, he points to the Next Big Sound's project at South by Southwest in Austin this past March, when it tracked which of the 2,000 bands in attendance had the most online activity during the four-day event, then released a chart of the most buzzed-about bands. At the time, most of those highlighted were largely unknown — but that's changed. The third-place artist, a Kansas City rapper named XV, signed a contract with Warner Bros. Records this summer. Second-place Neon Trees, a Utah rock band, scored a number-one track on Billboard's Heatseeker charts in July. And the first-place band, the Brooklyn outfit Fang Island, has boasted a number-three album on iTunes and is now touring with the Flaming Lips and Stone Temple Pilots.
NBS25 isn't the only new music chart to integrate social-music data. In July, BigChampagne Media Measurement, a California-based analytics company that gained attention for tracking downloads on file-sharing networks before the major labels were willing to acknowledge their significance, unveiled what it called the Ultimate Chart, a ranking of bands based on album sales, radio airplay, online plays and social-media attention, among other things. "It's such a gold rush," says BigChampagne CEO Eric Garland of what he calls the "social scraper" industry, a category in which he includes Next Big Sound and such other data-analytics companies as Buzzdeck, RockDex, Bandmetrics, Wearehunted, Radian6 and ReverbNation. "The list goes on and on and on. Anyone could get into this business. All of this information is available in the public domain."
According to Garland, the challenge for social scrapers — a label that does not apply to BigChampagne, he says, since his company no longer scrapes information from sites but instead partners with them to obtain data — is, "How do you differentiate yourself? How do you become the one? We know the market isn't going to support all of them."
But White believes Next Big Sound has already set itself apart. While BigChampagne now tracks all popular media including music, film and television, White's company is "built for the music industry," he says. Despite its numerous data sources, the Ultimate Chart ends up looking very similar to the Billboard 200, he points out, while NBS25 charts are filled with largely unknown names, artists like Runner Runner, the Clientele and Smoke Fairies.
"The barrier for entry for this is not that high. The information is freely available. The thing that Next Big Sound has done better than anyone else is doing something with that data," says TopSpin's Rogers. "People know data can be useful for the music business, but people are flying blind, having to go to a hundred different sources to aggregate that data, and a tool that puts it all in one place is really the labels' and managers' dream. People have had that vision, but nobody has executed that vision like Next Big Sound has."
Still, the presence of competition like BigChampagne suggests that while the Next Big Sound team may be well on its way to success, "they are not there yet," as TechStars general manager Nicole Glaros puts it. And they may never be: Some of the companies coming out of TechStars that appeared just as promising as Next Big Sound and scored major funding shut down a few years later.
As with the bands the company is tracking on the NBS25, Next Big Sound's future is no sure thing. It has the right elements in place — but the rest could be pure serendipity.