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Next Big Sound: Billboard's new "Social 50" chart powered by Boulder music startup

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In October, we profiled the Boulder start-up Next Big Sound, which seemed poised to shake the struggling music industry by using social media sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter to discover break-out bands. Now that Billboard has unveiled its new "Social 50" chart powered by Next Big Sound analytics, these Boulder wonderkids seem one step closer to that goal.

Billboard's Social 50, which will appear in the magazine every week and be updated online each Thursday, ranks artists' popularity based on Next Big Sound metrics that track hits, friends, fans and followers on sites like MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and iLike.

This week, for example, the Black Eyed Peas scored the number one spot on the Social 50 (for the second week in a row), possibly because the Peas took part in a "hijack" marketing campaign on MySpace last week that earned them a bunch of new MySpace friends. The rest of the week's top ten includes heavyweights such as Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Eminem, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry -- and the late Michael Jackson holds the tenth spot, thanks to online buzz about his of his new posthumous album, Michael.

It's interesting stuff, but not especially revelatory. Most of the Social 50 chart toppers also hold strong in Billboard's other charts, so there's not much in the way of musical bombshells. It's also interesting to note that there's a fair amount of similarity between the Social 50 and "The Ultimate Chart," a social media-based music chart launched last summer by Big Champagne, a California company that's the closest thing Next Big Sound has to a competitor. For example, Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna, Eminem, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, the cast of Glee, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Ke$ha hold spots in both charts' top twenties.

If you're looking for real music-industry revelations, a better tool is NBS25, a chart Next Big Sound produces on its own that tracks not the artists with the most overall social-media hits each week, but those with the fastest accelerating online buzz. Since such a measurement benefits musicians who don't have a huge online following, the NBS25 chart is packed with intriguingly unknown names such as Victorious, Jessica Jarrell, Barcelona and Pendulum. These are the bands that really could be the next big sound.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Next Big Sound: Alex White's Boulder startup uses social networks to find rock & roll's future." Follow Joel Warner on Twitter @joelmwarner.

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