Greyson Chance, the latest online singing phenomenon, has parlayed his Lady Gaga interpretation into the kind of instant celebrity that would make marketing professionals swoon. From a 12-year-old singing at a local choir festival to performing on Ellen Degeneres’s TV hour and being profiled by Diane Sawyer all in one week is pretty heady stuff for anyone, let alone a sixth grader at Cheyenne Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Within the past two weeks, this aspiring young singer/songwriter has seen the rise of a Facebook page, a Youtube channel, and countless fan pages all joining to maximize his exposure.
All of which tell a story about how quickly things are changing online, says Miles Beckett, CEO of social entertainment company EQAL. Just a few years ago, he says, “you would go to the site that fit what you were doing and get popular there and that was it. Now,” he points out, “there are all these places to go at once – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube … and more, and you can leverage your content all over at once.”
Another big change, he adds, is the sheer volume and quality of content flooding online. Flash celebrity is something he knows a bit about – Mr. Beckett became an online celebrity back in 2006 when he and his partner created the seminal "lonelygirl15," a hit online video journal that became a media sensation when fans discovered "Bree," the diarist, was a fictional creation and not an actual pining teen.
“Back then, there just wasn’t that much content worth watching,” he says, “now it takes a lot more to stand out.”
The young Mr. Chance appears to have all the necessary components to stand out in what has become a very busy marketplace, says music industry analyst Jeff Snyder, who runs the Music Business Program at Lebanon Valley College.
He has high-quality camera work, high profile, catchy material, and an integrated marketing plan right out of the gate. The approach is so sophisticated, in fact, Snyder says, that it suggests the possibility of a stealth professional campaign. Where are the other families attending the choir festival event?” he asks, and “who filmed the performance in such a way as to focus on the adoring 13-year-old girls, all in perfect focus?”.
It is hard to believe an unknown elementary school student could do so much on his own. “Someone in that corner knows what they are doing,” Snyder says. The boy’s success points to a deeper trend. “Never before have so many individuals had the opportunity to achieve Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame without major labels or media companies. Just a FlipVideo, YouTube account, and a song” he says. The numbers are surprisingly tipped in favor of those who understand this.
According to Web analytics site TubeMogul, only 33 percent of videos on Youtube have been viewed over one million times. Fifty-three percent have fewer than 500 views.
This means that approximately 46 percent of all videos on YouTube have been watched over 500 times.
“So in theory at least, “ Snyder adds, “there is actually a 40-plus percent chance that a video uploaded to YouTube will be watched over 500 times.”
As these young online phenoms accumulate – think Justin Bieber and the 23-year-old Taiwanese singer, Lin Yu-chun, who recently wowed online international audiences with his interpretation of a Whitney Houston ballad – the entire entertainment landscape is being flipped around, says Fordham University professor and author of "New New Media," Paul Levinson. “Literally anyone can try their hand on the Internet,” he adds. More and more, he says, the music industry as we know it will be less about talent discovery and more about distribution.
”It is,” he says, “the most revolutionary change in history.”
If such a professional-quality, coordinated PR campaign raises the specter of yet another online ruse, Beckett himself says that’s yet another fallout of where the online environment has come in a few short years.
“If Greyson Chance has a stealth campaign being professionally run, it’s really hard to find that out now,” he says. “Everyone knows what to do to make
it appear real.”