Music industry executives nobbing about on Instagram all day. Discuss.
Self-indulgent waste of time? A case of pinching the oxygen of social media approbation away from the artists they represent? Or, in fact, the smartest way to strike up connections with the next wave of tomorrow’s talent?
Today, a strong exhibit for the latter argument was presented.
Lil Nas X, as if you needed telling, is a cultural phenomenon right now. Check out this video of US schoolchildren losing their minds to a barely-audible performance of his genre-mashing hit, Old Town Road, for further proof.
Old Town Road – helped along by TikTok virality and genre chart controversy – has claimed the No.1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight consecutive weeks, seeing off challenges from the likes of Ed Sheeran x Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, amongst others.
But how did Columbia Records, and its 40-year-old Chairman, Ron Perry, actually get the thing signed?
According to this Wall Street Journal profile, Perry initially got in touch with Lil Nas X via… Instagram, in a direct message.
“Lil Nas X, who worried about losing creative control to a label, liked the look of Mr. Perry’s Instagram picture.”
An industry source on why Old Town Road was signed to Ron Perry
And, according to the WSJ, citing a source close to the situation: ‘Lil Nas X, who worried about losing creative control to a label, liked the look of Mr. Perry’s Instagram picture.’
The newspaper adds: ‘On Instagram, Mr. Perry’s tousled, scruffy hair strikes a casual vibe; his posts include a photo of Lorde holding a fish, and clips from his 40th birthday party in a Los Angeles club where he played guitar onstage.’ (You can check out Perry’s Insta profile for yourself here.)
This was apparently enough to encourage Lil Nas X to take Perry’s phone call in Q1 this year, and the rest is history. Perry is said to have won the signature of Lil Nas X – real name Montero Lamar Hill – ahead of four other interested labels.
As the WSJ points out, Columbia signed Lil Nas X on March 6, ‘well before the song became a national sensation’.
It was Perry who apparently later spotted the opportunity, and brokered the deal, for country star Billy Ray Cyrus to jump on a now-famous re-release of Old Town Road, which has catalyzed the track’s popularity.
Matt Pincus, who worked with Perry in his prior role as a Partner (and A&R whizz) at SONGS Music Publishing, tells the WSJ: “[Records today] cross genres more than they did. Ron was one of the people who very early identified that this shift was happening… What’s going on with the Lil Nas X record is kind of what he has been doing all along.”
More pertinent to our ‘waste of time vs. new wave A&R’ Instagram debate, though, is this, from the same WSJ report: ‘Since Columbia signed Lil Nas X before he blew up, it’s likely the label paid significantly less than it would have just a few weeks later, say music executives.’
So, record company and publisher A&Rs… next time your boss gives you hassle about frittering away your paid company hours on Instagram (ultimately evil, please-love-me cauldron of exaltation and despair that it is) simply tell them: “I’m trying to save you a fortune on your next global smash, mate. Ask Ron Perry.”
Old Town Road now has over 550 million streams on Spotify split between its original track, the Billy Ray Cyrus re-release, and a Diplo remix.
Lil Nas X’s YouTube channel, which launched just 11 days ago, already has more than 410 million views.Music Business Worldwide