Anyone who is involved with social media sites like Twitter and Instagram are aware of using hashtags (#) before keywords. Recently, music fans have noticed the increasing trend of recording artists putting hashtags in the title of their songs. But many people ask me, does adding a hashtag to a song title even do anything? Will it be effective?
In the past month, the trend has been for major artists to use hashtags, or more commonly known as the ‘number symbol’ before their song titles. Major artists likes Busta Rhymes, Mariah Carey, Will.i.am, Jennifer Lopez and many more. Will.i.am’s new album title actually has the hashtag in front of it, as well as former teen star Miley Cyrus’ upcoming album “We Can’t Stop” on its single artwork.
A bit of history might help you understand the hashtag and its uses. The hashtag as it’s used today initially happened during the rise of Twitter. Despite what many assume, Twitter did not create the use of the hashtag as a search function until 2009, so adding the hashtag to key words of phrases eventually became a shorthand way for the twitter users to group topics or messages and help those phrases or words become easier to find when searched. This led to the use of a hashtag to eventually become a form of colloquial expression. This is used both online and in the real world to highlight any phrase to a category or trending movement.
The first song to have a hashtag added to its title and then land on the Billboard charts was pop rock group Cobra Starship’s single “#1Nite,” which hit No. 23 on Bubbling Under in August 2011. See the video here:
Cobra Starship was not an unknown act at this point when they decided to try out this interesting use of a hashtag. They already had a Top 10 single, “Good Girls Go Bad.” According to Cobra Starship frontman Gabe Saporta, the idea to add a hashtag came from the groups’ manager, Alex Sarti. It was reportedly a last minute thought, that the band was excited to try out. According to Gabe Saporta, “The song was originally just ‘One Night, but as we were writing down a track listing to be sent out to the press, our manager Alex Sarti suggested we should add a hashtag so that we could be an automatic trending topic, and [the band] thought it was such a good idea we just jumped on it without really thinking twice.” Saporta knew that the success of the song would rely on the bands ability to engage their fanbase via sites like twitter and Instagram. Saporta knew that they would have to rely on twitter for a major promotional push, and decided to ask their fans to talk about, “that one night you can’t forget.” This would thereby end up tying their new song to a particular topic or movement, which would be continuously hashtagged on social media sites like twitter. This ended up turning into a success with their fan base. Their single ‘#1Nite’ ended up becoming a trending topic for a brief period of time. Majority of the acts to follow in Cobra Starships footsteps were less well-known, and seemed to use the hashtag to attempt create a buzz for themselves, when they actually never had one in the first place. In July 2010, a single and video was released by a relatively unknown entity in the entertainment industry who tried to create a buzz online by using the hashtag in song title strategy. The video was called “#Shawtbusshawty” and was produced by ‘Be Your Own Boss Entertainment.’ See the video here:
‘Be Your Own Boss’ produces animated comedy sketches and videos. The video featured animated versions of hit rap artists like Waka Flocka Flame, Gucci Mane and Soulja Boy. It had an astounding number of views on YouTube in a short period of time. They eventually accrued over 34 million views and the single eventually sold over 19,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen Soundscan.
Other artists with a relatively lower profile who have tried this strategy have found similar success. Oakland based rap group ‘Wallpaper.’s’ “#Stupidfacedd” had over 80,000 copies sold of the song sold, according to Soundscan. New Orleans rapper ‘Curren$y’ tried the hashtag strategy as well with “#Jetsgo”, and was able to sell 11,000 units of the single, from his sixth album. In 2011, a group out of Atlanta called Rich Kidz took what is known as a “scorched-earth approach” to hashtagging. Every single released from their album “Straight Like Dat 2,” had a hashtag before it. The most popular single was “#WhyUs,” which ended up selling over sold 2,000 copies.
The lifetime of social media and many of it’s trends has been relatively short. During this short time, social media users have seen quite a bit of change in the ways one can utilize and leverage social media. Those who think using hashtags are only useful and applicable in the Twitter world are missing the bigger picture. Hashtags have proliferated across the many social networking sites, in addition to using them as metadata labels that are essential in connecting topics on blogs. This can help online users discover your blog much easier. According to Jason Feinberg, head of digital strategy at Epitaph Records, “So many platforms are using the hashtag in their search/trend system that it helps ensure visibility. You can’t talk about [hashtags] on Twitter or Instagram without it helping in search and ultimately engagement.”
Hashtags are now being used to group any topic on Instagram, which is a photo version of twitter. When someone uses a hashtag when posting on sites like Tumblr, this adds a tag to the post. This is the primary way Tumblr users can filter or discover content. Example, “pushing an Instagrammed picture tagged #dog to Tumblr and Twitter automatically adds the picture to the ‘dog’ category on all three networks.” How can this apply to musicians? Well when recording artist’s hashtag one of their songs, it is not necessarily just a sneaky stunt to attempt to become a trending topic on twitter. It could actually be strategy to get an artist’s songs featured on multiple feeds online. This is in an effort to have their fans be exposed to the artists content or songs on a daily basis on multiple platforms. It could also assist marketing companies in collecting various analytics and produce engaging promotional visualizations.
Will.i.am has implemented the whole hashtag concept many times in the promotion of his new album. He did it for his recent album, #willpower, and the lead single #thatpower. But the hashtag strategy has not really helped the sales of his recent album. The album was released on April 19th of this year, and has sold just over 43,000 units. But Will.i.am’s team is not so concerned with those numbers. They feel he is more of a singles artist. His last 2 singles have done quite well. “Scream and Shout” featuring Britney Spears has sold over 3 million copies. Check out the song here:
His newest singles released alongside the new album “#thatPOWER” has sold over 569,000 units to date. But, this is really besides the point when it comes to hashtagging. The poiont to take from Will.i.am’s use of hastagging is that it is probably inspiring many up and coming artists to try to do the same. Will we see all album release titles be preceded by a hashtag eventually? Is this a sign of things to come?
At the start of May there were a string of artists using the hashtag in ssong title strategy. Mariah Carey released her newest single on May 6th titled “#Beautiful” featuring Miguel. The song has sold over 113,000 units to date. But the interesting aspect to this is #Beautiful is already a common hashtag online. People constantly say, “oh my girlfriend is so #Beautfiul…etc.” According to data that was provided by Attensity Media, the hashtag “#beautiful” was used on Twitter an average of 25,000 times a day the 2 months prior to Mariah Carey’s single release. Attensity Media stated, “When Mariah dropped the song, that number spiked by 280% to 95,000 uses of “#Beautiful” on May 6, not all of which might necessarily be song-specific. That number quickly dropped down close to the norm by four days later.”
On May 3rd just a few days prior to Mariah’s single release, star rapper “Busta Rhymes” dropped “#TwerkIT.” Much like Carey’s song “#Beautiful”, “#TwerkIT” is already commonly used hashtag. But the difference is the tag “#TwerkIt” is centered around a movement, where kids love twerking (based on a hip dance). According to Bilboard.biz, “Usage of the #TwerkIT hashtag increased by over 1000% the day of the song’s release, but quickly dropped back down to only 400 uses a day.” Even Jennifer Lopez followed this trend with her song ‘#Liveitup,” which helped spike the use of the hashtag “#liveitup” from about 500 uses a day to over 22,000 uses. The video has also accumulated over 1.2 million views. Check out the Jennifer Lopez video with Pitbull here:
What someone can walk away from this with is that the volume and increase around a hashtag usually correlates with the relative popularity of the artist who the hashtag is connected with. The main advantage to using a hashtag in a song title is that it will allow artists essentially own that phrase or word that is being hashtagged in the song title. Hence why Busta Rhymes and Jennifer Lopez’s song titles had much higher percent of increase in the amount of buzz than Mariah Carey’s. Basically those titles, “#TwekIt” and “#Liveitup” were barely used at all before the songs were released. Whereas, the word beautiful was.
The effect hashtags have on song sales still remain unclear. We do know that an artists doesn’t need to name their song title with a hashtag in it just to create any online movement or buzz around the song. We have seen numerous artists over the last year be able to do so. They have used a phrase or word related to the song and hashtagged it to use as a promotional tool. Robin Thicke’s video for “Blurred Lines” prominently displays #Blurredlines and #THICKE throughout the video. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis use something that initially started as a joke to unite fans under a common hashtag phrase. The phrase is #sharkfacegang. We don’t know if hashtags will always be in vogue. But we do know they currently are, and a big part of the social media world. What they are doing is inspiring a community of fans, and creating conversation and empowerment among them, which is a strategy that has long been a key to any artist’s success. Many legendary artists have done things similar to this. KISS has the KISS army. Rapper DMX had his ‘Ruff Ryders.’ Lady Gaga has ‘Little Monsters.’ The hashtag is just today’s social media savvy generation’s way of doing the similar thing. Who knows what or if anything will come next in place of #hashtags in the future. What is next? Will an artist pull a Prince type stunt and changes their name to #.