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CAN SNAPCHAT HARNESS MUSIC? (COMMENTARY)

If you look at the stock-price trend, Snapchat is already struggling. The Snap Inc. IPO on 3/2 rallied an opening price of $24.48—making it the second biggest tech IPO behind Twitter’s in 2013, and well above the $17 paid by investors. But since then, the stock price has mostly eroded, with shares sinking to a new low of $20.77 on Wednesday. Experts are already setting the year-end target price for SNAP stock at $10.

A main reason for the decay is simple: available audience and the time they spend with the app. In order to compete with the global dominance of Facebook and Google, Snapchat has to retain and grow its target demographic, which has already been eroded a bit by Instagram’s copycat maneuver in August with the disappearing Stories feature, a direct rip of a key functionality. Additionally, the app is limited by the constraints of its high-bandwidth functional requirements, which confines their targeting to young people in first-world nations with broadband internet.

There is, however, a proven entry point to successfully rally the passions and rapt attention of this coveted audience: music.

And some of the music business’ biggest tastemakers have already claimed Snapchat as their favorite way for communicating; exemplifying the platform’s inherent power when harnessing music lifestyle is the worldwide ascension of DJ Khaled.

When global pop superstar Ed Sheeran wanted his fans to experience the first listen of his new music from Divide, he turned to Snapchat to air his preview of “Shape of You.”

Kardashian clan member Kylie Jenner is widely credited for helping break R&B star Bryson Tiller by regularly featuring his (then-unsigned) music to her daily Snaps, and later co-starred in a music video for PARTYNEXTDOOR’s hit ballad “Come and See Me,” which then had its video debut on Snapchat.

When Beyoncé revealed a picture of herself and daughter Blue Ivy with a noticable kitty-cat Snapchat filter, the entire world went crazy trying to find her there. (The famously private Knowles has still not revealed her username publicly.)

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel instinctively knows music is the way forward but has yet to hack the secret sauce. His relentless search for the best way ahead has been in progress for several years now. The Sony email hack revealed that Spiegel was talking about creating a Snapchat record label; he also expressed an interest in purchasing Big Machine Label Group back in 2015. That same year, when Snapchat introduced the Discover feature in order to bring a wider mix of editorial content to its users, they teamed up with Warner Music.

Spiegel is obviously approaching the situation intuitively; he’s a well-documented fan of music and knows the way forward is to engage our business on a larger level. But perhaps instead of approaching it as a top-down curator, Spiegel should hyper-focus on what Snapchat is: a personality-driven marketing medium.

Using that strength to cut through the enormous social-media static to shine a light on talented artists in a compelling way and then delivering them to a wider audience through platform channels like Discover is the right idea. But the curation should happen through the headlining personalities who have already cultivated their own audiences. Take a page from the DJ Khaled playbook and examine how L.A. Reid and Epic Records have taken full advantage of that grassroots momentum to launch #1 singles and albums through the dynamic lens that Snapchat’s platform provides.

However, also take note that is fundamentally not the work of a record label. What Epic did was treat Snapchat as if it were another familiar medium of exposure and marketing led by a personality: what radio does.

The real opportunity for Snapchat with music is to edge out old-school radio. FM has all but abandoned its DJ-centric “host” culture, leaving the space open for Snapchat to step in and offer a charismatic, multi-dimensional experience to a whole lifestyle around music—and to do that for other genres too. Since the content eventually disappears, it frees up the creator from limitations that could bog down new content for months, such as licensing and royalty hassles or worse, a leak you lose control of. That’s precisely why Sheeran had used Snapchat to preview songs from Divide.

In a way, Snapchat is the new reality TV, so if the company can come up with a clever way to aggregate all these compelling “stories” into one aqueduct that is music, cultivate its own personalities to “present” the artists and songs and continue to be the medium that reinvents (camera) video? That’s the new MTV, people. 

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