Deeper underground

Brands and the next big thing

It’s no secret that the way in which young people consume media is changing and that consumption and influence are inextricably linked. From the well-documented fake news headlines and warnings about the danger of the online ‘echo chamber’, there’s been a shift in influence, and who wields it.

Instagram channels such as ‘Imjustbait’ and ‘balnews’ – whose feeds are mainly memes or tabloid headline screengrabs – are followed by millions of teenagers, for some of whom even visiting a .com website feels antiquated.

This evolution isn’t exclusive to the political sphere, however. In the music world, FM and digital radio has long been drifting away from being the staple diet for fans, with just 10% of 16-24 year olds citing radio as one of their top 3 media sources, according to a 2016 Yougov poll.

But what constitutes mainstream media in 2018? Streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music account for 50% of listening amongst the same age group and undoubtedly this looks set to rise. The medium claiming the highest proportion of millennial listening, however, were video platforms with 54% of 16-24 year olds using them regularly.

So, we know where millennials are consuming their music, but who is influencing the music on these channels and what is the opportunity for brands to play a role?

While much of the population mightn’t have heard of LinkUp TV, GRM Daily, P110, Pressplay or SBTV (to a lesser extent, as Jamal Edward’s platform has become increasingly commercialised in recent years), the (predominantly ‘urban’) music videos created by, championed and shared on these channels, apps and sites are ultimately influencing what you’re hearing on Radio 1 each morning.

The cycle is long, however, and radio stations take months, sometimes years to pick up on the scenes bubbling away in the UK, perpetuated by these channels. Videos here easily hit the 1m mark and often accrue tens of millions of views before Spotify or A&Rs even notice them. At this point, they get playlisted on streaming sites, allowing them to become more widely discovered, which in turn drives further video views on the underground platforms. Only once they’ve achieved large-scale streaming success do radio stations pick them up, by which point the underground scene has already moved on to the next artist or genre.

LinkUp TV launched as a YouTube channel in 2009 and now has a staggering one billion video views, 1.2 million subscribers and almost 2 million followers on social media as well as two apps. Focusing mainly on ‘urban’ music – although this hackneyed term is problematic, linked as it is with racial stereotyping – such as grime, drill, UK afrobeats and more, these channels are almost single-handedly responsible for the rise of these genres in the mainstream media. Arguably, without LinkUp or GRM Daily, Stormzy would not be the prime-time TV national treasure he is now and grime would still be a niche localised genre rather than the biggest UK musical export on the global scene for decades.

Their power has been in their simple approach and grassroots nature; contact an artist who was getting word of mouth traction via social media, film a freestyle or music video, post it online. Most importantly, there’s no need for labels, diluting the music or artists in order to drive more sales, therefore also eliminating the barriers-to-entry that traditionally hold back those from less advantaged backgrounds.

While brands, mainstream media and labels are not trailing behind entirely, with SBTV receiving £8m backing and GRM Daily’s Rated Awards ceremony now broadcast on Channel 4, these channels are still not recognised enough for their impact. For the right brand, major label or media company, there is huge potential to get involved at this early stage in an artist’s career. It seems there’s still a reluctance and friction present between the mainstream and ‘urban culture’, but for brands who claim to be authentic in their support for these scenes, perhaps it’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is and back the platforms breaking the artists that the rest of the world will one day be queuing up to work with.

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