Who’s Beck? This Company Turns Grammy Curiosity Into Album Sales

The Grammy awards are a fun way to unwind, whether you’re into music, fashion, or just good old American spectacle.

For some people, though, the annual awards show is a long night of pretty intense work. That’s certainly the case at Gupta Media, a Boston-based digital marketing company that works for major music labels.

While millions of people were kicking back with a drink and a snack to watch the stars ham it up onscreen, about 20 people were assembled at Gupta Media’s offices, ready to jump into action.

“What we were doing was watching the Grammys like everyone else,” founder Gogi Gupta said. “But as soon as a winner was announced, a team was running to their desks.”

The reason is simple: Winning a Grammy, or being featured on the broadcast, can put even established artists into a rare kind of spotlight that can create new fans, refresh old affinities, and drum up an avalanche of paying customers.

Gupta

Gupta

Gupta Media’s job is to capture that moment of interest and find as many willing buyers as possible, by making sure a long list of digital ads—on search engines, social media platforms, and so on—are ready to roll when the moment arrives.

This year’s surprising best album Grammy win was a perfect example. Beck, an artist whose heyday was more than a decade ago, took the biggest award of the night over Beyonce, who is enjoying the height of her pop-culture power.

Whether cheeky or sincere, the question “Who is Beck?” began flitting to the top of the social media heap almost immediately.

The trick, Gupta says, is preparation and timing. While the Internet is the greatest engine in human history for delivering huge amounts of public attention, it’s also the most fickle, giving all those fans somewhere else to go immediately if they’re not met with the answer they’re looking for.

So, when the envelope was opened and the album award was announced, it was time to get to work.

“Literally a second later, people are Googling Beck. It’s immediate,” Gupta said. “A couple of minutes later, it’s back down. You can’t be ahead of the news, but you have to be right on the news.”

You can see the results in the next morning’s music charts. The top of Apple’s iTunes store was led by Grammy winners Ed Sheeran, Beck, and Sam Smith, along with nominee (and constant on-camera presence) Taylor Swift and the soundtrack to “50 Shades of Grey,” which includes a song that Annie Lennox performed during the Grammy broadcast.

iTunes Charts Grammys 2015

This kind of digital sophistication isn’t something the music industry was typically known for in the first decade or so of the Internet era. Like many legacy media industries, the music world seemed unprepared for the effect of digital communications on its business model, leaving it scrambling when consumers flooded illicit music downloading services.

The industry finally consolidated around a mass-market digital sales strategy when the iPod and iTunes emerged, but the old ways were forever transformed.

“I say this a lot: The music industry’s problem is we have too many fans and not enough customers. In the best-case scenario, there’s 10-to-1 fans vs. customers—and in normal cases, 50-to-1,” Gupta said.

Helping music labels find those customers has been a roughly 10-year mission for Gupta Media, which now has about 40 employees. The company is privately held and doesn’t disclose its revenue, but has grown entirely through revenue from its contracts with labels, rather than taking on venture investment, Gupta said.

Being in Boston rather than L.A. has actually been a boost for that mission, he added, because Gupta Media is outside the industry bubble. That helps the company focus on responding to the quickly changing digital marketplace rather than being stuck in what worked in years past.

“This is a pure vision for how the Internet affects your business. I’ve never worked at a record label and I’ve never worked at an ad agency,” Gupta said. “Our clients, there is something very paradoxical about how much they like the fact that we’re not in the industry.”

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