In a TikTok talent factory for Misfit stars

My tutorial on how 25/7 Media works began during the founders’ Google Meet late this morning with an executive from digital music distributor Vydia. The manager was desperate to make a deal with a 25/7 client named YoungX777, a guttural, nihilistic trap-metal musician with long locks covering his face.

YoungX777 was discovered by 25/7 in late October 2022 after Luzi and his two full-time music scouts discovered promising findings in the data for his song “Toxic.” The song was a muddy sonic rant about suicidal thoughts and hadn’t garnered many streams. But his five-second intro, a post-smoke cough followed by a guttural scream, had surfaced after just a few days TikToks from MMA fighters beat each other up and Weightlifter Grunting under squat bars. Experience had taught 25/7 Media that short “replicas” of these types of songs can quickly lead to virality in the respective TikTok communities.

As the number of new builds climbs into the tens or hundreds of thousands, two of 25/7’s core principles become relevant, Magana told me. First, if a social media user listens to an audio clip nine times, it gets stuck in their memory. The second rule, which Magana calls the “ten percent rule,” states that 10 percent of catchy users end up tracking down the original source of the snippet.

Convinced of the algorithmic potential of the “Toxic” intro, 25/7 Media rushed to sign YoungX777 despite having fewer than 30,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Taking such risks is a key part of the strategy: the company needs to attract customers before they appear on the radar of well-heeled competitors. “We are the ones who beat you before you explode, so we can say we believed in you before you grew up,” Magana told me. “For these artists, the only sign of their success is often that some children send them videos of themselves dancing to their song. We’re often the first ones who aren’t their friends to tell them, ‘Hey, you’re good.’”

Once YoungX777 was on board, 25/7 Media ran its standard campaign to improve a new client’s replicas. Instead of paying one or two famous influencers to use the “Toxic” intro in hopes of achieving a trickle-down effect, the company appealed to dozens of MMA and weightlifting TikTokkers, whose followers rarely exceed one exceeds a few hundred. (Some received small payments to promote the song, but others were happy to do it for free.) Flooding the zone in this way led to TikTok’s algorithm funneling “toxic” posts into users’ feeds, rounding up the content consumed around the gym. Inevitably, some of these users were creators themselves and began incorporating YoungX777’s clip into videos aimed at related subcultures — like the region TikTok is obsessed with Football player highlights stormed past hapless defenders.

The “Toxic” intro became a sensation on TikTok and Instagram Reels in mid-January, after which the ten percent rule came into effect. By the end of the month, the entire song had been played more than one million times on Spotify. Now Vydia 25/7 Media proposed to entrust it with the worldwide distribution of the YoungX777 catalog. It would use its proprietary technology to collect royalties from different platforms and root out copyright infringers in return for a cut of YoungX777’s revenue. After much back and forth, the Vydia manager put his offer at around $200,000, a seemingly huge sum for YoungX777, who had made his living as a solar panel salesman.

Magana and Luzi seemed underwhelmed. Luzi replied that he was sure that a major record label would safely offer a quarter of a million for YoungX777’s next album. “If I tell one of my artists that I turned down a quarter of a million dollars, I may no longer have that relationship,” Luzi said. The conversation ended with the Vydia manager promising to talk to his team about increasing the offer. (Vydia eventually reached an agreement with YoungX777, which now has more than 1.9 million monthly listeners on Spotify – a number that translates into annual revenue of up to $450,000. Shortly after signing the deal, Vydia was sold to a newly founded Media company sold by former Apple Music creative director.)

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