How Hip-Hop Legend Jermaine Dupri Writes His Own Rules

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In the world of hip-hop mogul Jermaine Dupri, building excitement for new music means creating his own rules for using social media to engage with fans.

Dupri, Mariah Carey’s manager and co-producer, has been a lightning rod for criticism from frustrated Carey fans who have wanted more information about her career moves (especially the status of her new album) than they have received. But instead of appeasing fans with social, Dupri acts like a boxer, sometimes quietly absorbing the blows, and other times trading stiff jabs and upper cuts as he did recently when engaging with impatient fans on Twitter. The way he sees it, frustrated fans are good business because they build anticipation for music.

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“If you’re going to be a music executive in the digital era, you need to try different approaches for running a business with social media,” he reveals in an interview with me. “Conventional wisdom says you give fans everything they want when they want it, like all the artwork and information about a new album long before release day. Fans today are buying the promotion that leads up to the music, not necessarily the music. But giving away too much to fans can actually ruin the game plan for someone like Mariah Carey, who is very protective of her music, her brand, and her mystique.”

Applying social finesse is one of the rules that Dupri lives by as he reinvents the role of the music executive in the digital era. Music industry honchos who first made their marks in the analog era, as Dupri did, have famously struggled to embrace digital (hello, Napster). Not so with Dupri. In the 1990s, he exploded on to the music world by breaking successful acts such as Kris Kross and Da Brat before becoming CEO of So So Def Recordings.

The 1990s were a long time ago, though. Then, artists could make millions by dropping CDs like manna from heaven into the hands of hungry fans. Digital downloading was not a threat. No one had ever heard of social media. But unlike many of his peers, Dupri has made the leap into the digital era by making digital — especially social media — the epicenter of a career in which he plays many roles, including CEO, czar of his own social media community Global 14, a popular DJ, and manager of a certain diva who has sold 200 million records.

Here are Jermaine Dupri’s rules for reinventing himself as a digital executive:

1. Build a Home Base

Dupri creates a flurry of activity on social every day, on sites ranging from Facebook to YouTube. One moment he’s tweeting information about a club appearance with Fabolous. The next he’s posting an Instagram of himself with Pharrell backstage at Coachella or a YouTube video about a moment with Mariah Carey and her fans.

“I create my own social whirlwind,” he says.

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Mariah Carey Turns a Facebook Mistake into an Opportunity

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Earlier this week, I blogged about how one musical star of the analog age, Mariah Carey, embraced digital by releasing a new song on Facebook November 11. The song, “The Art of Letting Go,” was shared with Carey’s 14 million Facebook fans, and Carey hosted a listening party in which she responded to fans’ questions online. Within one hour, the party generated more than Facebook 23,000 likes, 8,600 shares, and 13,000 comments. Just one problem: Carey released the wrong version of “The Art of Letting Go” on Facebook. But her response to the screw-up shows that she understands the value of transparency in the digital era.

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As Carey explained on her Facebook wall November 14, initially she did not realize a sound engineer on her team had uploaded an un-mastered, unfinished version of “The Art of Letting Go” because she was so focused on answering fans’ questions during the listening party. Learning about the mistake devastated her. As she wrote, “It is 3:30am (11.14), and I’m sitting on my bathroom floor, very Continue reading

Lady Gaga and Mariah Carey: Attack of the Digital Divas

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Welcome to new music release day 2013, when the deployment of social and mobile technology by the artist is as important as the sharing of the music itself. The era of expecting the unveiling of a record album or song to carry the day ended a long time ago. On November 11, two artists, one a veteran of the analog age and the other a scorching hot digital native, illustrated the realities of sharing new music in the fractured music industry: making an impression is all about continuously serving your superfans with engaging, personal content.

The Queen of Digital

Lady Gaga has managed the release of her album ARTPOP like a lengthy political campaign. As detailed in an excellent article by Jackie Huba for Forbes, Lady Gaga actually unveiled the name of her new album way back in August 2012 while she was promoting her previous album, Born This Way. And she’s been quite resourceful about Continue reading