Matt Sanford

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MC Hammer showed me the future of Twitter

If you've seen me talk at a conference or meet-up about Twitter you've likely heard about MC Hammer (@mchammer on Twitter). Well, since I don't do that many speaking engagements I wanted to take a moment and record my story about about what MC Hammer taught me about Twitter … and I already worked there.

The Twitter HQ Visit

In May of 2009 I had been working for Twitter for long enough that the then- common celebrity visits to HQ didn't seem out of the ordinary. Having said that, I worked remotely so these visits always seemed like an exotic treat when they coincided with my trips to SF. It was only the second time only of these visits was scheduled during one of my SF trips and it was going to be MC Hammer. To be honest I wasn't an MC Hammer fan even when he was huge and I thought it seemed like it was going to be a bit dull. I could not have been more wrong.

MC Hammer started by talking about his own use of Twitter. He was one of our earliest high-profile users and we all knew he was an avid user. He is an amazing speaker and kept a group who were probably not fans glued to the talk. Hearing people tell the stories about how they use Twitter is always interesting. Most people stop at how they use it but Hammer talked about how he saw it changing the very business he was in. To explain that, let me follow the line of thought he had at the time.

Hammer's Tale (my recollection, anyhow)

If you're making a music video you can spend quite a bit of money, and that is money spent by you and/or your label (if your label spends it you can bet they are going to want that back before you get paid). Now, you've spent this money and made a video which you then give to MTV. What does MTV do? They run your video surrounded by ads, for which they get paid. On cable networks who pay to carry the channel. The only way that money makes it back to the person who paid for and created the video is through exposure. Well, money that comes in that way passes through a great many hands.

  • Albums? Promotion, packaging and distribution take a chunk of that. Check out how that all works.
  • Tours? It turns out carting all of that stuff around is expensive. Venues are expensive. And TicketMaster™, just like MTV, are making money on both sides.

Hammer has often rocked the boat in which the music industry sits, like providing advice to the Napster founder, and his feelings about TicketMaster™ were clearly of the same bent. Hammer, mobile phone in hand said (and I paraphrase),

"There will come a time when I can go to a stadium owner and say I want to put on a concert – ok, maybe not me, I'm not going to be playing stadiums, but Bruce Springsteen. Anyway: Bruce will say he can sell all of the tickets in the whole place with one Tweet [hold up his phone]. We don't need any TicketMaster™. No booking agent. Just you, me and my followers buying tickets. Now, what kind of a deal will you give me on the concessions?"

During the Q&A someone pointed out that the Bruce Springsteen story expected every artist to also be business savvy, which is unrealistic. Hammer's response, which will stick with me, was that there will always be agents and managers, "There is always someone willing to do work like that for 20% of your take". In May of 2009 I thought this sounded really far fetched. I believed in our product but I never thought there would be a time where we could do anything like this.

Enter the Future

Time passed, I worked hard, and then Conan O'Brien came along. Conan sent a tweet with a link to buy tickets to his upcoming live comedy tour. Within hours the tickets were sold out. This didn't buy-pass traditional ticket agents, but there is no reason it couldn't have. This was only half way to the future Hammer talked about but it was the half I was (and still am) working on so it speaks to me. I am certainly convinced that Hammer was on to something. So this has left me feeling that Twitter will do more in the future than I can foresee today. But my main lesson is this:

TicketMaster™, watch your back … Justin Bieber doesn't need you.

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