Walking the streets of Brooklyn I passed a group of kids playing a song through a portable speaker. It was catchy, and the beat was heavy. I caught some of the lyrics and googled "panda song". That's when I realized that I had come across a hit.
"Panda", by 19 year old Brooklyn native Desiigner was released as an iTunes single on December 15, 2015. As of this writing, the music video on YouTube has 80 million views (published May 17, 2016) and the audio only version has 242 million views (published December 20, 2015).
Let's put these numbers in perspective. Taylor Swift's Bad blood has 919 million views (published May 17, 2015) and Drake's Hotline Bling has 843 million views (published October 26, 2015). Taylor is getting about 65 million views a month and Drake 93 million. These are megastar numbers for two megastar artists. Desiigner getting about 40 million views a month on his video. This almost puts him into the same league of attention (for a single) as two of the biggest stars in the music business.
With such rapid ascension I became curious on the backstory to Panda. How did the song come about?
The story is a modern day example that shows how anyone with talent, drive, persistence, a bit of luck, and a computer with an internet connection can make it in the music business.
Panda's story begins with a 22-year old aspiring record producer from Manchester England. Adnan Khan, aka Menace, was working at a mobile repair center by day and producing beats by night.
Browsing his Instagram history I was impressed by his talent as a producer, exhibited by the professional quality of his beats. But I was even more impressed by his persistence. He consistently put out new beats (just browse his Instagram posts). And he built a business selling them.
As fate may have it, shortly after Menace published one of his new beats, a 19 year old from Brooklyn New York purchased it for $200. That kid was Sidney Royel Selby III. Desiigner. And Desiigner turned that beat into Panda.
In a period of a year, two kids from humble beginnings jumped to the top of the music charts. Panda hit Platinum and number 1 on US Billboard. And to top it off, the beat was sampled by Kanye West on his album, "The Life of Pablo".
Desiigner has since signed a record deal with G.O.O.D music and a publishing deal with SONGS Music Publishing.
Menace inked a publishing deal with Stellar Songs and you can see that his Instagram feed now includes an upgraded studio setup and a new ride.
You can say these guys got lucky but it's not that simple. Menace set himself up for success by showing up for 3+ years. He consistently put out new beats and promoted his tracks. He worked on his craft and persisted. Desiigner on an interview with Genius talks about his past musical endeavors and being the guy in the neighborhood that people came to for music. He put out original tracks and collaborated with other artists. Both guys built a portfolio of work and Panda became the break out track.
The music industry has changed. Like starting a tech startup anyone with drive, talent, and resilience can achieve great levels of success. The secret is to create something people want. A hit song is elusive. There is no secret formula. But Panda has proven that you don't need to be famous. You don't need a label. And you don't need expensive studio equipment to make something big.
Today's music business is driven by streaming culture. And streaming culture doesn't care about albums. It cares about tracks. Bite size and shareable tracks. As a listener, why listen to a 10 track album when I want to stream a playlist of singles? As an artist, why record 10 tracks if my listeners only want to listen to a few?
The new music business is about collaboration. A kid from Manchester can unite with a kid from Brooklyn to create a Platinum track. If there is a startup opportunity, it's here. What will be the platform to foster more collaborations like the one between Desiigner and Menace? Was their collaboration a byproduct of chance? Or are there elements that can be pulled out, automated, and put into a product that strategically unites people to collaborate and create.
A low barrier to entry has resulted in a proliferation of new music. Anyone can setup a home studio and record a track. But it takes a certain combination (timing, production, hitting a cultural zeitgeist) to make something special like Panda. The success of Panda has provided Desiigner and Menace with something even more coveted than financial success, attention. In today's world attention is the gold standard, it's invaluable.
These guys have an audience now, and we eagerly await to hear what they put out next.