Blowin’ Up: Black Music, Ringtones and a New Paradigm

Red Herring is on to something. So are these folks in the South. The hip hop that you think you see is already morphing into a new vehicle for revenue generation.

clipped from

Enter most any dance club and odds are you’ll soon hear “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” by R&B sensation T-Pain before the night is through.But the hit single gets most of its spins as a 30-second clip.”Buy U a Drank” is the best-selling mastertone of 2007, according to Nielsen RingScan, moving more than 2.3 million units year to date. That figure nearly doubles the very respectable 1.6 million digital downloads the same track has sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and completely dwarfs the 686,000 CDs that the album it supports — “Epiphany” — has moved since its debut June 23.
The Southern soulster does give credit to ringtones — in addition to a close relationship with hip-hop/R&B hitmaker Akon — as a significant factor behind his success. In a May Billboard interview, T-Pain said it was his ringtone sales that forced his label to support his first album.


I had people at Jive tell me they didn’t believe in my product and let me know that they didn’t too much care,” he said at the time. “But selling 6.7 million ringtones (for “Stripper” and another single, “I’m Sprung,” combined) changed their minds.

Since then, T-Pain has charted 12 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, five of which were in the top 10, and sophomore effort “Epiphany” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Yet T-Pain was still surprised when lightning struck twice, with “Drank” moving similar ringtone sales.

“I didn’t know any song could generate ringtone sales like that,” he said. “I didn’t think the ringtone game could be so essential to the industry.”

The music industry is changing again. The iPod has had a tremendous impact on the power of labels to determine distribution. Ringtones – those annoying noises that invade meetings and subway rides are also impacting this industry in ways not foreseen by the experts – but a few years ago, Sean Combs was invited to address a national tech audience because they recognized that while Black youth were not using computers to the same degree as other US youth, they were using cell phones and other technology is ways that generated revenue (I’ll have to dig up that link.) Well, the number are in. 6.7 million ringtones for two tracks…



  1. Oooh weee, I can just hear the old schoolers now. Those who fall on the other side of the generation gap are probably really upset about this. They lament the so-called lack of quality and now you can get paid off of 30 seconds.
    It’s almost like an item on a value menu, or fast-food items marketed as ‘snackers’ and the like. Ahhh, yes, I see the business model well. LOL

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