The youngest person to ever hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 recently sat down with The Wall Street Journal's Lee Hawkins at Lincoln Center. The conversation above is about social media, and in the first ten minutes, Soulja Boy Tell 'Em tells aspiring millionaires exactly how he went from high school student to businessman.
He rose to stardom with his song "Crank That (Soulja Boy)," and its own dance (complete with instructional video) in 2007. Its YouTube video has been viewed more than 86 million times. In the Journal's video interview Soulja Boy (given name DeAndre Way) imparts a lot of concrete advice, including the best reason I've ever heard for making a dance for every song he releases: "It makes it funner."
"Around 2006 I discovered the internet," Soulja Boy says. And he gives the credit for that to his father, who bought him his first computer when he was about 14. He started out on SoundClick, which he calls "the Billboard charts for the underground artists — everyone in the streets that's unsigned." He began making money — he calls it revenue — when the service started offering downloads for $1.00 each, splitting the income 50/50 with the artists. Soulja Boy says he was averaging 19,000 downloads a day and eventually made over $100,000 from SoundClick.
He started a YouTube page, a MySpace page and then, he says, really started to build his name. He made money from YouTube's ad revenue-sharing setup. After he reached one million hits on MySpace, he put an email address on the page and started getting requests to perform all over the country, so he hit the road.
Soulja Boy really works on social media. He's got almost 2.5 million followers on Twitter, 1.4 million friends on MySpace and 1.6 million people like his Facebook page.
In the interview, Hawkins asks him if he's using any new technology or platforms to reach his followers, and Soulja Boy claims he's gone a bit analog. He says he has 4.9 million subscribers to his Say Now account — which is a lot like Twitter, except with phone messages. Soulja Boy says he can call the service, leave just one voicemail message, and instantly 4.9 million people can hear him. When you call his number — 678 999-8212 — he says, "What's up the whole entire world?" and pushes his new album.
And Soulja Boy's not stopping. "Now that I'm in the position I'm in now I like to take all my creative ideas and put 'em on the internet for my fans to interact with. Give 'em something to do." He says what he'd really like to do is create a platform that combines Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and Youtube. "[I would] combine them into one social media outlet and just, like, just go crazy with it."