Instagram debuts @Music, its first content vertical

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Instagram has unveiled @music, the Facebook-owned company's first-ever content vertical and dedicated portal for highlighting artists and their activities.

"For the past four years, we have become the home for artists big and small -- a place where people across the musical spectrum come to share stories, reveal their creativity and connect directly with fans," Instagram founder and CEO Kevin Systrom wrote in a post on the company's blog Wednesday morning (April 29).

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Music has long been an important driver of the 300 million users currently active on Instagram -- more than 25 percent of the app's top accounts are musicians, with Beyonce (30.9 million) the platform's No. 1 most-followed account, followed closely by the likes of Ariana Grande (30.1 million), Taylor Swift (28.3 million), Justin Bieber (26 million), Miley Cyrus (18.3 million) and Rihanna and Katy Perry (who each have 17.7 million apiece).

But it's also a place where emerging artists have carved out a growing niche for themselves. In the coming weeks, @music will host 11 series' and six posts a week from Tuesday to Sunday spanning the globe of music, with U.S.-based Questlove among the first to be featured. Additionally, Systrom added, "[@music] means highlighting music photographers, album illustrators, instrument makers and, of course, fans. In the Instagram tradition, we will also welcome community participation with a new, music-themed Monthly Hashtag Project."

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The content will be overseen by Jonathan Hull, head of strategic partnerships/music for Facebook and Instagram, and Alex Suskind, Instagram's music editor. Since 70 percent of Instragram's activity comes from international users, @music will be equally focused on shining a light on foreign talent, including J-pop singer Tricot, U.K. alt-R&B trio @UntilTheRibbonBreaks and Korean punk outfit @NoBrain. "One of our goals with this is to say, 'How can we help facilitate artist discovery?'" says Hull. "We know these artists are creating companions to their show, as an extension of their creativity, so how do we make sure more people are seeing that?"

That will also include expanding Instagram's long-form blog content, which in recent months has included an in-depth look at @Madonna's colorful feed and Stockholm-based music obsessive @wikingens. "We consider ourselves treasure hunters, and we'll search the platform for hidden gems and tell the stories behind those gems," Suskind says.

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Instagram's 300 million users makes the company on par in size with Twitter, which on Tuesday (April 28) announced in its first-quarter earnings that it had grown monthly active users 18 percent year-over-year to 302 million. But Twitter has also had a more ambitious, and bumpy, bid to increase its own music activity -- last April, the company pulled its dedicated #Music app from the App store one year to the day after it was launched in 2013. And in February, Twitter's L.A.-based head of music Bob Moczydlowsky announced he was leaving the company as part of an ongoing restructuring to Twitter's content teams.

Whether @music will help Instagram start to monetize its tremendous activity among artists remains unclear -- though the platform introduced advertising in 2014, the company's relative lack of metadata to bundle accounts by category makes it difficult for brands to buy channel-specific ads the way they can on YouTube or Twitter. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also been vague on sharing monetization details regarding Instagram in recent earnings calls, though Citibank analyst Mark May estimated in December that the company could be worth as much as $35 billion -- nearly double its previous $19 billion valuation.

"Unlike Facebook, there's not a field of structured data for people to identify as musicians," Hull explains. "We just rolled out verification at beginning of the year, so we're still getting to know the verified folks and developing a much more robust list of verified music accounts. We don't have the number yet, but we can see how important music is when we just look at the top accounts -- we know who they are, even if their name is @champagnepapi."

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