16-year-old Ariel Martin, also known as @BabyAriel, was feeling down and out when her family’s South Florida apartment was flooded last year due to a powerful storm. She moved into her grandparent’s house, and to distract herself from the unexpected uprooting, she began to record and share lip syncing videos on Musical.ly, an app launched in 2014 that lets users create custom 15-second videos.
Martin’s first of what would become many high-energy posts, was fifteen seconds of her lip syncing to Nicki Minaj’s “Stupid Hoe” while synchronizing quick hand motions to a variety of facial expressions, — now what fans would say are her signature moves. Minaj, known for her lightning-quick raps, isn’t the easiest to mimic — but Martin seemed to have a knack for imitating her flow.
A year later, she has more than 20 million followers on the app, posts everyday, and is one of the top users on Musical.ly. And she’s branched out from just lipping Nicki Minaj; a typical @BabyAriel video could feature her dancing around with her dog, creating comedy skits, and giving fans a backstage glimpse into social-media influencer events like VidCon.
It’s also become her full time job. Martin is one of many “Musers” who are turning this app into their own personal viral cash cow. She’s collaborated with big-name brands such as Sour Patch Kids and Universal Studios.
So how much is she making?
Kara Alter, the head of branding for Shimmur, a mobile platform for fan engagement between social-media influencers and their super-fans, says these kinds of partnerships can be up to six-figure deals, often by branching out into other platforms like Instagram and YouTube, and selling it as a multi-social media campaign.
“Gen Z has fallen in love with these celebrities,” she says. “They will consume whatever content is featuring those personalities that they love so much,” she says.
Another way top Musers monetize their videos and feeds is through Live.ly, Musical.ly’s livestreaming app that provides ample opportunities for top Musers. Fans can purchase virtual gifts in the form of emojis, which range from 5 cents to $50. These emojis pop up during a live broadcast, where more expensive gifts appear to be larger on the screen. A Muser like Martin can then give shout outs to their followers, which can prompt fans to buy and send more digital gifts. A Muser’s profile can even feature contributor boards to show who their top supporters are.
Musers like @BabyAriel get half of the revenue, while Apple gets 30% and Musical.ly receives the remaining 20%.
The app’s Gen-Z audience is also more than willing to consistently pay to get noticed by their favorite Muser, in a pay-to-play type scenario. According to Shimmur’s international survey about Gen-Z audience’s social media habits, about 32% of them were willing to pay over $50 to get noticed by their favorite star on an app and about 34% of them try to get noticed by a social media celebrity every day. “Getting noticed” means engaging, whether it be the Muser shouting out a fan during a livestream or by responding to comments and likes.
For some top Musers, like 17-year-old Texan Lauren Godwin, they’ve had to put high school on hold — she recently switched to taking courses online.
Godwin uses Live.ly often and her mother, D’Ann Godwin says they make anywhere from about $600 for every 45 minutes and even up to as much as $3,000 if she’s on for a longer period of time.
“She makes about $40,000 a month just in Live.ly ad promotions and then some brand deals that come in through her management,” Godwin says of her Musical.ly famous daughter.
But like with any other social media platform, the pressure to satiate followers is the driving factor day in, day out.
“All I want to do is make them happy 24/7,” says Martin, aka @BabyAriel. “When I feel like I’m not giving them my all, that makes me sad.