Big Data – the Big Issues for A&R and Marketing of Music

For Midem 2015, the conference moved to June and heated itself up a bit. I moderated a panel that took the top level view of big data for music with some highly esteemed panellists :

Dominique Delport, Chairman & Global Managing Director, Havas Media Group (France/UK) @domdelport
Jennifer Hanser, Head of Strategy & Partnerships, Bitly (USA) @hanser_ja
Paul Hitchman, President, International, Kobalt Label Services (UK)
Rishi Malhotra, Co-Founder & CEO, Saavn (USA) @rishimalhotra
Steve Savoca, VP, Content & Distribution, Spotify (USA) @britenation

Together, the panel did a pretty good job of running through all the main issues surrounding the use of big data in A&R and in Marketing of music. Towards the end we touched on some interesting and more sensitive topics such as who owns the consumer data about an artist – the artist? the label? the social network? no-one was too comfortable answering that one.

If you have a spare hour you can view it in real time here:JS screenshot

Throw Out the Big Pot: A Re-Examination of Streaming Pay (Analysis) Billboard – NewsDigital and Mobile By Gideon Gottfried | May 11, 2015 10:53 AM EDT

Published here in Billboard today:

Hands Holding out Money

Remember Portishead instrumentalist Geoff Barrow‘s Twitter rant last month? “34,000,000 streams. Income after tax = £1,700.” We already analyzed why it is hard to draw any meaningful conclusions out of this crude depiction. What is more: Barrow shouldn’t have been that surprised in the first place. It is the nature of the current payout structure of streaming subscription services that the more streams that are generated, the less each individual stream is worth.

It is hard to lift the veil entirely because the subscription space is a hazy jungle, with individual deals hidden behind non-disclosure agreements. But this much has become clear by now: all the money subscription services earn from advertising and monthly subscriptions ends up in one big pot. From there, it is distributed according to the number of streams generated by users. This means each individual stream becomes worth less the more streams that are generated.

The Baffling (and Slightly Insane) World Of Streaming Payments, Explained

That is why it is so important for these services to convert their free users into paying subscribers. It’s just about the only way the amount in the pot will grow while the amount of streams stays the same, making every single stream worth more. Granted, it’s not the only scenario where that could happen. According to some supporters, the more mainstream a model streaming becomes, the more users will stream less intensively. It is the early adopters who are so engaged that chop up the revenue pot into small pieces. It remains to be seen if streaming will become a mainstream model. It may be realistic to assume that most music listeners won’t pay for a streaming subscription in the first place, simply because they are content with internet radio.

Whether the subscription model turns out to be everybody’s favorite way of consuming music or not, there are advocates of a new payout model out there. One of them is the investor, entrepreneur and digital media consultant Jeremy Silver. He says: “I do believe that there is the makings of a solution to this. The problem is not about streaming, it’s about subscriptions and how you divide up the revenues. If a subscription service simply aggregates all the activity on its entire platform and then pays out pro rata against it, the winners will always be the larger players. But if they were to reorganize their payment mechanisms so that it reflected what individual subscribers are actually listening to, then indie bands in particular would start to make some real money.”

What that means is every user’s subscription fee could be divided up individually according to what that user actually listens to in any given month. If you only listen to, say, the new Rae Sremmurd album, all of your ten bucks would go to the band, their label and publisher. Silver starts his day to the exact same three songs every morning but the artists he listens to do not benefit from that because they get drowned out in the current payout model.

There are entire genres like jazz or classical music that are losing out in the current system because they aren’t streamed intensively. They too would benefit from a more individualistic approach. More so because these genres probably attract audiophiles who might be willing to pay double the amount per month for lossless streaming. Thus the effect of dividing up each user’s subscription fee by his individual streams would be doubled too. Of course that model still entails that the more streams that are made, the less each stream is worth. But it would still be a more accurate reflection because the pot is only divided amongst “your” artists.

The implementation of such a payout structure could be costly. “It may be expensive for existing players to re-engineer their systems”, says Silver. “It does raise the question of how committed the existing players really are to rewarding artists. It would also be interesting to see if Tidal — who aren’t as far down the road of their infrastructure and are genuinely artist oriented, but owned by big names — would demonstrate their commitment by trying it.”

Silver points out that “there’s data that shows users are more willing to pay if they know that the money is reaching the artists directly.” An individualistic payout structure might actually speed up the process of converting free users to paying subscribers. In an age where engaging with fans has become more important than ever, streaming services are in a great position. They collect enough data about their users to enable artists to reach out to their followers in unique ways. That, together with a new way of distributing the money, could very well be the next quantum leap in streaming.

Says Silver: “Streaming is still very young. It has only acquired a two-digit market share for about five years now. I’m optimistic that we’ll figure it out.”

Mark Mulligan’s New Book – Awakening: The Music Industry In the Digital Age

Mark Mulligan has been an excellent analyst of the music industry. His blog here is announcing the arrival of the book he’s been working on for a couple of years now.

Music Industry Blog

I am very excited to announce the launch of my book ‘Awakening’ which charts the rise of digital music and how it is changing the music industry. ‘Awakening’ is the definitive account of the music industry in the digital era. With exclusive interviews with the people who shaped today’s industry it tells the inside story of how the music business grappled with the emergence of an entirely new digital economy

coverThe music industry is on the brink of an utterly transformative period of change that will result in the creation of an entirely new industry tailor made for the digital era. ‘Awakening’ presents the vision of how and why this change will come, what this future will look like and how the first steps on the journey are already being taken. The book includes interviews with 60 of the music industry’s leading figures, including globally successful artists and more than 20…

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Some thoughts on the current streaming market

I gave an interview to the Norwegian Afternoon Post last week. For those Norwegian speakers amongst you, you can find the original here.

In case your Norwegian is a bit rusty, here’s a rough translation:

The hard struggle between streaming players in the music industry will crack some of them during the year, says digital expert Jeremy Silver.

Updated: 04.mar. 2015 8:28 p.m.

The reason is Apple’s anticipated entry into this growing market.

When the conference part of the Nordic music industry festival Bylarm opens today, about half of the program is about streaming of the music. Not without reason, for streaming is emerging as the industry’s major source of income and amounts to as much as 75 percent of revenues in Norway now.

– There are at least 15 providers now battling for the streaming market, globally and especially in the US. In addition one has at least five players who only bet on the Asian market, in India and China. With Apple and their Beats Music on the way in, it goes without saying that this will be a fight to the death, said Jeremy Silver.

He recently released book Digital Medieval – The first twenty years of music on the web … and the next twenty, and knows all aspects of today streaming market.

– All major players going in there now, with products that are almost exactly alike, and the idea that everyone will win is unthinkable. We’re going to see a bloodbath among the many players in the course of the year, said Jeremy Silver.

Friday afternoon the English industry and digital expert comes to By: Larm in Oslo to talk about music, consumers and the many challenges of the internet.

Silver’s belief that these will be difficult times is supported by editorial director Sveinung Rindal from Norwegian services Wimp / Tidal. Tuesday saw the international version of Norwegian Wimp, which is also called Tidal, launched in Norway.

Tidal is one of the many players now vying for streaming customers globally and in the US market.

– What he describes is how the same story has continued, an ongoing bloodbath since 2010. To establish themselves in this market costs a lot, and there is so far no streaming services in profit after a year of operation. Given that Apple with its Beats manages to position itself as a real competitor to Spotify, so it can become a real bloodbath, yes, says Sveinung Rindal.

Tidal was first launched in the US and UK in October last year and aims for better sound quality (so-called lossless, like CD audio) and more editorial content than for example the Swedish big brother Spotify.

Expert Jeremy Silver agrees, Tidal is onto something right with its focus on sound quality and editorial beyond the music itself.

– The idea is ingenious, good for public relations. Now it is both Tidal and Neil Young’s “Pono” who are placing their bets there, and for me it is interesting. In a mass market the sound quality will never be important to many people, but there are some users who want it, and therefore there may be room for a player like Tidal, said Jeremy Silver.

He believes that the music industry is only just starting to exploit opportunities that exist on the Internet, hence the book title “Digital Medieval.”

– To get ahead, to the digital renaissance,  the music industry must exploit the whole culture all around. Music is about much more than a streamable or downloadable file, it’s about lyrics to songs, albums, concerts, licensing, pictures, videos, liner notes and more. Spotify and other streaming services just do not give me enough of the music context that I want. This is what we need more of, said Jeremy Silver.

He will not speculate on what Apple plans for its service Beats Music, which they bought from various folk including hiphop artist and producer Dr. Dre a year ago.

Big Data and the Music Industry

Music Week, the trade paper for the music industry published an opinion piece from me on the relationship between big data and the industry.

The piece was originally written at the request of  Jonathan Robinson at  Music Tank. I will be speaking on the topic of Big Data at their forthcoming think tank debate – Moneyballing Music:  Big Data, Consumers & A&R,  on Tues March 10th, Central London.

 Further details and booking here –

JS on Big Data in Music WeekHere’s the text of the article:

The music industry has always had an interest in data. Ever since the top 40 became the most popular source of music played on radio, the Charts have held a place of almost religious centrality for the industry. Getting a number one record secured the artist’s reputation and the manager’s ongoing representation, ensured record company and retail commitment, and guaranteed media exposure regardless of the actual number of units sold. For a long period, it might be argued that managers and record companies spent almost as much money trying to make sure that their songs entered high in the charts as they spent on industry-bodies tasked with maintaining the accuracy of the charts.

What is meant by big data in music? Big data often refers to the very large and highly complex data-sets thrown off by global online consumer activity, particularly arising from social media activity such as on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or from page-views of sites such as Wikipedia. Music big data can also include more traditional measures of information about plays of music audio and video, paid-for streams or downloads of music, or even illegal music sharing activity.

Combining data sets that cover all these areas of music consumer behavior provides a more comprehensive picture than a simple sales chart. It’s possible to build big data platforms and analysis systems these days because we finally have the high levels of computing power to do so. Because of the daily volumes, gigabytes of data, thrown off by all this activity, highly sophisticated and leading edge systems are required to process such vast quantities of data. It’s only in the last five or six years that it’s become cost-effective to build systems of this power and sophistication.

It is however one thing to build platforms and systems that are capable of asking interesting questions of data of this kind. It’s quite another thing to know what kinds of questions to ask – and then to do something useful with the answers. There are only a small number of companies engaged in this kind of activity with a dedicated focus on music. There are a larger number of more general consumer brand focused businesses. The big difference is that the dedicated music companies frequently gather data proactively about all the activity that is going on out there, rather than just what their clients’ commission them to analyse. Comprehensive, proactive analysis provides a much more useful environment for research, but is much more expensive to produce.

It is also important to add that much of the research activity that goes on around these kinds of large data sets in music is based on aggregated, anonymised data. In other words, the analysis is looking at overall trends rather than individual consumer / music fan activity. Large retailers such as Tesco in the UK and Target in the US have become leaders in the researching and personalized marketing derived from analysing individual consumer activities. While, such individual targeting is every marketeer’s holy grail, issues of trust, privacy and downright creepiness add a lot of sensitivity to these kinds of research.

For the most part, big data is being used to help understand what has happened in the recent past – by gender, demographic, geography and online platform or network. It also has the potential to be used to predict the future likelihood of success but this remains a controversial and less reliable field. Analysis can identify both trajectory of individual artists or tracks, but then also see overall trends in genres or different cities or countries or among different sectors of the audience.

These are very early days for big data in music. We are walking the mere foothills of what is possible. Whether it’s in talent spotting, A&R, sales marketing, catalogue revival or brand matching, big data has a big contribution to make. In the future the combination of computer analytics and social science will undoubtedly reveal even more powerful ways of targeting music to receptive fans. I suspect that a lot more big data will flow through the digital gateways before the industry fills the skills gap, which currently prevents it from realizing the real benefits data science can bring to the industry.

Watch up, Doc?

How new digital watches will change our body language for ever — or not…

Looking at your watch during a meeting is about to change meaning as the marketing machines go into overdrive to promote the new Apple watch.

How this will change the nature of human behavior and what will become more or less socially acceptable at bars and in meetings?

When standing in a cocktail party or at a bar, checking your watch without spilling your drink is still an art some people have failed to muster, especially after they have had a few. Wearing your watch on the same side as you hold your drink is destined for problems.

My prediction for 2015 is that we are about to see a lot more spilled drinks in bars as people check unexpected text messages or emails. Hands may be freed from obsessively gripping onto mobile phones, but wrists will have to be consulted that requires a whole different range of body movements.

It is in business or professional meetings that the new behaviours will really come into their own.

The downward wrist glance maybe practiced with sufficient discretion as to involve eye movement only and no other indicator of bodily distraction. The wrist glance of course requires a revealed watch at all times.

If the watch is not revealed, then the wearer is required to make a much larger body gesture, the watch reveal — which involves pulling back a sweater or suit sleeve, possibly pushing a stiff or buttoned shirt cuff back to expose the watch to view. So the wrist glance may be discreet but the watch reveal is certainly an ostentatious move which will attract attention,

If I look at my watch during a meeting, most people interpret that as meaning I am looking to see what the time is and therefore, I am anticipating the end of the meeting. I may be expressing boredom by looking at my watch. I am certainly communicating that I am no longer responding to whoever is speaking and that my attention has strayed elsewhere. On the whole, traditionally, in western cultures, looking at your watch during meetings is regarded as a sign of rudeness. Not unlike looking for hairs on the palm of your hand, which as we all know is the first sign of madness — or at least uncontrolled OCD.

The degree of rudeness may be mitigated by the size of the meeting. If there are more than about four or five people in a meeting, such behavior is possible without contaminating the thrust of the whole. The collective attention of the meeting is likely to be more resilient to an occasional individual aberration. This indicator of disrespect may be acceptable if the person concerned is not, at that point, playing an active part in the meeting. It is certainly less obnoxious than getting busy with Candy Crush.

If a speaker acts with a kind of a detached insouciance, alternating their contribution to a meeting by frequent glances at their watch, whenever anyone else is speaking, this is generally regarded as truly obnoxious. This is a more extreme offensive than the merely obnoxious. It is an indicator that the speaker is only interested to hear what they have to say and is not listening to anyone else because he or she has no respect for them. Truly obnoxious.

If they are the chair person or facilitator of the meeting, then it is unlikely that such behavior will be acceptable at any point, unless it is directly related to the smooth-running of the meeting. But there are one or two exceptions. The skilled chair person may possibly use the body language of looking at his or her watch to indicate that the speaker has gone on for far too long and is boring the pants off everyone, or to indicate that the meeting itself is nearing a close or has over-extended into abject tedium.

If we substitute the behavior of looking at our mobile phones for looking at our watches, in contemporary meeting practice, the position has become very different. Here entire generations behave quite differently from one another. Old stuffed shirts tend to regard the consultation of a mobile phone as almost equivalent to a watch glance. Millennials, on the other hand, take a very different view. The consultation of the phone during a meeting is regarded as more acceptable because we are obviously using it to take notes, to check a message or email, to search for a relevant photo or video — or simply because when you look around the meeting, everyone else is checking theirs so you had better check yours. Indeed so massively multifunctional is a mobile phone that the regular and commonplace consultation of a phone during a meeting is rarely regarded as being unacceptable, although, of course, excessive use may be seen by the more conservative as still being plain rude.

So the question is — what happens when lots of people start wearing the kind of multi-functional watch that is already commonplace among the digirati, but which is about to get a whole lot more conspicuous as a result of Apple’s launch of their Watch and all the corresponding competitive reaction?

Arguably, people might now dare to think that, suitably armed (sorry) with their new watches, coming into meetings without a phone is now a feasible behaviour. The consequence of this will be frequent, in-meeting, watch reveals and wrist glancing. How acceptable that turns out to be or how obnoxious we consider such behaviours, may well dictate the market success of the new generation of watches.

The meaning of our body language may be about to change forever. One thing is for sure, it’s a lot less easy to share something on your watch than it is on your phone. Spending an extended time looking at watches may just turn out to be less convenient than looking at our phones — and even more anti-social.

(c) Jeremy Silver, 2015

Reading from Digital Medieval

The very fine folk at Music Tech Fest invited me to come down and kick off their event in London with a reading from my book. Here’s the video (apologies for it being slightly out of sync – all part of the art event ethic):

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