Indie artists and the pursuit of investment: why it pays to mind your bigger data picture [op ed]
The recording industry has a long history of locking artists into unfair deals, leaving most with little to show in terms of sustainable livelihood and creative control.
Until Prince finally owned his catalogue outright, he publicly compared his experience to slavery and adopted an unpronounceable symbol in place of his name in protest. It was his way of taking a stand, much like the stance Kanye West has been taking via social media for similar reasons.
Their frustrations reflect a bigger-picture reality: according to Citigroup, only about 12% of music industry revenue went home with artists in 2017.
As a result, musicians are exploring viable alternatives to the major label contract, often seeking more direct funding for their work. With more experienced investors looking at music as a potential asset and using data to make decisions, there are a few key points artists should keep in mind as they build a career worth buying into.
Viral hits make headlines, but artists shouldn’t fake it.
Quantity of views, streams and followers may be important, but don’t let that tempt you into bad decisions. Investors do their due diligence when they see an inexplicable rise in followers or fans. Historic data, such as follower and reach growth, can be used to combat false claims to fame.
Tracking spikes back to specific events (such as going viral on TikTok, releasing a new single, celebrity tweeting about it, etc.) helps weed out paid clicks and followers. If single platform spikes don’t tie to some event and it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Slow and steady follower growth builds a career.
Long-term plateauing or inexplicable spikes of growth are red flags, so you should focus on sustaining and growing a fanbase through quality interactions and releases. When AmplifyX vets artists applying to raise capital on their platform, they look for indicators of sustainability: high fan engagement rates, positive month-over-month growth, and a critical volume of streaming and social media proof points.
To get a sense of how you’ve been doing, review the past 6-12 months of your streaming and social media analytics. Is your growth steadily rising? Are your events effective? If you can answer yes to both questions, you are giving investors a better sense of long-term stability.
What if my data doesn’t tell a strong story yet?
Your data may not instantly suggest your future trajectory. Fortunately, you can do something about this, as there have never been more tools to help musicians strategize their careers.
If you want to strengthen your social media footprint, take a closer look at your audience demographic data. For example, Indie pop artist beabadoobee and country singer Gabby Barrett are both 20 years old, and they both share a core audience demographic of American women between the ages of 18-24 across Instagram and YouTube.
Digging deeper, though, the top interests among Gabby’s followers include Friends, Family & Relationships, Toys, Children & Baby, and Weddings, whereas the top interests among beabadoobee’s followers include Music, Film & TV, and Art & Design. With this information, Gabby and beabadoobee could plan social media content that their audience strongly identifies with.
If you want to make it onto a popular playlist, review charts to observe the paths of hit tracks.
What smaller playlists did they get on first that led to their inclusion on the big stage? For example, alternative R&B singer Rai-Elle might look at the playlist journeys of songs by alternative R&B artists who have higher cross-platform performance (CPP) ratings, such as Jamila Woods, Sudan Archives, and Noname. By going to these artists’ Chartmetric pages, Rai-Elle could take note of which playlists added Jamila Woods’, Sudan Archives’, and Noname’s early releases and show positive follower growth: signs of strong tastemaking potential.
By thinking about data now, artists can start planning how to best understand and then present their career in data to interested supporters. Once only available to music pros and analysts, this data is open to you and you can use it to grow your career while keeping your independence.
This article is a guest post by About Sung Cho and Adam Cowherd.
Cho is the CEO and founder of Chartmetric, a music data platform which ingests vast quantities of data from digital services, social media, and traditional media. Cowherd is the CEO and founder of AmplifyX, a music investment platform that enables people to directly invest in artists.