Features March 28, 2019

MUSEXPO 2019: Diving into data, playlists & the importance of managers [day 2]

MUSEXPO 2019: Diving into data, playlists & the importance of managers [day 2]
Tim Ingham - editor of MBW, Seymour Stein - co-founder of Sire Records, & Sat Bisla - founder of MUSEXPO

Music is a wonderful world

On its second day, executives lined-up at in Burbank, California continued to auscultate to inner workings of the music business, with a focus on the value of having a good team around artists, the role of data, and the growing importance of emerging markets such as India and China. Oh, it was also about songs…

It’s all about the team

As talented as they can be, artists usually need a team around them to achieve success. “A manager is so important, in many many cases more important than the label or anything else,” said music legend Seymour Stein, who signed such acts as the Talking Heads, the Ramones, Madonna and a few others. “People don’t realise how important a manager is. A record label is more likely to drop you than a manager.”

“It is more important than ever to help artists to develop because it is the biggest field out there at the moment,” said Simon Katz, VP, A&R/Staff Producer at Republic Records.

A team is also how artists can get through the complexity of the eco-system. “The challenge for us is that on daily basis, with the artist self-release model, 20 to 30,000 new songs are put online every day and what do you do from there? Labels and distributors can take it from there,” said Chris Taylor, Global President Music at Entertainment One. “The one thing that distributors and labels can do to add value is helping artists to drive their careers and in terms of efficiencies, it is important.”

The team’s importance was also highlighted by Amy Dietz, Executive Vice President & General Manager for distributor Ingrooves Music Group. “You cannot just push a button and get on all the platforms in one go,” she said. “You have to upload to each individual platform. There are efficiencies in using a distribution platform to help getting above the noise and have tools to market your music. There is a level of expertise that comes with a team doing it on a daily basis.”

Data counts, but use with care

In relation to the previous point, many voices raised the issue of what to do with the wealth of data that is captured by the digital use of music and social media action. “How many people know how to read data?,” asked Entertainment One’s Taylor.

Ingrooves Dietz explained that you have to skim through data to extract useful information. “The key is bringing back info that is meaningful and that you can act upon,” she said. “It’s not enough to say you have 100,000 streams. We try to use all the data points to find the way to engage with the super-consumers, and to do that you have to dig deep. We have a group of PhD scientists. We have experts that have been doing this for years and have the ability to look at all the data and find ways to connect dots. The data cannot be understated, but you have to know what to do with it.”

For a company like Songtradr, which is trying to create an online market for syncs, data “is the key value point,” according to CEO Paul Wiltshire. “The goal is to get as much data as we can to achieve syncs for brands.”

And if you think that data is good enough to determine which artists to sign, a warning came from Republic’s Katz. “I look at data but treat it with care,” he explained. “Sometimes artists can have good metrics but it can sometimes mean that they are good at marketing themselves. So we look at it as a whole.”

Think billions of listeners

That’s what you get in China and India, with a combined population of 2.7 billion people. Well, not all will have the means to access music but as Mandar Thakur, COO of Mumbai-based publishing house and label Times Music India, explained, “India is like a large buffet.” He elaborated: “Out of 1.3 billion people, 850 million are on mobile phones, so the runway for growth for any of the 14 to 16 [music streaming] players is huge. I don’t think they will take market share from each other. And local players had a significant head-start.”

“It is ground zero in China,” Mathew Daniel, VP, International for one of China’s largest streaming platform NetEase Cloud Music. “There is no market for downloads in China. We are moving to an entirely streaming world.”

He added, “In China, music is in a unique position in terms of music distribution, because all the music came at once, when the market opened up. So the challenge for outsiders to get into China is about context. Not only do you have to get the music out but you have to make it relevant. That means that new artist can go to China and be bigger than Led Zep or the Rolling Stones, and that’s the beauty of it.”

Playlists matter but they are not an end to all means

Playlist are the new hot thing in the business as being placed on one of the top playlists can help break artists, but “being on playlists is not always sufficient as a strategy,” according to Ingrooves’ Dietz.

Has playlist created new gatekeepers? Some speakers mentioned the importance of being added to the biggest playlists on Spotify, but there were words of caution too. “Welcome to the new boss, same as the old boss!” said NetEase’s Daniel.

He continued, “There are four people controlling the playlists. On our platform, we have 800 million playlists that have been user-generated, so in China, we have a very democratic platform for user-generated playlists.” That last comment was met with laughter from the audience…

And in the end… it’s all about songs

One of the common thread throughout the whole conference was the constant reference to the importance of good songs to rise above the white noise. “The song comes first,” said Seymour Stein. “I don’t think I ever signed an artist that wasn’t a songwriter.”

Michael Chase, A&R/Business Development at MGM Distribution, claimed that “we are in the most exciting time in music business history,” with all the opportunities offered to artists to expose their music, but added a caveat: “I feel it is back to songs and A&R. The gatekeepers are gone. The business has always been about great songs and I see the music that cuts through is exceptional music. You have to put out great songs.”

And the last word will be for Seymour Stein. When asked what advice he could give aspiring artists, he answered: “If you make it overnight it’s wonderful but that’s a rarity. So you are in for a lot of hard work. but never give up on yourself, and that’s very important.”

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