Nashville.

I’ll never forget taking a trip to Nashville with my brother two years ago when I was deciding which graduate school to attend. The cab dropped us off on Broadway. It was 100 degrees. It was miserable. I was a fish out of water. I did not like country music. Not even a sampling of Jack’s BBQ could convince me to move here. 

I am not sure why I decided to move here anyway after spending all summer convincing myself that I would be unhappy here. I think I just needed a change. It turned out to be the right move because just as I was regretting everything about Nashville, I took a class called “Business Models in the Music Industry” that changed my life. Tim DuBois taught me about the seismic shifts that were taking place in the music industry. I learned that music is not just artists and agents. I learned how deeply music is tied into this city’s roots. I learned that the music business is full of opportunity. I realized that Nashville is far less country than people think, but most importantly I gave country a chance, and you know what?…. I like it. 

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Discovery Tool or Revenue Magnet?

After spending the past 7 months interacting with artists in every genre from EDM to Country, the most quoted phrase regarding Spotify has been “Spotify is a great discovery tool.” A great discovery tool…. This mindset has never quite made sense to me. This is like the Mexican restaurant that serves chips and salsa prior to the meal. Do you think the restaurant owner would ever be satisfied serving up a heaping plate of chips and salsa for free while the customer walks out the door satisfied from a complimentary product?

Artist managers and independent artists need to learn that Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and the like are not discovery tools. They are the bowl of chips and salsa that lure people into a combination plate of tickets, merchandise, and exclusive content. The ability to stream for free is the hook. It is the appetizer. It holds the consumer over. It seals the deal.

It is unfortunate that Spotify has been around in the United States for over a year, yet artists have not found a way to convert attention into dollars. We live in an era of ever shortening attention spans. Fans must be captured in the “honeymoon phase” or else they will fall into the valley of death, never to be heard from again. Going forward, the most successful artists will be the ones that are able to hold attention. Artists must employ strategies to mitigate the decline in interest caused in large part by album release cycles. The world is waiting on a platform that uses listener interest to capture fans. The chips and salsa are there, now the music world just needs to figure out how to serve up the combination plate to the hungriest fans.

Spotify and Music Discovery

Spotify is one of the greatest music discovery vehicles of our time. The rise of third party apps has created numerous opportunities to explore vast musical landscapes, while sharing these experiences in a social context. One of my personal favorite apps is “We Are Hunted” which provides insight across multiple platforms about which artists are generating buzz. “We Are Hunted” is the primary way I discover music at the moment because it is so simple. I have developed a general distaste for music critics at certain levels because of certain biases that many of the independent blogs routinely base their reviews around. By using third party apps, I have opened the door to the opinions of the general public and taste makers at large. Now the time has come for an app to convert artist buzz into artist success. There is a key difference between these two things. Buzz produces short bursts of excitement that is simply not sustainable. Success is built on the foundation of converting this initial excitement into something that spans years. Obviously, the primary factor of a band’s success is still the quality of the songs themselves, though marketing and fan targeting on streaming platforms presents a unique opportunity going forward.

Artist Management in the Modern Era

Artist managers today are faced with unique challenges with respect to converting casual listeners into paying fans. Although many tools currently exist to provide “actionable data” to these artist managers, most managers are too busy to notice how Facebook “like” data translates into a ticket purchases. In short, these data services often provide statistics rather than concrete solutions. Most artist managers are not quantitative people. Artist managers rely upon intuition and historical trends to make the best possible decisions. The data itself is simply an aid when these mechanisms fall short of producing the desired result.

After interviewing a variety of artist managers about the challenges they are currently facing, we have come to the conclusion that artist managers are seeking platforms that make sense of data on their behalf. They are far more willing to pay for a service that produces results in the form of increased ticket and merch sales, as opposed to a service that tells them to what degree their Youtube views have increased over time. In this day and age, there is such an abundance of information and music discovery tools that standalone data is difficult to draw meaningful inferences from. What is important is figuring out at what point music becomes an experience that a fan will pay for in some form or another. Listen Up is making life easier for artist managers, while providing them with a return on investment in the form of increased revenue per listener.