October 11, 2017:Music data and analytics: digging below the surface trends

Every music company in 2017 is facing the challenge of making sense of a torrent of data from streaming services and social networks, among other sources. How to make the most of it?

A panel at Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit conference in London today heard from some experts including Lucy Blair, director of international sales and marketing at The Orchard; Sung Cho, CEO at Chartmetric; Caroline Zimmerman, senior director of data insights and analytics at BMG; and Lars Ettrup, CEO at Linkfire.

The chair was Chris Carey, CEO of Media Insight Consulting and founder of the FastForward conference.

The conversation started with what marketers think about before launching a campaign: looking at past sales and streaming histories for an established artists, where the key territories are for streams and social followers, and how the audience likes to interact with them.

I like to start with the audience: where they are, who they are, what platforms they’re on, and how they like to interact with the artist,” said Blair. “That’s a challenge for pretty much every music marketer: there’s still no one platform where you can look at everything. You’ve got to look at different platforms and put it all together, which can be time-consuming.”

She talked about targets. “It is important to look at time-frame, and have some goals in mind that you want to achieve at different phases of your campaign. In a streaming-dominated market, your campaigns tend to roll along for a much longer time: a cycle of about 18 months now… And also the artist is never really out of cycle now. It’s about being constantly engaged.”

The panel talked about how to measure success. Ettrup said that unique visitors – people who’ve clicked on a link created by one of its label or artist clients – is an important metric. “The end goal for us is to get as many to be routed to the most-preferred service as possible, and at the end of the destination convert to whatever the object of the campaign is: a stream, a follow or a purchase,” he said.

He admitted that Linkfire can only track fans so far along that journey. “The end destination is the Spotify, the iTunes and so on. The end of the consumer journey is all about partnerships [for] access to data. We’re quite good at that: if a partnership is in place, we can pretty much track the entire consumer journey,” he said.

Cho said that a healthy and successful journey should be the goal for managers and labels: not just cheering spikes in streams, sales or social stats, but keeping their eye trained on steady longer-term growth in these metrics.

He noted that even for a playlist like Today’s Top Hits, sometimes songs may be added to it 50 or 100 days after their initial release, rather than straight away. This, he suggested, should encourage labels to take a longer-term view on their analytics rather than searching for short-term spikes.

“To measure this data along with social media attraction also matters a lot, I think. That’s really saying you’re building audience, not just buying audience with a marketing campaign. If you have strong signals across all social media platforms – not all maybe, you can be bad at tweeting for example! – I think that’s what defines the success of the artist,” he said.

Zimmerman talked about songs dropping off big playlists, and trying to figure out what to compare them to. If a song drops out of a popular playlist and its streams drop by 50%, that might be a good signal if the average drop in this scenario is 70%.

“Another big thing that we built into our Spotify and Apple analytics platforms is to track discovery on a playlist or through search into becoming an actual fan… how many times are you going back and listening to it? That repeat use is also a measure of success,” she said.

Cho made an eye-opening claim about Spotify’s in-house playlists. “They are heavily dependent on the technology. They have the curation team, so you have a flow of influence through these curators sitting in Sweden or New York, but they have 10,000 playlists and many are updated daily, new songs get added and songs get dropped. A human could not do this. Every one knows it’s systematic. So  how can we reverse-engineer that system? I don’t have the answer!”

Blair said that Spotify’s algorithmic-driven playlists like Discover Weekly and Release Radar is important, which is why labels need to persuade as many fans as possible to follow artists on Spotify and add their music to their personal libraries, as well as working with credible music blogs, whose coverage is an important signal for Spotify’s Fresh Finds roster of new-music playlists.

Its really important to have strong audience development and marketing work going on elsewhere, rather than just relying on playlists,” she said. “The services don’t want to see artists or labels where it’s obvious that playlisting is their only plan. They want to see that there’s some hype or buzz going on around the artist, whether it’s industry hype or fan hype. Ideally both.” Data to prove this is an important weapon in marketers’ armoury.

Zimmerman had a question, based on BMG’s development of its own analytics tools. “How do we present the information in a simple way not just to internal users, but how do we arm somebody who’s going to go and pitch Spotify, or who’s going in to a meeting with an artist manager?” she said.

How do we make sure they have an easy platform which is exportable… so that when they do go into pitch meetings or meetings with managers, they have visuals that can help them support their case?.. Where there’s some feeling of ‘we’ve got the global overview here’ and that somebody going into a pitch meeting with Spotify for example, for a pitch meeting, would have the five talking points in a visual way: ‘That on YouTube, this on Instagram…’ because that visual can speak so loudly about buzz.”

Carey asked Ettrup what metric packs the biggest punch on Linkfire. “Conversion. We don’t care much about clicks, reach, impressions and so on. It’s all about the last click,” he said.

Blair answered from her perspective. “In terms of streaming campaigns it’s always going to be things like your save rate, your collection rate: how people are saving your track into their own personal collections. And then as Caroline said, are they going back and repeat-streaming your music?” she said.

“It’s still quite difficult to track whether people are discovering your artists’ music on playlists and then turning into fans… where do social fans come from, did they find you on Spotify, did they come across you on Google? It’s difficult to track, but that’s going to be crucial really.”

Zimmerman said that the number of streams or downloads, and whether a track has been added or dropped to/from a playlist, are the two most important metrics for BMG’s clients (artists and managers) – certainly in terms of the ones it chooses to send them alerts about as they happen.

She also talked about taking a zoomed-out view on analytics. “It’s super-important to always begin with ‘here are my top sellers and here’s how they’re performing, and here’s what’s driving their performance,” she said. “More to get people to ask questions instead of assuming that they’re already asking the right questions.” But she admitted that sheer data volume is a challenge here, to help people do that quickly.

Stuart Dredge
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