Tonight is Music Ally’s Future Music Marketing event in London, where we’ve gathered a panel of opinionated experts to give their views on whether a selection of technologies are hits or hype – or a bit of both – for helping musicians reach fans.

The third topic up for discussion was streaming services: what the likes of Spotify, Deezer, Beats and Tidal have to offer artists and labels. There was an introductory presentation by Music Ally’s own training manager Nikoo Sadr, followed by the panel debate.

Our panellists for the night: Sammy Andrews, head of digital, Cooking Vinyl; Dino Burbidge, director of innovation and technology, WCRS; Niamh O’Reilly, digital director, Sony Music; Katie Ray, digital marketing consultant, Modest Management; and Jessica Roe, CEO, Level Theory. The moderator was Music Ally’s Eamonn Forde.

Sadr talked about the growth of streaming both globally and in specific markets like Scandinavia. But the conversation now is about the debate over whether freemium works, and whether songwriters are getting their fair share – but also about how these services can be used for marketing. Specifically around playlists.

Playlists are important for all of the streaming platforms, and it will be interesting to see if this develops into platform-independent playlists so people can listen to them whatever they’re streaming on,” she said. All the major labels have their own playlist creation departments now, and there’s a huge amount of work going in behind the scenes to help match listeners to the playlists they’ll love – as well as to specific artists.

Meanwhile, Apple is paying journalists to write the editorial copy for playlists on its upcoming Beats Music relaunch. And Rihanna, Beyoncé and other artists may be playing a curatorial role on Tidal. Sadr finished off with the example of Linnea Henriksson in Sweden, who before she released her new single Cecilia, asked five different artists to cover it, drip-feeding the songs into a playlist – without revealing that she was the artist behind the campaign. The big reveal saw a 50% increase in streams of her back catalogue.

How are labels using playlists? “We’ve done a lot with Spotify and various artists on playlists. There’s so many different avenues for it,” said Andrews. Including spoken-word content: an interview with The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett talking about his influences was uploaded on Spotify, where those tracks make money just like music.

“At the moment, predominantly on spaces like Spotify it’s their own playlists performing well, and as labels we’re pitching in to them to get our songs included on those playlists. But the potential is fucking huge! People consume so differently: if you don’t know the band you want to listen to on a streaming service, you fall into those playlists. It’s a totally different way of consuming to what we’ve seen in the past.”

What is Sony’s approach? O’Reilly talked about Filtr. “Really for us the value is in the information we can derive from how consumers are moving through Spotify and moving through Deezer, and how they’re behaving. There’s huge value in introducing Sony artists to fans who’ve engaged with other Sony artists… But it’s really about the data and the value we get from the information about how they behave on streaming services.”


Playlists are about attention and time, as much as money. “We’ve uploaded some great stories. We did this fantastic thing with The Clash where they went into the studio with their tour manager and talked about the Notting Hill Riots, reggae’s influence on them… stories that 18-24 year-olds are interested in, and that’s their way into The Clash… And on Spotify that’s monetised. But it’s not just about monetising: it gives listeners an insight into the artists.”

Ray talked about how One Direction have worked with Spotify, with a “hidden content” campaign. “Fans were required to tweet and trend and go and unlock some content with a secret password. That was a very successful campaign, but there was quite a long buildup before that. We had invested a lot of time in promoting Spotify and driving their fans there to listen. It wasn’t an accident… We held Spotify parties and there was a lot of engagement of transferring Twitter engagement across to Spotify that was done very strategically.”

She said that fans “just want to be close” to artists like One Direction. “So we are talking about the audio, and the idea of that demographic sitting in the car or being on the train, and suddenly Harry Styles comes on in your ears and is chatting to you. That just drives them insane! And it’s very simple content for us to provide, and we can obviously mix it amongst the music.”

Is it just about Spotify? Andrews said she’d like to be able to give parity to everyone. “We’re not just focusing on Spotify. It just happens to be Spotify is an area where we can engage the most with some artists, or where we’ve got the most followings,” she said.

“For us, Spotify is a priority,” said Ray. “We choose to limit our platforms and focus, and do those really well. That’s very important to us. Sometimes I feel a little that we have to just tick some boxes on other areas.”

Roe said that playlisting isn’t a new thing: labels are experienced at repackaging older content into new forms, and she compared a Spotify playlist to a compilation album a few years ago. She agreed that the data from streaming services is becoming more interesting.

And Burbidge said he sees “algorithmic curation” of playlists as comparable to programmatic media buying in the advertising industry. “You put a bunch of stuff out there and see what works, and you A/B test it,” he said. “In fact, it’ll A/B test itself with some of the new technology!” But Andrews said that the more labels put in to streaming – the more subscribers their artists and playlists have – the more data they’ll get out and the more they’ll know about their audience.

Read the other reports from our Future Music Marketing event
Messaging apps
Video and online ads
Virtual reality, wearables and location

Music Ally’s next Learn Live webinar will help you understand what’s required for artists to thrive in new international markets!

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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