Artist complaints about the royalties they get from streaming services are rightly taken seriously, but the data being generated and shared by platforms like Spotify is being seen as increasingly valuable by some managers.
That was one of the key topics touched on during a management panel, chaired by Jake Beaumont Nesbitt, Data Manager at the International Music Managers Forum (IMMF), at the NY:LON Connect conference we organised with the Music Business Association in London this week.
Eric Harle of D-E-F Management, which works with Moby, Robyn, Röyksopp and The Knife among other artists, criticised what he sees as misinformation within the artist community.
He called on artists to work with streaming services to make the most of the promotional and data opportunities that are opening up.
“I feel so sad and sorry for these artists that feel that Spotify is an evil thing that doesn’t pay artists,” he said. “It makes me sad that we are in this situation and having to listen to this. Sometimes young artists just don’t get it and that is why I want them to engage with it.”
Stephen O’Reilly, head of marketing at management company ie:music, said that dissecting streaming data with artists is now an important part of the company’s interaction with its musician clients.
“One thing I have started doing recently with some of our artists when they are in the office is to go through the Spotify analytics and insights,” he said. “When you show artists the Spotify dashboard and similar artists, they find it really interesting to see where they are at and who else is similar to them. What other acts do their fans play the most? It is something I will do a lot more of, and the more data we get back from services, the better.”
He added, “We are very lucky to have digital platforms that give us more than just the Spotify data; companies like The Orchard, AWAL and Believe are providing great tools to us. It is interesting for them [the artists] to get their heads around it as well.”
Occasionally, showing artists this data can cause a commotion. “We have an artist who, when Spotify started, they put other artist next to them [as recommended acts],” said Harle. “They thought 80% of them were great but for the other 20% we had to go back to Spotify and tell them they needed to remove them.”
The panel moved on to the question of ownership of data, and getting the raw data from third-party services. Outside streaming, that’s an issue in the live music market too.
Jessie Scoullar, founder of Wicksteed Works and head of audience at Everybody’s, gave the example of Mumford & Sons: who have owned a lot of their live data from the off, which has proved invaluable as their star has risen.
The panel also covered when – or even if – acts need to get label involvement to take their career to the next level. Brands were named as one of the most obvious but powerful ways to propel careers forward and also tap into alternative funding.
Harle was critical of the labels’ role, saying they only really became interested in maximising opportunities here [from brand partnerships] when their revenues from CD sales started to plummet. He suggested that it is better for an artist to surround themself with as many specialists as possible. At the same time, artists are much more amenable to working with brands as they once were.
It’s no longer about the top 1% of acts today sponging up all the brand money. O’Reilly named Jägermeister and Burberry as examples of brands that will do deals with unsigned and grassroots acts. They might be for a few thousand pounds, but the upsides can be considerable. “You might get a free jacket out of it,” he says, “but you might also get 10m views on their YouTube channel.”
Maggie Collins, MD of Fans Created Management, said that signing a label deal still needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“It depends on what the artist needs or wants,” she said. “It also comes down to relationships as well. I would love to get a project with an artist who wants to stay totally independent the whole way through their career and see how we could make that happen. But sometimes an artist will be starting out and they simply don’t have money to continue – and I have been in that situation with a young band. They just did not have the money to keep going and had to take a record deal.”
Claire Southwick, founder of Primitive Management, argued that working with acts on self-releases and establishing their name is the best form of leverage when eventually speaking to labels as you have a certain level of autonomy as well as proof of concept. It is not a panacea, however. “It doesn’t work for everyone and will depend on the artist,” she cautioned.
Finally, as the industry shifts away from a unit-based economy (as covered in Mark Mulligan’s presentation earlier in the conference), so managers’ ideas about what the ‘mainstream’ is has become more nebulous.
“My understanding of music nowadays is that every artist is a niche,” suggested Harle. “The mainstream is dead. There was a time when I knew which records were coming out [but now I don’t].”
The implication: rather than trying to crack the mainstream, perhaps the wiser strategy for artists is to use data to identify and own their niche.
The NY:LON Connect conference was co-organised by Music Ally and the Music Business Association, in association with Armonia.