“Not sure anyone has heard but, I resigned from Twitter,” was the way Jack Dorsey dryly announced his decision to step down as CEO of the social network, after the news had already leaked far and wide with news reports.
“There’s a lot of talk about the importance of a company being ‘founder-led’. Ultimately I believe that’s severely limiting and a single point of failure. I’ve worked hard to ensure this company can break away from its founding and founders,” wrote Dorsey in an email to staff outlining why “now is the right time” for him to step down.
His replacement as CEO is current chief technology officer Parag Agrawal. “Parag has been behind every critical decision that helped turn this company around,” wrote Dorsey. “He’s curious, probing, rational, creative, demanding, self-aware, and humble. He leads with heart and soul, and is someone I learn from daily. My trust in him as our CEO is bone-deep.”
Why is this a lead story for Music Ally? Two music angles. First, one of the items in Agrawal’s in-tray (although let’s not be over-optimistic: probably not at the top of the pile) is pressure from rightsholders over licensing. Specifically Twitter’s lack of platform-wide licensing deals for music.
In the last year, we’ve seen the boss of US industry body the RIAA criticise Twitter for “piracy on an industrial massive scale… Unlike Facebook and YouTube, they have done nothing to at least try to build tools, or to help prevent what is by its nature a viral system where piracy can spread literally in microseconds.”
This was followed up by a letter from a group of US music bodies ahead of Dorsey’s testimony at a US House hearing on online extremism and misinformation, encouraging politicians to also probe him on “Twitter’s related failure to meet the most basic standards of responsible moderation with respect to other illegal activity – specifically, the rampant theft of creative works on its platform”.
Some US politicians have pressed Twitter on this score too, and the contrast between the company’s approach and the deals signed by the likes of Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok (however imperfect some of those deals may be in terms of the data provided on which music exactly is being used) has been noticeable.
Perhaps Twitter’s new CEO can bring some of that creativity, humility, heart and soul to the challenge. But don’t forget the second reason Jack Dorsey’s doings are of interest to the music industry: he is still the ultimate boss of a prominent music service, Tidal, through its acquisition by fintech company Square – of which he remains CEO.
“What really dawned on me was how weak some of the tool sets are for artists, with analytics and data, to understand what they’re doing and help them inform their decisions, especially considering other revenue streams like merchandise and touring and NFTs,” said Dorsey earlier this year about that deal.
If Dorsey is stepping away from Twitter to devote more time to Square, that by extension may include Tidal, which recently unveiled its plans for user-centric payouts. We’re wary of predicting too much though.
“In the areas where he was most focused, product teams could expect lots of time, attention, and valuable feedback. In areas where he was not focused, teams could expect little to no feedback at all,” is how The Verge summarises his management style at Twitter, in a very good analysis of this week’s news.
In the best of all possible worlds, Parag Agrawal will give Twitter new impetus to sign deals with the music industry, while Jack Dorsey will give Tidal plenty of time, attention and valuable feedback as it tries to punch above its weight (in streaming market terms) with artist toolsets. Here’s hoping.