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Kira Grunenberg: Why data-driven music-tech consolidation is good for the industry

300 and Twitter; Spotify and The Echo Nest; Beats Music and Topspin... here's why they're all good for music!

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Lyor Cohen at Midem 2014 © DESJARDINS / IMAGE & CO

Photo: The 300/Twitter deal, announced by Lyor Cohen at Midem 2014, was just the start of this year’s wave of music/tech consolidations…

 

One is the loneliest number that you ever knew…”

The titular line from “One,” Three Dog Night’s hit song that downplays singularity, could not feel more pertinent than in the past couple of weeks, seeing how some of the music industry’s big players have been pairing off or flat out acquiring one another. This is no isolated incident, as is obvious after looking back at the company changes that have rocked the music and tech sectors, all at the speed of Twitter. Who knew so many individuals and companies would actually be intent on staving off the “plight of one?”

Should you happen to have been buried under a pile of paperwork or just had trouble keeping up with the flurry of rapid fire changes, here’s a summary of the week of 3 March 2014 in music:

 

Tuesday March 4:                    Beats Music acquires Topspin

Wednesday March 5:               Gracenote Rhythm integrates Musicmetric data

Thursday March 6:                  Spotify acquires the Echo Nest

 

In addition to this new triad of transformations, right in the middle of this year’s Midem conference, as many of you saw and heard live during one of the keynote speeches, Lyor Cohen announced his new venture, 300 Entertainment, and its move to lock arms with Twitter.

 

 

What makes each of these name-and-brand-filled headlines — which are easy enough to digest on their own — worth discussing are the accompanying business implications for the music industry, as well as the trend that is neatly folded among each of the changes of the company guard that everyone has undergone. Highlighting the events that week as an example, as simple as it is to keep things straight with a name and a bullet point, once the strings of connection are brought out, suddenly relationships and degrees of separation get a little… complicated to say the least. Just take a look:

 

- Topspin is now part of Beats Music,

- which competes with Spotify,

- which has a sales-oriented business partnership with TopSpin from December of last year.

 

Very quickly, a potential conflict of interest stands out, that addresses just these three brands – to say nothing of the many others out there. What Spotify’s next move will be is a pretty significant question, and one contemplated even before accounting for The Echo Nest’s massive impact and aggregation of data to Spotify’s own, already colossal, library of metrics and metadata. Pivot to the latter and the discussion becomes about far more than just Spotify or even music companies, for that matter. While it is easy to jump on the bandwagon and say “data is the new hot commodity” because that’s the buzz topic we see everywhere, you could also look at this development as a process of elimination, in terms of how the industry arrived at this area of focus and priority.

Knowing that The Echo Nest was already working with brands extending into other parts of the social and entertainment sectors, and knowing that Twitter is now looking to evolve its uniqueness by refining and directing what Bob Moczydlowsky (head of Twitter Music) describes as “a fire hose of data” of music talk on the platform, the primary idea of studying and correlating information that comes from companies outside of music is no longer a factor of individuality or newness. Crossing that off the list, we can also rule out that music data’s popularity comes from a contest of “Who has the most?” or “Whose company staff has the most credentials under their belt?”

Why? The first piece is succinctly answered via digital music consultant, Mark Mulligan, who hit the nail on the head with this statement to Billboard: “The industry is already awash with data…” Then, where executive credentials are concerned, it can be just as interesting to trace the lines of travel for the people of a company as much as the company itself. The same cluster of companies mentioned above work well as a flowchart here too:

- Ian Rogers, General Manager of Yahoo Music, joined Topspin as CEO in 2008

- Rogers gets won over by Beats Music to become their CEO early 2013

- Bob Moczydlowsky, (then) SVP of Topspin, becomes new head of Twitter Music later that year

- Twitter (Music) teams up with 300 in February 2014

- and we’re back to the beginning with Beats‘ purchase of Topspin March 2014.

 

This flow of events shows how Rogers’ story in particular came full circle in just six years. However, this example aside, there are plenty of names that pop up again and again, flowing in and out and alongside multiple companies with similar objectives. The more time that passes, the fewer unfamiliar faces will be taking the helms of music’s biggest players. This realisation is also a good supporting argument as to why it is the right time for music and technology companies to start keeping each others’ company.

All of this now on the table, the enigma that remains and that will likely empower its solver with serious reward, is the very thing that has tied this entire post together: patterns. Explained by Mulligan and Moczydlowsky respectively, in separate Billboard interviews, using contexts specific to Spotify and 300, the current golden ticket lies in complex perception:


“[It's about] the ability to extract insight from the flood of information, [...which] is still in its infancy.”

“We needed [to be able to] organise [Twitter's] data into something useful… Twitter data can be essential to A&R. We need[ed] someone who wants to sign artists, who can help us package the data and tell us if it’s valuable enough.


Honing in on developments that directly connect back to Midem, one of this year’s Midemlab finalists, Soundwave, is an active example of a startup that has concentrated on widely collecting and interpreting song play data from the beginning. Moreover, their feature set promotes communicating the significance and stature of music plays in friendly ways that can appeal to their users. (In fact, their newest update, which just went live on March 18, now allows them to gather immediate, global listening data from a whole slew of established music players –including Spotify.) Every new change Soundwave implements is typically influenced by the very behavior and collective voice of their users. Maybe consistent, useful interpretation of mass data as the norm, isn’t as far off as we think…

Once these ideals are unlocked and widespread, the expectation is that features like automated music recommendation will sharpen even further. When it comes to combing through talk on Twitter, entities observing the (new) music landscape will ideally be able to better discern the more socially driven information pertaining to existing and emerging artists/songs/genres and locales. Hopefully, they will be able to use the data to more efficiently and effectively react and catch the wave of current buzz, as opposed to always trying to merely catch up with it.

 

Kira Grunenberg is executive editor for Throw the Dice and Play Nice and a freelance music journalist. Read here previous midemblog post, on artists & entrepreneurship, here!

 

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  1. On April 1, 2014 at 10:27 pm jes from J-Krak said:

    It’s interesting to see how the same players (and companies) keep changing hands. I wonder when the US government will get involved and start talking about anti-trust laws.

    These changes also make breaking into the business even more daunting for an indie band. Where do you start? Which company isn’t going to be swallowed up in the next big merger? Which horse do you back?

    Thanks for a fascinating article!

    • On April 1, 2014 at 10:50 pm jes from J-Krak said:

      I just wanted to add (and if you can put this on the above reply, that would be great) – this is all for a class, and I am obligated to add the following disclaimer:
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
      This comment has been created as part of the educational coursework for ICM 522 – Introduction to Social Media in the School of Communications at Quinnipiac University. The postings on my site are solely my own and do not reflect the views of Quinnipiac University or any of its employees nor do they offer any professional, legal or medical advice.
      ~~~~~~~~~
      Thank you!