Back in April, Billboard ran this cover story: “How Guy Oseary, Scooter Braun and Troy Carter Are Finding the Rock Stars of Tech.” The title really said it all; a glowing tribute to the fact that the most influential figures in the music industry right now are those straddling the worlds of music and tech, and bringing the two together.
As the article pointed out, after a painful decade spent suffering the fallout of the failure to adapt to digital, over the past 4-5 years the music industry has finally seen the light shone on a brighter future by technology. And now, in 2013, few would argue that technology is the holy grail. The saviour of the music industry. That everyone should learn to code. That programming is THE key job skill of the future. And so on and so forth.
But of course, not everyone is cut out for a lifetime of loops and functions. And so, enter the new rock stars, who are bigger than, well, rock stars – all hail the developers and startups changing the music landscape.
Everywhere you look, there are exhilarating examples of this. SoundCloud immediately springs to mind as one of the most consistently innovative startups in the music tech space, and one that is increasingly focused on the benefits that it can bring to artists and labels. Following the introduction of their Next SoundCloud redesign, traffic to the platform jumped by 26% from March-April 2013; plus their new SoundCloud Pro partnerships offer a raft of benefits for musicians and labels including Moving Sounds, promoted accounts and more.
But then, what else would you expect from the company who helped to found Music Hack Day, and whose ethos is so firmly rooted in digital disruption? As Read Write Web previously pointed out, “For SoundCloud, this spirit of hacking is something that plays a prominent role in the culture of the company and its growing team of developers. Modeled after Google’s “20% time,” the company encourages employees to use what it calls Hacker Time to experiment and build new things that may or may have any direct bearing on the official product strategy for SoundCloud.”
As if that wasn’t enough, the SoundCloud API (an application programming interface, which lets different programmes talk to each other) has produced some of my favourite recent music digital marketing campaigns, including Angel’s ‘Power To The People’ campaign, where Island Records utilised the SoundCloud API to create a landing page on Angel’s website consisting of artwork widgets that each revealed teaser clips from his forthcoming album, plus voice snippets. Fans were then encouraged to vote via Facebook and Twitter for which widget they wanted to be revealed next. Simple, effective, and a good example of how you don’t need a big budget to create an innovative digital marketing campaign – just a good developer, or a good knowledge of coding.
Speaking of which, another recent innovative pairing of developers and labels saw Atlantic Records team up with We Make Awesome Sh to create Paramore’s #lyricsforlondon campaign: a part-digital, part-physical treasure hunt, where fans were asked to submit their favourite band lyrics using the hashtag in order to win tickets to an intimate London gig. The results? At one point, Paramore was the third biggest trending Twitter topic in the UK, with more than 200 fans turning up to the treasure hunt based on 8k Twitter and Instagram clicks and submissions. Not a bad return on investment…
We’ve also just launched a campaign with the highly talented developers of We Make Awesome Sh, called #mosmoments : check it out here!
Powster are another tech startup who are doing great things with music at the moment, the most recent example being a collaboration with Atlantic Records on an online competition for Rudimental’s new album release, Home, which asks fans to show the band what ‘home’ means to them by tagging #thisishome and @RudimentalUK on Twitter, Vine or Instagram, in order to win a signed copy of the album.
Of course, some labels are also taking pushing developer innovation one step further by participating in Music Hack Days themselves and even, in the case of EMI, creating their own APIs.
And yet, there is still so much more that can be done.
Within the growing trend of integrating products and sales into music listening and discovery — for example, SoundCloud’s brand new integration of Songkick listings into profiles and the reported integration via Topspin of music products, photo and video content, gig tickets, merchandise and more within the forthcoming Daisy streaming service — there is a clear opportunity for labels to work with developers on combining discovery and product to create new revenue streams and monetise music in new ways.
This is particularly true of streaming services, which still hold so much untapped potential.
Speaking of which, no one service has cracked music discovery yet; many of the existing label apps on the likes of Spotify to date are restricted to showcasing new releases, artists and playlists of previous catalogue. In the future, I think we’ll see these apps become so much more; I’d like to see them become interactive fan experiences where labels host competitions, timelines, live performances, exclusive content and previews, showcases, artist Q&As, studio sessions and much more. Plus there are plenty more advantages that labels can take of existing apps within Spotify, for example Soundrop listening rooms.
And it’s not just apps; with the obvious exception of the likes of Cazzette (whose debut album was launched on Spotify), to date there haven’t been that many examples of artists and labels building innovative content marketing campaigns around streaming releases. This is something we’ll see changing rapidly, as streaming goes more main… stream, and services open up greater transparency to both labels and artists. Particularly with the advent of Spotify’s new artists profiles containing play counts of individual track streams. As Music Ally reported last week, analysis seems to show new releases’ number of Spotify plays tend to be comparable with YouTube plays, which certainly builds a case for bigger and better label marketing campaigns around new releases on Spotify.
And what of interoperability? I’d love to see more labels working with developers to use tools like Tomahawk (which streams music from practically any source) within artist websites and marketing campaigns, to improve music discovery across the open web, rather than restricting campaigns or releases to a particular platform.
Key to all of this — and one of the most important future trends for labels — will be working with developers and APIs to better harness perhaps the most crucial element of all: data. In the aforementioned Billboard article, Lady Gaga’s manager Troy Carter was keen to stress the importance of owning data. We’ll see a move towards more labels and artists building their own platforms in the vein of Carter’s own company, Backplane, in order to build deeper connections between artists and fans, capture more fan data and dive deeper into it than ever before.
As Carter put it: “We wanted to see which songs (fans are) listening to from start to finish, which songs they’re skipping and which are the best playlists in which those songs could exist,” he says. “That’s helping us realise what sorts of music are going to work at which format, and whether this song should follow the other on a particular release. It’s an ongoing education and we’re learning a lot.”
But even for those who don’t have the budget to build or fund their own Backplane, working with developers, APIs and data will be key to moulding the world’s biggest platforms, working out which ones are of most value to you, and then making them work for you, your artists, your label, and your music business objectives. Not to mention creating customised digital marketing campaigns, so crucial to standing out in this hugely competitive and saturated market.
The future is now. A final word from Carter, widely accepted as one of the most tech-savvy music marketers in the world: “The new generation of music executives and artists, they’re breaking down distribution models, they’re breaking down any sort of barriers or intermediaries when it comes to reaching audiences, and the companies that are sticking to their guns are the companies dying off now. With us, you evolve or die on your business.”
And if it’s good enough for Gaga…