In the run-up to Midem 2015, we’ll be featuring a select crew of up-and-coming label executives, sharing their views on how the industry is changing today. First up is AWAL / Kobalt‘s head of digital marketing Matt Riley, who told midemblog about his musical background, the top trends for music consumption and marketing in 2015 and the streaming era.


midemblog: Tell us about yourself, your background, what you do and who you do it for?

Matt Riley: My name is Matt Riley and I’m coming up to my 10th year living in London and working in the music industry. In that time I have worked in record stores, DJ’d plenty of late nights and spent a good chunk of time working on digital marketing and sync licensing at Hospital Records until I joined Kobalt in Jan 2014. I now work as head of marketing for AWAL, and sit in-between AWAL and Kobalt Label Services, helping projects with marketing and advice whilst also having an A&R role identifying and signing projects that maybe suitable for AWAL or KLS.


>What are the best things about your job, and what have been your career highlights to date?

Working at Hospital, with its dynamic and flexible approach to new media was fun. We were the first label to have a really big podcast, winning multiple awards, the first label to stream live on YouTube and the DIY attitude to pretty much everything we did led to some great success and adventures. More recently things are really exciting at AWAL/Kobalt with the direction the company is heading, and the great team we have here. I have loved being able to work with one of my favourite artists — Todd Terje — whilst also signing deals to release early music from two artists I think you will hear a lot more about in future: Snakehips & Tom Misch.


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>What advice would you give to people looking to start working in the music industry today?

The modern music industry needs people who work hard and are creative and flexible. On a practical note, learn how to code, even on a really basic level (building a wordpress site, customing a tumblr), learn some basic economics on how record deals work and are changing, how artists may make money in the new music economy, learn how to use PhotoShop, and finally, never under-estimate the power of your networks. Make connections, remember people, get back to people… Who you know is still as important as ever, whether that’s hearing about a new act, pulling in a favour, or landing a job.


> What do you predict will be the top trends for music consumption and marketing in 2015?

One certainty is that Spotify has become a really big deal. If you are doing the right things with your artists, Spotify is where the action is, and now with the USA growing so fast, UK buzz artists can start to pick up substantial streams on the other side of the Atlantic, it reminds me of early YouTube in that respect. Uncertainties, but potential game changers for 2015: A proper Apple streaming service, Soundcloud finding it’s sustainable future, and signing deals with rights holders, YouTube music key evolving. Finally, back to Spotify, playlists are going to become even more huge, and as Spotify only really feature their own playlists, the big question for 2015? Who is making these playlists? Did the Spotify intern just become the most important person in the music industry?


>Are labels, distributors and publishers still the most viable route to market for artists, given the proliferation of direct to fan platforms?

The short answer is still, yes, for now… You can do some amazing things D2C (direct to consumer) entirely on your own, but you can remain an island. It’s all down to networks, the long established channels that labels, distributors and publishers have are still valuable and is still the space the majority of paying fans are in. That said, this is 2015, not 1980, and the gatekeepers are changing, the routes to market are much more varied, and a whole new generation of fans have never actually owned a piece of recorded music. Whatever happens, artists need to expect a lot more from their partners, D2C, label or otherwise. Choose your partners carefully, be sure they have the skills and expertise to really help you, and that the deals offered are short term, and the accounting is transparent. These are key parts of the AWAL & Kobalt ethos.


>With music sales in decline, how can artists address the challenge of monetising their fanbases in the streaming era?

We are working at AWAL and Kobalt on artists of every size. For tiny artists, cottage industry style D2C products and maximising revenue from a small number of fans will work, incorporating merchandise and limited runs of physical products. For bigger artists, streaming is gonna work out just fine. It’s the huge middle ground where I can see problems. An artist who in 2010 would have had the capability of selling 10,000 units to their 10,000 fans will find their opportunity to make such money a lot tougher in the streaming economy from purely sales on a traditional record deal. Artists should aim to keep ownership of their rights, sign deals where they will keep the majority of the revenue streaming will generate them, and above all keep innovating in both the creative process, and the ways in which the music is presented to the world. Spotify is centred around playlists and drip feeding music to fans, rather than albums. That is a challenge or an opportunity, depending on your point of view.


>How do you think streaming can address some of its key issues – such as sustainability, growth, pricing, windowing, transparency – in the next 12 months?

For artists and labels, streaming services need to improve their analytics. When things start reacting, we need to know why. For longevity, the streaming services need to keep improving for the user. Imagine a streaming service with Spotify’s playlisting and usability, YouTube’s search and deep catalogue and Soundcloud’s virality and producer community! If it’s convenient, people will pay for it. Access to all of music as part of a wider entertainment package will happen at some point surely too? Google/YouTube are perhaps best placed for that? But who knows….


>Would you persuade Taylor Swift to come back to Spotify? If so, how?

I don’t think Taylor and Spotify are never, ever, ever, ever getting back together, she’ll be back when she’s ready, she just wanted to sell a ton of downloads first, I think not being on Spotify sold her more records, although it probably cost her in collective revenue overall. Using the top rate spotify calculation ($0.0084 a stream), if her 500million Vevo plays of “Shake It Off” had been Spotify plays, it would have generated a cool $4million dollars, although at time of writing, no track has reached half a billion plays on Spotify… Yet!


Matt Riley is AWAL/Kobalt‘s head of digital marketing. Follow him on Twitter here!

This is the first in a series of posts from leading label executives, who’ll be posting regularly here on midemblog between now and Midem this June… where they and 6000+ other music execs will discover the latest trends of the music ecosystem!


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James Martin is Head of Social Media for Midem organisers Reed MIDEM. This includes defining and rolling out Midem's social media strategy, editing midemblog, influencer outreach, developing Midem's fanbase of 75,000+ music professionals and more.

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