D.A. Wallach holds an undeniably unique position within the music business, being deeply involved on both ends of the spectrum. On one side, D.A. is an accomplished recording and performing musician as one half of the dynamic progressive rock group Chester French, while also being knee-deep in the digital side of things as an Artist in Residence at Spotify (or as Forbes calls him, Spotify's "secret weapon"). His background in music and digital marketing makes him perfect for the position he’s created for himself. I’ve had the privilege of working with D.A. and Chester French on the release of their new album MUSIC 4 TNGRS, and wanted to learn more about his unique positioning and thoughts on the new music space.
D.A. Wallach: Basically it means that I am to be an advocate for the creative community within Spotify. I oversee everything we do related to artists. That encompasses a team we built called “Artist Services” that is constantly allowing artists to use Spotify better, educates them about what it is, and ways to promote on the platform.
Hisham: Some artists would argue that while the service is great for users, it is not so great for the content creators.
D.A.: Spotify as a product is exciting for rampant music fans, but so many artists are also huge music fans naturally and any artist that uses Spotify tends to love it. We’re adding a huge value into the music business, with $180 million dollars paid out in royalties just last year alone. Part of my job is making those numbers intelligible for artists and clarifying that in our model, you make money when people listen to your music forever, unlike downloads where it’s a one-time deal.
Anyone who doesn’t think we’re paying a fair cut hasn’t seen the numbers we pay out. By far the vast majority of the money we’re making goes back to the owners of the music – about 70%. When compared to iTunes, the average listener spends $60 dollars a year into the creative community, whereas Spotify Premium users spend $120 per year. As “the pie gets bigger” so to speak, so do the royalty payments. The growth of the platform is proportional to the royalty pay out and since inception we’ve already doubled the effective per play rate.
Hisham: As both an artist and music business professional, you’re one of the lucky few whose “day job” (for lack of a better term) correlates perfectly with what you do on the creative end - there’s plenty of cross pollination going on. What is that balancing act like? How are you able to switch hats, and is one ever completely off?
D.A.: You know, I view the business as art rather than the art as business. The things that I do at Spotify are an exercise of creativity. To me, it’s all the same – it’s all creativity. I like both types. Granted, it’s a very different mindset when stepping foot in the studio and stepping foot in the office, but it’s all one vision for me. I enjoy working with Spotify in particular because I love being involved in ideas that are inevitable. Steaming music is obviously what the future holds, and I like to hasten a future that is, in some sense, preordained in my mind.
Hisham: What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve witness indie artists make – both on the business side of things, as well as on the creative side?
D.A.: Arrogance is always a mistake – pervasive in both worlds. The biggest mistake I’ve seen artists make, and have made myself, is not to be constantly creating. We’re going to shift away from album cycles very soon, and besides, real artists don’t create in a cyclical manner anyway. I encourage artists to always be creating and always be releasing music.
Hisham: On the flip side, what are some of the brighter ideas you’ve seen indie artists makes – again, both on the business side and creative side.
D.A.: The crowd funding thing is really cool and while the models aren’t quite perfected yet, they’re definitely testament to the new space that has emerged, where fans have more of a say than ever in dictating an artist’s career trajectory. But to me, the most exemplary careers of recent time are in hip-hop. Artists like Rick ross and Lil Wayne grew their fan bases tremendously and they did so by constantly releasing new content – they’re always working and relentlessly giving their fans more.
Hisham: The hot topic of the moment is certainly this whole Emily White / David Lowery thing. What’s your take on it?
D.A.: I'm just now getting the time to really look into it, but when Lowery referred to White as “your generation,” it just exemplifies how the old generation has always had this disconnect to music fans over time. Back in the day, their customers were retailers and not fans. The majors never really built a business around fans, which ultimately led to a negligence of those users. So they never focused on making a good experience for users. In retrospect, everyone probably agrees that the labels should’ve tried to work a deal with Napster, or build one of their own maybe, since people clearly wanted music that way and loved getting music that way. With Spotify, the platform effectively monetizes the experiences that consumers have been demanding. The goal now is to create a mass-market consumer experience that gets people to pay for music again.
Hisham: What is the ultimate vision for your career? Or are you allowing things to unfold and embracing things as they come?
D.A.: I’m really a believer in serendipity and moving gracefully from one thing to the next. My anchor points will always be beauty, invention, and creativity. I just want to continue to express my own ideas and support those who have a desire to do so, as well.