“Data Is The New Hustle” – Is The Music Business Getting Any Fairer?
Tuesday’s SF MusicTech Summit, I had the privilege of moderating a panel alongside
several top minds within music and technology, where a short, yet powerful
quote was said that resonated deeply with myself and several members of the
audience. “Data is the new hustle,” pronounced
BitTorrent’s Executive Director of Marketing Matt Mason. The traditional music
business has never been rational (as Incubus manager Steve Rennie pointed out),
nor has it ever been easy or straightforward. However, Mason points out that the democratized use of online tools and metrics is beginning facilitate a new kind of music
business – one that is becoming fairer for artists.
“The music game has always been about hustle,” Mason
says. “I've worked in the content industries since my teens, and have never
seen a successful artist who didn't, at one time or another, figure out a way
to get their stuff in front of people that mattered to their career in a really
To Mason’s point, artists of yesterday would
have to employ a hustle mentality in several different ways in order to get
their music heard. The trouble was that in order to do so, one would have to go
through a number of gatekeepers – many of which were nearly impossible to
access without the right connections or a large enough bank account.
“In the music business, hustle has taken on many forms over the
decades,” he continued. “We've all heard stories of payola, threats, favors and
bribery, but there's also a negative side, to mangle a Hunter S. Thompson quote
on the music industry. It's never been fair, it's never been rational, and it's
always been dirty. Which is why data is such good news for the music business.”
Nowadays however, executives all the way up to
the major labels are examining the very same data figures that we all have access
to such as YouTube views, SoundCloud plays, and social media metrics. With
data, popular artists can now prove
they are popular. If they decide to approach labels, brands or other industry
sources, they can now demonstrate that they really have an audience, and can
even pinpoint exactly where they are and to what degree they engage and spend money
“Artists now have so many tools at their disposal,” Mason said. “The
real problem is knowing how to use them, knowing how to understand the right
metrics and then act accordingly to get a better outcome. But that's a better
way of hustling than paying off a DJ to play your record. Data means the music business
is getting a little more democratic.”
While many would argue that artists continue to get the short end of the stick in today's music business (perhaps especially in regards to licensing with streaming platforms), artist data metrics can now prove to be just as powerful – if not more powerful – than any personal connection or bribe.
The proof is always in the pudding, as they say. If you as an artist claim to be remarkable, and you've got the stats to back it up, that data will certainly place the ball firmly in your court.