During last 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 creative way.”
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 with them.
“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.