A lot of folks in the music industry are somewhat underwhelmed by SoundScan's approach to reporting sales especially indie shops and small labels who feel their contributions are underreported. You may have heard of BuzzAngle Music already due to recent reports of their Record Store Day sales data. I had the opportunity to talk with Jim Lidestri, Founder and CEO of parent company Border City Media, yesterday thinking it was going to be a cool reporting tool for small fry. Little did I know I was about to see a classic example in development of what I like to call "The Big Takeover."
I know that those who disrupt problematic powers that be often end up becoming problems in their own right as they grow big and powerful. But at the moment I'm enjoying what I learned about BuzzAngle Music and Border City Media.
I spoke with Founder/CEO Jim Lidestri yesterday and from his LinkedIn profile I see that Border City Media is unlikely to limit itself to music. But we focused solely on BuzzAngle Music and, despite the fact that it won't launch publicly till sometime late summer, I'm honestly excited to see where this goes.
The Path to Creating BuzzAngle Music
As Jim Lidestri put it in our chat, he's not from the music industry but has a history of building apps for industry. He's obviously not one of those startup guys who thinks he can come in and disrupt things without learning what the industry does and building on that knowledge.
He's a bit more old school and maintains, based in part on his own success, that learning what customers want and building that for them is the way to succeed. And, yes, that can even work for disruptors.
Lidestri began his path to BuzzAngle Music in 2011 on the consumer side of things. He noticed that on consumer outlets like iTunes and Amazon participation in the review process was limited. Most buyers, including himself, shop without leaving a review. It got him thinking about ways to identify items that were truly popular which led to an interest in figuring out what the true sales figures might be.
In the process he found that businesses have similar issues. Such issues include the fact that companies like Nielsen and their SoundScan product tend to focus on top sellers and major outlets with panels and estimates helping fill the gaps.
Such "fuzzy math" approaches do not give the deep data that is needed in today's incredibly competitive environment in which weekly reports are in no way adequate and data is often truncated. For example, if your release comes out Tuesday and you don't have sales figures till the next week, you're already behind the curve in terms of adjusting to response.
This is an issue not just for retailers but for labels and artist managers among others. Beyond that, though a variety of other players may not need daily reports, everybody that needs insight into the true response to a musical act and their releases, from publishers to major labels considering signees, needs to be able to drill down to figure out what they're looking at.
So in the summer of 2012 Lidestri decided to focus on the business since that seemed more pressing. If you know much about B2B services, you also know that they can become much more stable and profitable companies than those addressing the consumer side even if they don't get the same press attention.
Building BuzzAngle Music
Lidestri then began approaching customers such as distributors and labels as well as data providers such as retailers and music streaming services and found they all saw the need for better analytics. He then returned with a prototype to give them a more specific idea of what he intended and he says people got excited.
After about a year he had enough interest and partnership possibilities to hire a CTO, Stavros Aloizos, and they began building the product in earnest around March of 2013.
This work led to a limited data release in March followed by the recent release of Record Store Day sales data that, for the first time, accurately included a wide range of indie shops without point of sale (POS) systems that allowed them to track and report their sales.
You can get a sense of how Lidestri approached RSD shops with his outreach for the Record Store Day Reporting Initiative.
In his message to possible participants, you can see that he's interested in working with data partners, such as StreetPulse, and integrating wherever possible with existing systems. But for those shops without such options, BuzzAngle provided an easy way to participate. They also trialed a scanner with a handful of stores that sets the stage for easier implementation in the future.
This effort, intended to showcase what they could do with a single day's data, brought a variety of indie shops into the mix and resulted in a heck of a lot of media coverage. But, as I discovered when we spoke, Jim Lidestri is seeking to serve the music industry as a whole.
BuzzAngle Music Intends To Serve The Entire Music Industry
The basic concept of BuzzAngle Music is to track and integrate data regarding all the ways that music is consumed with a focus, at least initially, on physical/digital sales, streaming and airplay. This includes partnering with data providers, both the companies providing music as well as analytics companies.
The goal is to put together 100% of data about music consumption in one place. That process alone is a major challenge but the point isn't just to collect a lot of data and then leave it to customers to figure out what to do with it.
Though Lidestri said he can't officially name partners at this point, he's actually talking to "everybody." Even that's a bit hard to envision but he's finding that people at all levels of the industry want and need this data along with the analytic tools to interpret it.
Data reports will provide not only daily information but, in some cases where systems can be integrated, real-time data. That's a gamechanger in and of itself for those making marketing and distribution decisions who need to adjust quickly.
But it's not just "timely data reporting" that's needed. BuzzAngle has also developed a filtering system that provides what's described on the site as "trillions of combinations" for drilling deeper. That's kind of a ridiculous number to envision but I take the point that you can cut it up however you need to.
However, not everybody has a staff of analysts and Lidestri says the reports themselves will include some basic analysis allowing, for example, indie shops a way to see not only what sells well in their shop but also what sells well regionally. Given how trends work, that could mean jumping on a hot release early enough to benefit before easy sales evaporate.
Obviously variations on that theme are relevant far beyond retail, for example, when booking agents are trying to sort out new acts or labels are trying to be first to reach a hot young artist.
Being relevant to the industry as a whole extends to such issues as pricing. That's still being figured out but Lidestri wants Buzzangle to be accessible to all levels of the game and envisions pricing for smaller retailers that's similar to a smartphone bill, say, $150 to $175 a month or so. That's not a stated price but a goal that should give you the idea of what may be possible for smaller businesses.
In addition, the estimated late summer launch is intended to present a basic product that both shows what BuzzAngle can do and gives the industry a chance to give feedback that can then be used to iterate the product. I didn't specifically ask but Lidestri seems to be taking a lean startup approach.
Currently Lidestri is focusing on the U.S. He feels they need to get a solid product before going global. But given that many streaming services are global companies, some of that expansion won't be as difficult as initial development. Still it's a daunting task and I'm impressed to see someone taking on such a hefty challenge.
This Could Be Huge
When I finally got the bigger picture, I said "Wow, this is going to be huge!" But given that I've always heard that major music business companies have resisted the kind of transparency that would result from such deep data, I had to ask more about the response from major labels and publishers, in particular.
Lidestri said he had heard that such concerns had been raised in the past but feels he's appeared at the right moment when companies are realizing they need this data to compete in contemporary times. In fact, he says the response has been really positive and encouraging across the board which surprised me.
I'm glad to hear the music industry may finally be leaving the shade behind and that tools that can help grow the whole pie are partly responsible. We need a win/win environment for as many people as possible and such tools will be necessary to help build that new world.
Interested In Learning More?
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) posts music crowdfunding news @CrowdfundingM. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.