Conventions & Awards

“Data Is The New Hustle” – Is The Music Business Getting Any Fairer?

Bigstock_Analyzing_The_Data_990862During 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. 

MORE: Watch the entire "Artist Tools" panel from SF MusicTech Summit XI.

Hisham Dahud is a Senior Analyst for Additionally, he is the head of Business Development for Fame House and an independent musician. Follow him on Twitter: @HishamDahud

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  1. Yes I agree, but then again, digital data can be so easily manipulated. What exactly is real? a million youtube plays for an artist that only 1000 people buy when he gets released? If you’ve got the financials to cover it you’ll get 1 million plays in a week! There are companies buying and selling plays and likes online just like there were record companies before digital buying their own releases by the buckload so as to get a hit record. It is laughable and pretty sad at the same time, but to me, “the industry” seems to know very well how people function. As it always did.

  2. i thought this article was going to be about how musicians get hustled by data. i see it all the time. someone gets mediocre results, but if you can put it into a sharp looking graph, man they think everything is great.

  3. Very True the only place you can see where the fans are real and your online music marketing and promotion has worked and get result is when the fans come to see the artist perform and buy tickets…
    Everything can be bought even followers on twitter (read the case of Lady Gaga with fake twitter followers.
    it is about strategy that we must think and real engagement with real people..that we must operate, people are datas but still human too.

  4. Data itself is useful only to the point that those making decisions on behalf of the artist can interpret it. In my interactions with artist managers, antiquated systems such as Soundscan still provide the most effective data regarding an artist’s fan base. This data is both tangible and accurate because there is no way to falsify an album purchase. Although it might be important to see how an artist’s Facebook and Twitter followers have changed over time, cause and effect are largely ambiguous and decisions are assumption based.

  5. At a time when stardom is becoming defined by the numbers of clic, it might be a good thing for everybody in this new ecosytem to have a more transparent accounting system.

  6. 1 Million plays a week won’t translate to other metrics like ticket/merch sales or even comments to evaluate actual fan engagement. You have to look at the metrics as a whole and if they don’t make sense then obviously someone may have paid for their 1 million plays and it would be better to take a closer look or pass on the artist all together.

  7. This new level of data is great as an artist, but if I were to put myself in the shoes of the “gatekeepers” then the pudding always has and always will be how good you can draw at shows. I don’t think it matters how many likes, followers, views, etc you have – if you can pack shows you will get some sort of deal.

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