BuzzAngle Music CEO Lidestri Takes On Billboard, Nielsen SoundScan With Innovative Music Charts [INTERVIEW]
Lidestri has yet to land the kick heard throughout the music industry with Border City Media‘s edgy music analytics service BuzzAngle Music, but it has certainly stepped into the ring to compete for clients seeking more extensive physical and digital sales, streaming and airplay tracking data.
BuzzAngle Music’s daily web-based charts arrived July 11th, 2015, the day following the first official Global Release Day in which new albums throughout the world were released, and will continue to be released on Fridays moving forward.
Distributors, labels, retailers, and streaming services in North America are currently beta testing the BuzzAngle Music service which will officially launch next month.
Rather than just providing weekly charts, BuzzAngle Music has a tool that produces charts according to the user's chosen selections. It gathers data on a song or an album’s sales, streaming history, airplay history, and social media metrics to provide a full snap-shot. BuzzAngle Music allows users to select music sales and streaming ranking criteria by city, genre, date, and more. Its week-to-date charts are updated each day to reflect the previous day’s sales, and streaming activity.
BuzzAngle Music receives daily North American data from major physical and digital retailers, over 225 independent record stores, direct-to-fan sites, venue sales agents, major digital on-demand streamers, and the leading radio airplay tracking services.
Lidestri began his path to BuzzAngle Music in 2011 when he was seeking ways to identify songs that were truly popular. This led to an interest in figuring out what their true sales figures might be. Lidestri then began making inquiries with potential clients and data providers about the viability of a new music analytics service. He then returned with a prototype, and he had enough interest and partnership possibilities to begin building the product in mid-2013.
After graduating, Lidestri joined Data General 1992, overseeing the firm’s systems engineering and sales support, and managing 5 offices in the New York metro area. In 1990, he moved to the telecommunications giant Sprint, where he served as a product manager, and then dir. of Northeast business operations. He moved to IBM in 1995 as group manager of collaborative services.
In 1996 Lidestri entered the startup world as president/CEO of the application service provider Interliant. In 2001, he founded Legends Inc., an internet sports memorabilia authentication service. After a stint as a management consultant from 2004 to 2007, he became CEO of AdSoft Direct.
Where is Border City Media located?
We are based in Westchester Country, just north of Manhattan.
How many people are on staff?
We’ve got a small team. We are just under 15 people. We will be closing a Series A financing probably right before we launch the (BuzzAngle Music) service. We are well funded, but we will be even better funded.
BuzzAngle Music is in the beta stage in the U.S. right now?
Yes we are in a beta stage.
When are you launching?
It will probably be in October. It probably won’t be before Oct 1st, but we want it to be before the end of October. So I would say in October some time.
The launch of BuzzAngle Music’s daily web-based charts came on July 11th, 2015, the day following the first official Global Release Day
We started our beta program a year ago, but once Global Release Day started on July 10th, then we started pushing the charts out. It was almost a soft launch. It was like, “Okay, the service has a few more bells-and-whistles that we want to put in, and there are a few more things that we want to do in terms of backfill (meaning to "fill" the space between last time data was downloaded to the present time data is downloaded), and with historical data but, ongoing on a weekly basis, we are solid so lets go ahead, and start pushing out our charts.” Then we built the charts.
BuzzAngle Music is currently in the beta stage in Canada as well?
We are. We are fully collecting data. We are almost finished with a full set of providers equal to what they (Nielsen SoundScan Canada) has and, maybe, a little bit better. When we launch here (in the U.S.), we are also launching in Canada. We pretty well have got all of the big guys in Canada to report, but we are still backfilling data a bit. We are trying to get at least 2015 backfilled so we at least have this current year in the system. We may not wait for that to finish. We are collecting data every day. Right now I am showing people (in Canada) things that they have never seen before. I’m showing Universal, Warners, and Sony their market share for streams. They can’t do that with SoundScan Canada. They don’t get that data. They can’t break it down that way.
[Subscription streaming is still a niche pursuit in Canada in comparison to the U.S. Streaming of music has remained underdeveloped in Canada due to the lack of streaming services. Spotify only arrived in Canada in Sept. 2014. Apple Music opened on June 30, 2015 in approximately 100 countries, including Canada. While Rdio is available, both Pandora and Deezer have exited the Canadian market. In 2014, in Canada’s music market, only an estimated 10% was streaming. Canada’s first full six months with Spotify available has proven to be transformational. According to Nielsen SoundScan Canada, total music streaming volume was up to 10.5 billion in the first half of 2015. That represents 67% growth on the last six months of 2014–the first period in which streaming numbers were recorded.]
Where did the initial funding for BuzzAngle Music come from?
I initially started it, and I funded it for the first year. January of 2013 was the official incorporation of the company. It was a couple months before I made my first presentations to some folks in the industry just to see if they would like it. It seemed like they are going to like this thing. So I filed it (incorporation papers) in Jan. 2013. I hired my CTO, Stavros Aloizos (a SaaS pioneer, and an expert in information technology and Web 2.0 solutions), in March and my lead architect, and the three of us went around and just started listening to people.
For about 5 months I didn’t write a stitch of code. Just did user interviews. We traveled around the country. We were talking to people about what they would like to see in a system. “What would you like to do that you can’t do (with Nielsen SoundScan)? What are the things that you have to call up for a special request?” We did that for 5 full months. I didn’t do a stitch of coding until June when we said, “Okay we are going to start building it.” Then in June (2013) we started building. So it was two years ago that we started. After about a year of development we went into a very limited beta (stage), and we have been expanding the data ever since, throughout the last year.
Since global music sales peaked in 1999, they have continued falling. Is enough of a business still there for BuzzAngle Music? Or do you plan to work outside music?
Well, what we have is just not going to be limited to music. Some of my friends (earlier) asked, “What are you going to do next?” Everybody is always interested in what my next thing is going to be. I told them “music” and sometimes I got these sideway looks like, “Really? Music? Isn’t that dying?” But I felt the opposite. I felt that music is everywhere. There’s not one form of entertainment more in your face. I used to tell people that I ride the subway when I’m in Manhattan, and everybody has earphones on. Plus, if you go to the beach, everywhere you go, people are listening to music. So the music business may be going through some tough times, but I don’t think that music has ever been more popular.
The data being utilized by BuzzAngle Music originates from where?
We are getting it all from the original source. We are getting it from the same source that Nielsen SoundScan is getting their data. We went right to the source. So we are getting it directly from Apple. We are getting it directly from each of the indie stores. We are getting it from the venues. We are getting it directly the same way. We had to go back out, and almost re-create what they (Nielsen SoundScan) had done originally. We went with our pitch, and we went around to everybody. We collect from the same places.
If the data being tabulated is virtually the same, what primarily differentiates BuzzAngle Music from Nielsen SoundScan?
We have an integrated system and there’s the timeliness (of reviewing data factor), and the ability to drill down. Nielsen SoundScan has these disparate systems. The Nielsen Christian SoundScan, Nielsen SoundScan International, and Nielsen SoundScan Canada. I thought that was crazy. So we built that all in. We have one system. If you want to find out what happened in the Christian retail market, you click a button, and you find out what happened. You don’t have to go to another system. You are in the same system, and now you can see it (data) combined if you like. You want to see what happened in Canada last week? Then you exit the U.S., and you click Canada, and now you are running a Canadian report. Just like that.
When did you first become convinced that there were gaps in Nielsen SoundScan’s business model? Was it as a consumer seeking more information on songs available from Amazon or iTunes?
It was actually more direct that that. I met the (then) president of Nielsen Entertainment, Eric Weinberg, at a wedding, and we started chatting. We chatted about potential opportunities in which we might partner together. I had an idea. I was coming off my most recent gig (as CEO) at AdSoft Direct. I went in there, and applied my skills to get it going again. We did that. Then I was looking for something else. Something larger to sink my teeth into. I bumped into a couple of people that worked at SoundScan. We tossed around some ideas to work together. I was going to build a consumer app. I thought that consumers could take the value of the data, and the quid pro quo would be that I would shore them up on the business side. The app certainly needed a lot of help.
So I tried to get a deal where we would help each other. I would bring some of my background, but we didn’t get it done. Then Eric left, and Howard Appelbaum came in (as president of Nielsen Entertainment), and he didn’t have the same vision to work with me that Eric did, and we parted ways. I said to myself, “I have all of these great ideas in my head of what I could have done for that product.” So I went ahead, and I did it.
Obviously, you did considerable research on Nielsen SoundScan’s methodology. Did you discover chinks in their armor? If so what were they?
On a technological side first and foremost, I was extremely surprised that the system was still a weekly system. Not only just a weekly system, but the week ended on a Sunday, and everybody had that data on Wednesday. You went around the industry, and everybody was like, “Don’t bother me on Wednesday.” It’s SoundScan Wednesday kind of thing. I was like, “Okay, it’s three days past and you are only now getting the data?”
Why not have 24/7 access in this day and age?
Yeah. Why isn’t it faster than that? How can people really make a business decision waiting potentially 8 days from the previous Monday or Tuesday when something (a recording) was launched to really see what was going on. So that to me was the first chink, if you will. Then there were other things, including the inability to really drill down into the numbers. There was not a lot of transparency there. You couldn’t roll up the numbers in a number of ways, and have them all matched throughout the system. It didn’t feel like it was a cohesive system. As well, airplay was in BDS (Nielsen Broadcast Data Systems). Streaming (data) was limited but was in BDS. And the sales (data) was in SoundScan. So I was like, “Okay you’ve got two different systems (for radio airplay and music sales).” Then, in addition, as I said, there’s SoundScan Canada, Christian SoundScan, and SoundScan International. So I really looked at it, and said, “On the surface, this is kind of a mess.”
You developed a filtering system that provides combinations for drilling deeper with the data being provided. With Nielsen SoundScan there seems to be an inability to really drill down, especially in regional markets, to get deep market consumption data.
You can’t drill down regionally with all of the different consumption types. I saw a lot of things that could be done relatively easily in terms of my background. I have not just a tech background in bringing markets, and bringing services to industry markets, but also in the UI (user interface) side of things. I have always been a student of user interface. So it’s just not can you build a product that can do those things, but can you do it in such a way that people can use the system. Can they use it and understand it, and would it make a lot of sense the way that you laid it out?
Like Nielsen SoundScan, BuzzAngle Music is working with partners and integrating data wherever possible. Many of these providers have been reluctant to share data over the years.
The data reporters if you will, the retailers, and the service providers of music, are key. If we don’t have the data, we don’t have the service. We had to make sure that our service would provide value to them because you are not going to give me data if there’s no value. I think that for the first time that these providers are seeing value, and they are offering the data. There’s the attitude, “I am going to give you the data, but I’m going to get something out of it.” Before I didn’t see any value at all for the people giving the data. I couldn’t see any value coming back to an Apple or to a Spotify. Another thing was that on the music label, distributor, artist and manager side, the people who are using SoundScan, I didn’t think were getting as much value as they could.
Today with all the new players in the music business there are so many parties now collecting data on music consumption, but unaware of how to fully use it.
I think that partners I don’t even know about today will come onboard wanting to share their data because they will get more value out of using the system in their own performance benchmarking, and things like that. We are clearly going to provide value there for them realizing the importance on the data side.
Any other chinks you discovered about Nielsen SoundScan?
There were numerous ch
inks on the technology side. Like I said, with timing, and the depth of the data. A lot of times things didn’t even add up to 100%. You would look at one part (of data), and that didn’t even add up to the number over here. So there were a number of things on the technological side. But there were things on the service side as well. They acted like a monopoly, right? The timeliness of getting back to the customers. Responses about things. The inability to price it (the service) at a point that was attractive. So there were a number of things.
Forget about the technology for a second. I felt that they had become kind of complacent. I thought that their position (to their clients) was, “Hey, we’re SoundScan, and you will deal with it (the service), the way we give it to you.”
An intriguing selling point of BuzzAngle Music is that users control the tracking periods, the region, the consumption type, and the genre being reviewed. You offer so much control to the user.
I refer to it a lot of times as a tool and, sometimes if I am talking with someone that is unfamiliar with IT technology—I will say, “I’m not building the house for you. I’m giving you the hammer, and the nails, and you can build the house.”
So the client creates the reports that they want.
We have easily accessible reports. Here’s the top albums last week. We do that for users, but I really try to let people know that we store the data in such a way that they can build it anyway they want. So if they want to know what were the top thousand vinyl deluxe version (albums) released in the last three months for a sub-set of the rock genre on Wednesday in Philadelphia, they can do that in 60 seconds. They can click, click and there’s their report.
And It’s just not one static general report.
It’s just not one report. It’s not, “Okay, we will give you the top 200 reports from last week.” Well, it’s stale by the time you get it. We don’t want to sell these static reports. We want to sell people access to the system so they can create the reports, and get the fresh data that they really want in order for them to make their decisions.
What led you to decide to provide deeper data across the board?
I had heard a lot of people talk about that if it wasn’t in (standard) SoundScan, and they had to make a customer request, they would have to pay $1,000 or $1,500, wait a week, and they’d get their request. That’s crazy. It just didn’t ring true to me. A large customer shouldn't have to wait a week and spend over $1,000 dollars to get a “custom” report that should have been in the primary platform.
Who can most make use of BuzzAngle Music?
The traditional buyers of this kind of service. Distributors, including the small distributors, and all sizes of labels. It will appeal to smaller labels more because we have more of an attractive price point. Some people who can’t afford to use SoundScan will find our service more attractively-priced, and they will get all of the benefits of a more timely service. But then there’s people on the touring side. The whole spectrum of tour promoters, venue operators, and bookers. People on the radio side. Anyone who is a radio programmer at a radio station or who is in radio promotions within one of the music companies will get a lot more value out of it because now they can get down to that market level, and see what’s happening in streams, sales and airplay all in one place. Now they can see how the levers are working for particular songs. For the first time they can see things like that. For the radio industry, those in the touring industry, and heads of sales and marketing, it is really appealing to those segments. We are already seeing a lot of traction in those segments.
What are the price points for the service?
We are using a typical SaaS, the software as a service model (a software licensing and delivery model in which software is licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted). So we are going on per seat (per user) per month basis, and depending on the size of the organization, we will determine how many seats that they will need
What is the price range?
It ranges from $150 to $200 a month per seat. We can get it down as low as $2,000 a year. We are probably in the $1,800 to $2,400 range. We want to get it to be a cell phone-sized bill per month, where somebody would say, “It’s almost like having another cell phone. I need this.” We want to become the Bloomberg Business terminal, if you will, of the music industry where everybody will need access to BuzzAngle Music. So we need to price it attractively. Then it will be just the number of seats. If you are a small label and you just need one or two IDs, a minimum size label with 4 or 5. Then when you are the larger distributors you will be 100 of seats.
BuzzAngle Music would open an information door for secondary players in the music industry. Right now, if they want to attain SoundScan stats, they have to beg friends with access.
That’s right. We want to avoid that because it’s hard on both sides. I’m not looking at it as someone stealing my service, I am looking that not only does the person who wants it (the data) want it more timely than they are going to get it, and the other person who is giving it, that their time is not—I wouldn’t say wasted—but they have to take some time to get the information for somebody else, and that’s kind of a waste of productivity in the industry. So we’ve seen that, and we decided that we’d make it attractive enough so they will get much deeper data.
Launched in in 2008, Record Store Day has gone on to become a major event in music retail. Certainly, it has had an impact on the industry’s awareness of BuzzAngle Music. You used Record Store Day in 2014, and this year to highlight BuzzAngle Music’s differences with Nielsen SoundScan.
Yes. It was an opportunity because it was a day. You want to find out what happened on that Saturday on Record Store Day? The SoundScan system is a weekly system, and they would report the week of Record Store Day. That Monday to Sunday week with that Saturday fell in with 80% showing more than the previous week. That’s not as precise as saying that Record Store Day did 2,000%
more than the previous Record Store Day.
That goes to any individual event.
Record Day (2014) was the first time we were able to say, “You really should be looking at things on a daily basis because that’s how events happen.” We showed what happened with a Super Bowl performance around Super Bowl Sunday. What was the impact for Kate Perry and Bruno Mars (appearing on the Super Bowl Halftime Show) on Super Bowl Day itself? With their performance what happened when AC/DC played Coachella? Here’s what happened that day and the day before and the days after. Anybody who does a tour, and plays a city, that’s one day. That’s not a week. That’s a day. If someone appears on any one of the late night shows, it’s a day. You want to find out what happened on the day. If you run a Twitter/Facebook campaign, you run it on a day, and you want to see what happened. So yes, I am glad that you picked that up. It was the first time that we could say, “Hey, there’s value in the daily data.” A lot of value.
In the film and TV industries, overnight data is available. It’s mind-boggling in the music industry that it hasn’t been available.
Absolutely. Yeah, and it’s taken a long time. It’s taken a long time. Habits die hard. People were still saying, “I can show what happened when Taylor Swift’s album came out. Here’s what happened on the first day. The first day. Launch day. The debut day. Here’s what happened.”
It really was showing who had top sales for the first 7 days.
Who had the best debut day this year? I can do that kind of stuff every single day so I can normalize it now. The tracking weeks may change, but because I’m a daily system I can normalize the results.
We are awash with analytics in the music industry. Are we at a crossroads in how to utilize available data? The industry is being overwhelmed by more and more data every day.
It is, and that is a very good insight. I tell people all the time that we are really presenting with my new service just more data, and we are just scratching the surface of analytics. I would say that the SoundScan system is purely a charting system. All that it basically does is add up the numbers and say, “This is number one. This is number 60. This is number 200.” This is all it pretty well does. There’s almost no analytics. I’m scratching the surface of analytics to be able to get in, and dive a little deeper. If anything we are in the beginning. Using baseball analogy, we are just now battling batting averages. We are not even close to the more sophisticated stats that baseball is using. We are not there. We are at you could divide these two numbers and get a batting average.
[Prior to Nielsen SoundScan’s launch in the U.S. in 1991 and in Canada in 1997, when the company started using bar code technology to keep track of sales at the point-of-purchase, the music industry in North America had relied on sales ranking provided weekly by select retailers or certifications from the Recording Industry Association of America, and the Canadian Recording Industry Assn. which were not based on sales, but units shipped to stores.
Record companies only knew how many records had been manufactured and were shipped to retailers. Stores provided no exact sales figures, only a listing of top sellers, and often failed to include niche genres in the listings. Accurate sales figures were not readily available until retailers had shipped unsold product back to the label–sometimes months later.
These certifications were not automatic. The record companies paid a fee to the organizations who carried out audits into the release in question. Some labels, like Motown, routinely did not seek certification.
Certification numbers might overstate sales if stores ordered more albums than they were able to sell. Record labels also had to pay a certification fee; therefore, they may not always have applied for a certification each time a record reaches an accredited status, meaning certifications might not be visible in the databases for more than a short period of time after an album is released.]
Nielsen SoundScan has been a key element of the industry since its 1991 introduction, but the rise of streaming as the key means of distribution—and in increased complexity of measuring music consumption—makes profiling sales in the future more difficult. Until now the music industry has been content with knowing what is selling; knowing what is getting airplay reflected in traditional charts. Meanwhile, existing data isn’t always being accurately gauged.
That’s exactly right. We have data, but we don’t have a ton of information. You can use the old terms there. We are awash in data, and I am collecting more and more data than ever. More than ever that has been collected in the music industry in terms of deeper data. But we really need to keep in mind that we need to provide better information. And how do you provide the insight from the data? And that’s where we going. And I think that we are just at the beginning of that today. My service is just showing the beginning of it. I wouldn’t say that it’s even in the middle of it. We are just sort of scratching the surface in the beginning to say that now that we have stored this data in a way that has never been stored before, and processed in way that it has been stored before, now the fun begins. I have been talking to a bunch of label presidents over the past few weeks and that’s exactly what I tell them. I tell them, “This isn’t the end goal. We are at the starting line of that phase in analytics.”
The music industry was the first media sector to feel the full impact of the internet, and technology-empowered consumers. At the same time we have the remnants of a generation who have had to move from being sales and promotion executives into being technology and analytics savvy. Many executives knew little about the internet other than sending email, but they all now understand that data, analytics and technology are a key component of the industry. They have all hired personnel that understands those sectors, and can dialogue with you. You couldn’t have such a dialogue with some labels five years ago.
(Laughing). No. It’s a good point. You are totally correct. Even in the past two years that I have working with the industry, the dialogue has gotten better. They are hiring people with those skills or they are training people with those skills. The dialogue is much better these days. That’s better for us, right? The old saying that, “An educated consumer is the best customer.”
What I’m saying is that it takes a different skill set to deal with this newer aspect of the business. Your background with a B.A. in computer science and MBA in general business and working in systems engineering and sales support at different firms provides a different perspective. Many label executives have had to learn about the intricacies of technology-driven distribution and social media changes while on the job. It’s a lot to take in.
It is a lot to take in, and I have to temper my demonstrations with that thought because I realize that there is a lot to my system. There’s a lot of things that they can do but it can be overwhelming because, like you said, here’s all this data. That why I caution everybody that I think that we are now at the beginning of a great cycle now. We can distill some of it down. Who’s the most productive artist? What was the most productive album? Using different terms. It’s not just units that were sold, but can we divide things by seasonality, and by type of artist, and by genre? Just put a bunch of stats together under the covers, and then present something that is more digestible to an executive. Here’s the end result of this analysis, and we are at the beginning of that stage.
Traditionally, it’s all been about a sale is a sale. Today, a sale has to be considered alongside other factors.
Yes, and it’s daunting. I think the longer that it (the company) goes with different providers coming in, and (users) wanting to see different data sets, it’s coming more into our core competence. In the beginning people wanted what we do. They were very intrigued two and a half years ago, but they are even more intrigued today because they see these different changes that you a
re talking about, and different data points coming in. it’s even more overwhelming today, and they see that our abilities, even more with the change to Global Release Day. We didn’t think was going to be an event, but Nielsen has had a very tough time processing it.
You have jumped around different companies. Are you going to stay in the music business for any length of time?
Yes. I love entertainment. It could be the most exciting thing that I have ever done. That’s what really has got me juiced. I am in something that anybody can relate to. This is probably the first job that I’ve had where I can describe it to my parents and they understand. They totally don’t understand the data part, but they see what‘s going on, “You provide clients with the data so they can make business decisions.” That’s easy. When you doing other things like helping a supply chain, it’s like, “What?” It didn’t make sense.
If you were trying to explain to your parents that your job dealt with messaging, security, hosting, managing corporate data, and overseeing collaboration applications, you probably lost them.
That’s right. They didn’t understand anything other than my title.
Unlike so many, you are optimistic about the future of the music industry.
I probably have never been more excited about a venture. This is truly exciting. Not only am I building something never seen before, but they (those in the music industry) also need it. At a time that they have never needed something ever like this before. So everything is coming together at the same time. Like, “Wow this is great!” Having said that old habits died hard. So I always temper my thoughts on the prospects of our future because Billboard uses SoundScan, and SoundScan has been around 25 years. And old habits die hard. We are probably going to see pretty soon whether these (SoundScan) guys or even Billboard will stick to the old world or will they realize what they need to do for the future.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record.
He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
Larry is the recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, recognizing individuals who have made an impact on the Canadian music industry. He is a board member of the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ontario.
To learn more about Larry LeBlanc and to see some nifty historical photos check out: