It’s Almost 2020, Do You Know Who Your Audience Is?

While the music business has had a pretty good year overall, the industry could be headed for trouble if music teams don’t make an effort to step up their game and start thinking brand marketers.


Guest post by Tim Burke, CEO, Affinioand Jon Vanhala, CXO and Founder, Crossfade Partners

The music industry doesn’t have it so easy these days. True, the streaming evolution has exploded label revenues. Live events and ticketing remain strong, with 10+% growth in 2019. That’s exciting and sincere kudos to all. But there’s trouble on the horizon and it needs urgent addressing: the brands that music marketing teams rely on for sponsorships have surpassed them in terms of audience insights. If the music industry doesn’t step up its game, it will risk becoming irrelevant.  

Here’s the reality: brands have undergone a seismic shift in how they spend their media budgets. They’ve invested in sophisticated data, AI, and programmatic tools that allow them to deeply understand audiences and how to engage them effectively. The music biz? Not quite so much. That needs to change.

Brands understand that customer bases are made up of many different types of audiences and communities, and they’ve put in place the tools they need to parse the nuances so that they can speak to them in a unique and authentic voice. Today’s brand marketers rely on far more than demographic data and purchase behavior when developing a targeting and messaging strategy; they capture and analyze what customers say about their brands, who they follow on social media, which sites they visit, and who their influencers are.

This contrasts with the music teams who for years pitched and closed sponsor deals based on audience size and perceived “heat” signals of the artists they represent. But their potential sponsors — the CMOs and agencies who will say yes to a sponsorship — are under pressure to show that every dollar of marketing spend creates measurable business success. Before they sign up, they want to know exactly who will they reach and what the ROI will be if they buy into a program. They want advice on the best creative messaging, the best channels to activate. How will this spend advance their marketing goals? How do they measure success and determine value? These are the conversations brand marketers want to have when they consider a sponsorship, and that means music teams need deep insights into their audiences. 

How do music teams tell compelling data stories about their artists? A good place to begin is to apply AI to identify all of the sub communities that naturally exist. Next, do a similar analysis of the brand partners’ audiences and not the overlap. So let’s say an analysis of Artist X fans reveals a statistically relevant number are also fans of  BrandZ gear, and other are avid Nascar fans. These insights will help the music team identify the right brands to target for sponsorships, and increase the odds of success by having a compelling story to tell.

Moreover, music teams can now provide insight into the types of activations to develop (ex. “Wear your BrandZ gear to ArtistX show”), and recommend the best channels and experiential events to create meaningful engagement. The old rule of thumb still applies: brands typically spend between 2-5x the cost of the sponsorship in order to activate and promote their talent investment. By helping target the right communities with highly relevant messages, in the right place and time, the insights you provide make you a better partner, and allow you to capture a larger share of the sponsor’s activation spend. 

Stating the obvious, music companies can and should do way more than produce compelling content and events. Access to and understanding of audiences has immense value. Transitioning to become the preeminent audience experts for your artists leads to more sustainable and profitable partnerships with your brand/agency partners.  

So here’s the deal. It’s 2019 about to be 2020. Shouldn’t we make flying semi-blind go away? Intelligent insights are now expected, even demanded. By identifying the meaningful communities within an artist’s audience, music teams can truly step up to the adviser role and close more deals for the talent they represent. 


Tim Burke is CEO of Affinio, the marketing strategy platform that leverages the interest graph to understand today’s consumers. With over 12 years of experience in building companies and developing technology that solves some of the world’s hardest problems, Tim co-founded Affinio to mine the billions of relational network connections that exist within any given social audience to shed data-driven light on who each audience segment is and what they truly care most about. For more information, visit:, or follow on Twitter @Affinio.

Jon Vanhala, CXO and Founder, Crossfade Partners

Jon Vanhala is a marketer, technologist, and a business developer who spent years as head of digital, brand partnerships, and sync licensing at Universal Music Group. He’s built and executed award-winning programs at their top labels (Island/Def Jam, Republic, and Verve Music.) and worked with the world’s largest superstars (Jay Z, Rihanna, Bieber, Kanye, Ariana Grande, more) to jazz artists (Diana Krall, Coltrane) and hundreds of music artists across all genres with incredibly diverse fanbases. The last 4 years he’s focused on technology innovations, startups, and data-driven insights creating new opportunity for creators and Media & Entertainment companies. He’s an adviser and former board director for Affinio, and an active angel investor and/or consultant for multiple tech companies.

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