Category Archives: Music Industry

The Spotify Playlist Problem

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 10.49.56Let me start this article by saying that I love Spotify. Great company, great team – and lately, rather ironically given the naysaying of Thom Yorke et al, emerging as something of a potential music industry saviour when you look at the machinations of Google, Amazon and other tech giants, who seem fairly intent on driving the value of music down to zero. So, to summarise: I’m a big fan.

Having said that, I feel there’s an awkward question that has to be asked, namely: why, in Spotify’s Browse section, are 99.9% of the playlists Spotify’s own?

If you’re not familiar, Browse is the “uninformed” discovery section – the editorial area where Spotify can push playlists of its choosing. At the top are more day-to-day relevant playlists, and further down are various mood-related starting points which then offer a variety of playlists to choose from.

Here’s the Browse section today (click to enlarge):
Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 10.53.40

Of all the playlists shown there, only the BBC’s Playlister one in the centre isn’t made by Spotify.

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Don’t Blame Radio 1: How An Obsession With Stats Is Damaging The UK Music Business

This article first appeared on Drowned in Sound on May 30th 2014

BBCRADIO1A recent article for The Guardian went behind the scenes at Radio 1’s playlisting meeting, chatting with those on the current selection board and generally revealing how decisions on what’s goes on there are made. Unsurprisingly, social media stats get referenced a fair bit, with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other public data being considered when discussing whether or not an artist should win a spot on the station’s playlist. Whilst exceptions are made (Clean Bandit are referenced as an example, where online stats remain low but R1 has still opted for support), by the end of the article the writer concludes that “it all feels so soulless”, lamenting the days when Peel could play what he wanted and took risks.

(I think the first myth to debunk here is that Peel ever represented the output of Radio 1. Whilst Peel was blowing my mind with weird combinations of Napalm Death, The Fall and even a band called Mousefart, the primary output of The Nation’s Favourite was still “characters” like Dave Lee Travis and Simon Bates. Whatever state Radio 1 is in now, I think we should remember that once upon a time the daytime output included a man who built a career on a sound effect that went “Quack quack oops!”. But I digress…)

For those of us working in the music industry, Radio 1’s obsession with public stats has long been a bone of contention. The main reason is because at different times it felt like that focus on the public stats was myopic. There’s also been whispers that labels were buying “fans”, views, likes or whatever other metric was rife, with marketing departments simply putting down £100 for 100k views so their plugger could then rock up to the R1 producers and excitedly squeal “just LOOK at those numbers!”.

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Revisiting the Facebook reach debate

facebook_logoThe debate around Facebook Pages and their organic reach has been ongoing for years now, but it always spikes again when Facebook themselves cop to the fact that organic reach is changing or that their algorithm has changed in some manner.

The latest development is an apparent admission on Facebook’s part that Pages will now see organic reach drop to “between 1-2%”. For what its worth, previous organic reach was around 6%, and two years ago I remember telling bands I worked with that 10% was probably a sign things were going well – anything more than 10% would be a bonus. So, let’s be clear: Facebook organic reach has never been all that great.

Now though as we drop nearer and nearer to a zero figure, it rightly leaves many wondering why they bother. Just last week, Eat24 announced they were deleting their Facebook Page citing the hopeless reach as a factor.

I certainly sympathise. Let’s be clear: I’ve never been of the view that we all deserved unlimited reach with our Pages. However the ideal always felt like a balance of sorts, with day-to-day posts achieving decent reach (provided they were good) and ‘milestone’ posts (which in the context of bands would mean new single/video/album/tour) getting promoted to ensure maximum reach not just to fans but to broader audiences too. There was logic to this: it ensured a good flow of decent content to fans (which in turn kept them on the site, thereby benefiting Facebook as well) whilst also ensuring that Facebook would see money for promoting those key posts to broader audiences.

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Music vs The Web: Have We Reached Social Media’s Tipping Point?

facebook_logoThis article originally appeared on Drowned In Sound.

Its been a bumper year for Facebook, on paper at least. Recently they announced that year-on-year revenues were up 60%, with advertising revenue up to $1.8bn. Their daily active user count rose 25% to 728 million people. At this point then, you’d think it would be high-fives all round, with Wall Street giving Zuckerberg and co a hearty pat on the back.

And yet, shortly after this announcement, more than $18bn was wiped from Facebook’s stock value. The reason? One, short sentence: “We did see a decrease in daily users specifically among younger teens.”

Herein lies the problem for Facebook – and indeed any tech company looking to take the IPO path: when advertising is your core product, at some point the balance will tip, driving users – usually starting with the younger ones – away.

Put simply: in order to make money, Facebook must serve ads. In order to make more money, Facebook must serve even more ads – almost certainly putting them on a collision with a critical mass point, where people burn out completely on ads and, at the very least, stop clicking on them or, as is the current case among teens, find other services to use.

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Book recommendation: ‘Social Media Is Bullshit’ by BJ Mendelson

Social Media Is BullshitThis week I’ve been really enjoying reading the finely-titled book “Social Media Is Bullshit” by BJ Mendelson. Its a provocative title alright, but really the point of Mendelson’s ire here is not so much social media itself, but more the ecosystem of bullshit that has grown around it: the marketers, analysts and self-styled experts who sell social media as the solution to all our marketing problems. Ultimately, this book is a call for a bit more common sense in marketing and a bit less blind acceptance of stats and reports making often too-good-to-be-true claims. Certainly for me what resonated was the author’s attack on rather vague social media metrics being used as a genuine indicator of success. As various others (most recently Lucy Blair in her MIDEM blog) have pointed out, this is a real problem in the music industry and one that needs addressing ASAP. Radio 1 could be cited as a contributing factor to this problem in my view, purely because any campaign with an eye on their playlist focusses on the stats they know the station wants to see. However I think along the way everyone – myself included – has at some point fallen for the stats game and allowed it to dictate our strategies, and that is not a good thing.

What I like about this book is that it is not just an all-out attack with a wholly negative tone. Through the book Mendelson outlines the problems but crucially then offers solutions based on his own experiences. Reading those is a welcome dose of common sense and whilst the book isn’t perfect (and at some points lost me purely because marketing music is not the same as marketing soap powder or any other product), it certainly gives you grounds to sit and truly re-evaluate your perspective on modern media and what *really* works.

I wouldn’t say this is a book purely for marketing people either; arguably managers and label staff of any type should take a read to get that much-needed dose of perspective. Amid a multitude of blogs telling us these platforms are the future, that’s very welcome indeed.

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