Austin Daboh on music, tech, AI, and the future of artist marketing

Austin Daboh

Welcome to the latest episode of the Music Business Worldwide Podcast. The MBW Podcast is supported by Voly Music. On this episode, MBW founder Tim Ingham speaks to Austin Daboh, EVP and President of Black Music for Atlantic Records UK.

Austin Daboh (pictured) is one of the UK’s most influential and forward-thinking major record company executives.

In addition to being EVP of Atlantic Records UK, he was recently promoted to President Of Black Music at the label.

A member of the Warner Music UK leadership team, Daboh also sits on the board of the Warner Music and Blavatnik Family Foundation Social Justice Fund, where he has helped secure around £2 million in funding for Black-led British charities.

Prior to joining Warner in 2020, Daboh was a high-flying executive at Spotify, where he was Head of Music Culture & Editorial, and also at Apple Music, where he was Head of Editorial for UK & Ireland.

At Atlantic, Daboh, a music marketing specialist, has worked with artists including Burna Boy, Tion Wayne, Jack Harlow, Cardi B and Mahalia.

On this Music Business Worldwide podcast, Daboh speaks to MBW founder, Tim Ingham, to discuss the future of music marketing, social media in music, artificial intelligence – and why he believes that the industry should be striving to offer fans a “seamless music experience”.

Listen to the pod above, and/or read an abridged excerpt from MBW’s discussion with Daboh below…

Web 3 was all the noise last year. This year, everything’s moved on to AI. Have we rushed past the possibilities of Web 3?

I love the innovation and the intention of innovation that the music industry is showing when it comes to getting on the front foot of the next frontier.

I’ve certainly been impressed by Warner’s own efforts in that area. For the first time ever in the time that I’ve been in the music industry, it feels like we’re on the front foot, rather than pedaling backwards and trying to work back to front when new tech or new platforms come to the fore.

It’s interesting, though. I’m a millennial. I’m an ’80s baby who grew up in the ’90s and in the explosion of the late ’90s and early noughties, I was the perfect music consumer in age. I was like 14, 15m, 16 years old.

When I hear people talk about community, Web 3, building fan clubs, building communities, and then finding ways to extract value from those communities, it actually reminds me massively of ‘Web 1’.

As a young music fan growing up in South London in the early noughties, I would go to ‘’ or I would go to ‘Jay’ or ‘’ and it looked exactly like a Dischord server. You had chatrooms, you could listen to music early doors there before the general public found out, you could pay for merch, you could pay a subscription to get access to secret rooms and secret content.

In a weird way, we’re resetting back to a method that the music industry actually had before. The difference [with Web 3] is the platforms are much slicker, and they’re way more integrated. There are faster and better ways to do community now and to do community at scale, with the access that we’ve got to big data, etc.

Web 3 is Web 1 on steroids. That’s how I see it. It presents massive opportunities. And we’re already seeing it with artists like [Atlantic UK artist] KSI who are building communities, and are not afraid to say, we love the platforms where we don’t own the data and we’re not in control of the algorithm.

But at the same time, the smart artists are going to ensure that they put the destiny in their own hands and aren’t beholden to an algorithm. Too many people over the last decade have become slaves to the algorithm.

This is a selfish anecdote, but the brilliant people who make MBW’s website make websites for other people. I believe that they’ve been involved in creating Iron Maiden’s paywalled fanclub site. That’s why I was on it, to see what they’ve been up to. I found that really interesting that they’re directly monetizing their significant fan base. they’re not relying on [the algorithm] to monetize their fans…

Everybody knows that I’m a big fan of streaming. It helped to save the music industry. I’m unapologetic in saying that I do believe that streaming has created new revenue paths for artists that they wouldn’t have had in years gone by.

With that being said, the monetary ecosystem around streaming is one that can’t always provide nuanced flexibility at scale.

“The monetary ecosystem around streaming is one that can’t always provide nuanced flexibility at scale.”

And, of course, when you create a community and that community is owned and operated by the IP owner or by the creators themselves, it allows you to be nuanced in the way in which you set your pricing structures and the way in which you monetize your fans.

Listen, we’re going through a cost of living crisis. If I was a creator, and I had a website, and it was a £5 paywall, then maybe during the energy crisis that would drop down to a quid or 99p, or maybe even free. That, for good reason, obviously can’t be the case with subscription services scale, but it can be when you’re dealing with smaller communities.

If I’m rubbing a crystal ball and looking into the future, my guess is that we end up with a hybrid model of, you’ve got different communities that are monetized in different ways. But certainly an owned and operated one is going to be your main breadwinner.

what are your observations when you sit back and look at what’s happening with AI, ChatGPT and its increasing importance to music and marketing more generally?

Anyone who’s had a laptop or a desktop PC, or who was engaged in any form of tech over the last 15, 20 years has in some way, shape, or form encountered, or has used, knowingly or unknowingly, AI.

As someone who was a super early adopter of Chat GPT, I think it is absolutely amazing – when used in the right way. For me, Chat GPT destroys writer’s block. For me, that’s its main function.

I know, several creatives who have used Chat GPT – maybe that’s a bit controversial, but I’ll carry on this thread anyway – when they’ve got a spark of an idea, but that spark hasn’t yet turned into a flame.

Chat GPT has helped turn that spark into a flame. And then they’ve been able to take that flame and turn it into a forest fire. That’s what Chat GPT and other AI language-based models are amazing at.

“As someone who was a super early adopter of Chat GPT, I think it is absolutely amazing – when used in the right way.”

There are issues that need to be solved with AI language-based models. The first is the fact that they’re confidently wrong. We’ve seen a couple of cases in the news recently where a biog was written by a language model on a guy and it wrongly stated quite confidently that person had been arrested before that served time in prison.

This person was a law-abiding member of his local golf club. And when I’ve tested Chat GPT it has been confidently wrong about things that I know it’s wrong about. So how do we get past that side of things? That’s the first thing.

Secondly, there are genuine concerns around the intellectual property of the original creator. I look at visual models such as Mid Journey, for example, that create amazing pieces of art, but they are based on other people’s work.

How do we get to the point at which someone enters their art into the world, whether that’s a piece of music, a JPEG, an mp4. At the point at which somebody’s art enters into the digital world and gets uploaded onto a cloud, it’s tagged and tracked.

So, at the point that any server engages or interacts with that file on that database sitting in some warehouse in the Nordics, there is some sort of record and ledger that’s kept.

Blockchain will solve elements of this, but how do we ensure that the distribution, the copying the duplication of files, is tracked?  And how is that original artist remunerated?

you made an observation before we started recording about the difference between who’s adopting and who is pushing forward chat GPT and generative AI, text models in particular, right now, versus other revolutionary platforms we’ve seen in music and outside and the early adopters of those. what’s your observation on what’s happening there?

What’s interesting is that tech [usage] is getting older. That’s a good thing for us as a music industry, in that if you look at it historically, new technology would really be adopted by two main groups: young teenagers, and a small subset of older men.

Older men that were really into their tech would be early adopters, but it would really be driven by the masses and those masses would be young teenagers that got into tech early.

It’s that classic thing of teenagers having to tell their parents or grandparents how to use a phone or certain bits of technology.

What we’re now seeing, first of all, the gaming market was a good sort of bellwether of what was to come. With the Super Nintendo, the early Playstations, the early Xboxes, It was young kids, it was teenage boys [using that tech]. Gaming definitely wasn’t something that felt inclusive for young females. Now, every household has a games console in the same way that every household had a DVD player, or every household has a TV.

And we’re now seeing more and more older gamers than ever before. That’s also playing out in other technological spheres.

If you look at ChatGPT – and I’ve seen some anecdotal data to back this up, but I’m really interested in seeing if there’s any hard evidence to back this up – my theory, from what I’ve seen is this is something that’s being driven in part by older consumers.

You’re not actually hearing young teenage kids talking about ChatGPT. You’re hearing accountants, lawyers, graphic designers, music makers, they’re all in their second and third phases of their career, talking about ChatGPT. That’s really interesting, because it could be the first time in history where a digital-based technology has been driven by over 30s consumers, maybe with the exception of high-fidelity audio platforms, like Sonos, for example.

One of the biggest successes you’ve had at Atlantic to date, especially on the marketing side, would have been body by Tion Wayne. that was always looked upon as something which caught fire on tiktok. because you’ve lived the explosion of tiktok and its influence on music marketing, with such an amazing case study and others,  what observations do you have on the growth in tikTOk’s power and where are we today in terms of the challenges it may or may not face to maintain that power?

What’s fascinating to me, is the explosive verticle ‘J Curve’ growth that Tiktok experienced.

When I think about other kingmakers, when it comes to platforms, whether that be in traditional media, like radio, newspapers, magazines, through to a DSP, such as Spotify and Apple Music. It’s taken years to get to a point where they had a massively disruptive influence on what people were consuming en mass at that volume.

It’s fascinating, looking at TikTok, how quick that growth was and how potent they became, I would argue probably over 18 months to two years maximum.

“What’s fascinating to me, is the explosive verticle ‘J Curve’ growth that Tiktok experienced.”

When I joined Atlantic in 2020, TikTok was a very important platform that we had to be across, but it definitely wasn’t something that was having a direct impact on the charts.

Within a year, it was the thing that helped to drive [Tion Wayen’s] Body to No.1 in the charts. The challenge for Tiktok now is, as it matures, how does it maintain its potency.

As we end decade four of the internet, what we’re seeing is that some platforms are born, grow, become massive, and then wither away and die.

What we’re seeing with this new phase of the internet is that platforms are going from withering away, into a sort of autumn and winter season and coming back in spring and growing big, shiny, green new leaves.

“I’m looking forward to working alongside and with TikTok in ensuring that they maintain their potency when it comes to captivating young audiences and funneling young audiences through to becoming music consumers.”

SoundCloud is a great example. Look at the Twitter. Post Elon [Musk], there’s a conversation to be had there. But certainly, Twitter went from being the also-ran and Instagram being the dominant place that people’s attention was at, and actually now, post Brexit, post-Trump, Twitter has exploded  to be the number one news source in the world, I would argue.

I’m looking forward to working alongside and with TikTok in ensuring that they maintain their potency when it comes to captivating young audiences and funneling young audiences through to becoming music consumers.

How do we ensure that a 10, 15, 30-second clip of a song transitions to the full consumption of someone’s art? [That] is a question we’re all trying to figure out as an industry, but TikTok maintaining their potency, I’m really fascinated to see what they’ve got up their sleeves to do that.

By the time this goes out, it’ll be official that you’ve been made president of black music at Atlantic UK as well as maintaining your EVP position.  I literally got a press release through a couple of days ago from the BPI, the UK trade body, saying that hip hop and rap had its highest market share of UK albums ever, in 2022.  in the US, the opposite is true. The hip hop genre in America is still number one, but it’s actually slightly in decline over the last couple of years, while in the UK, it looks like we’re reaching a peak. could you explain what’s happening in the UK? Why is this rise continuing? And can it get even bigger from here?

It’s incredible because there have been some question marks over the last 18 months around the potency of UK black music, and whether there was a potential decline in young teenagers’ thirst for the genre.

And my point to friends and colleagues or friends in the industry, when I speak to them, has been that black music always recedes before a tsunami comes. It always has done and it always will do.

What we’re seeing is, we’ve got our first generation of album-selling legacy acts in black music. That’s probably what those figures are born out of.

We’re between genres at the moment, in terms of the way in which people are consuming black music. We’ve had sort of five or so years of drill being a dominant genre. If you look at how 2023 has started, you’re already seeing different Hip Hop sounds come to the fore. Tion Wayne, Kojey Radical from Atlantic, but then also outside of their artists like Strandz and Clavish, and one or two others.

Alongside having the first generation of album-selling, arena-level acts, like the Stormzys, the Dave’s of this world, you’ve also got your first generation of British consumers that grew up on black music.

So this is the first-ever generation of 30 and 40-something-year-olds who grew up on [BBC] 1 Extra, Capital Extra, Choice FM and Kiss FM. They grew up with Wireless Festival being a part of their teenage years. And they’re now mums and dads at home, consuming albums.

How important is it these days for young British talent from the black music world to break through in America And is it becoming more or less likely?

I like to think that I played a small part in the exportation of black British music internationally. There was an explosion that started around about 2016 when I moved over to Spotify, and it’s continued today.

I would say that if I look at what Central Cee has done, if I look at what KSI is doing, if I look at someone like Tion Wayne, whose third biggest audience is in India and has a very sizable audience in America, there is absolutely no doubt that this is the first generation of American music consumers that consider UK rap part of their daily music staple. There is no doubt about that.

I remember being in New York in 2017. And being in Footlocker buying some sneakers, and Big Shaq’s Man’s Not Hot was playing. And I remember being like, Wow, they’re playing this not because I’m in the store. They don’t know that I’m British. They’re just playing it because it was a meme and it had sort of gone viral and taken over the internet. That was 2017.

I was in New York about three months ago, six years later. Funnily enough, I was in the exact same Footlocker store. I was in there for about half an hour and I would say half of the music that I heard was British music.

“American consumers that are into hip-hop culture at the bleeding edge of what’s hot, are listening to UK artists in a way that they’ve never done historically.”

I’m talking, Tion Wayne, Central Cee, Skepta, K-Trap. American consumers that are into hip-hop culture at the bleeding edge of what’s hot, are listening to UK artists in a way that they’ve never done historically.

I’ve got a theory about this that I don’t think I’ve ever said publicly.  I’m glad that I get the opportunity to say this. My theory is that the success that we’re seeing with the exportation of black British music is part of a wider ecosystem, where the foundation was laid by black British actors that have gone over to America. Idris Elba, Daniel Kaluuya, and Ashley Thomas have gone over and have dominated American TV screens for the last 15 years.

And then, meme culture. If you look at Black Twitter, for example, and you look at the Top 10 most used memes in Black Twitter culture. Three of them are actually black British music related.

My belief is that over the last five to 10 years, the black British accent has softened on American audiences because they’ve been watching Top Boy on Netflix, they’ve been watching reruns of The Wire, remembering that Stringer Bell was actually British. They’ve been seeing Daniel Kaluuya doing interviews on the red carpet, talking in his British accent.

And then, on their internet journey, they are naturally coming across memes and jokes that are based around black British culture. I’ve got this theory that the explosion of black British music internationally is being driven by meme culture and black internet culture.

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