‘Streaming is an opportunity and a challenge. We’re at the forefront of mining that data’

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INgrooves is a company which offers independent labels and artists a dream ticket: no need to give up their copyrights, with no compromise on the global success their music can attain worldwide.

The US-based distribution and services specialist, which comfortably turns over $100m+ a year, has always prided itself on being a technology-first operation – driven by a belief that the world of music commerce will increasingly become dominated by global digital consumption.

This focus has only intensified since Bob Roback took over as CEO in 2015.

Roback, who joined INgrooves from his role as President of guitar giant Fender, aims not only to make INgrooves’ tech systems the best in the business – but also to offer industry-leading strategic advice to the firm’s clients, which now include the likes of Dirty Hit in the UK, OneLove in Australia, and Burning Heart in Sweden.

One recent move by INgrooves epitomizes this drive: the hiring of respected expert data scientist, SK Sharma, to head up a newly-launched Insights & Analytics division.

“I have been working with INgrooves since I started Dirty Hit; they have shown their commitment to helping me achieve my vision of a what a truly modern record label is for almost seven years now.”

JamiE Oborne, Dirty Hit

Roback, who replaced co-founder Robb McDaniels as INgrooves boss, hopes these efforts will eventually enlighten independent labels and artists as to the best way to cut through the online noise – and outsmart their major rivals online.

Roback has also upped the impetus on making sure INgrooves has expertise on the ground in key territories, particularly those where streaming has matured to a critical level.

In Scandinavia, for example, the company recently hired Kristine Bjørnstad and Tim Dunham as co-regional managers – bringing both over from senior positions at respected Swedish indie Cosmos.

Such investment is impressing INgrooves’ key clients like London-based Dirty Hit (Wolf Alice, Benjamin Francis Leftwich), which recently re-signed its global deal with the company.

“I have been working with INgrooves since I started Dirty Hit, they have shown their commitment to helping me achieve my vision of a what a truly modern record label is for almost seven years now,” Dirty Hit founder Jamie Oborne (and A&R Award winner) tells MBW.

“I feel very grateful to have enjoyed such a trusting and progressive business relationship with Bob and his team, I’m looking forward to this next phase of commercial development.”

For Roback, that next phase is the really exciting part – because it involves cracking the code of maximizing streaming’s revenue opportunity amongst the independent sector.

MBW caught up with the exec to ask what’s next from INgrooves, what differentiates it from its rivals, how its relationship with Universal Music Group affects its operation and more besides…


WHEN YOU JOINED INGROOVES, WHAT WERE YOUR OBJECTIVES AND HOW CLOSE ARE YOU TO ACHIEVING THEM?

Since Robb McDaniels and Matt Burns started INgrooves, it has always had innovation in its DNA.

My objective coming in was to create better insights and better recommendations in order to be a more valuable growth partner to our clients – by using technology to better access and mine the vast amount of data flowing into the system as a result of the explosion of streaming.

In my view, this has to become a key evolution of the distribution space. Rather than just being a facilitator of moving things from point A to point B, we must better help our labels figure out how to grow their revenue, be as efficient as possible with their marketing spend and achieve greater success.

Streaming is both an opportunity and a challenge – you’ve got this wonderful world of unlimited ‘shelf space’, but it creates dizzying consumer choice.

We have made great progress along this road, but it’s a long journey and we have a lot of work left to do.


WHAT DIFFERENTIATES INGROOVES FROM TUNECORE, SONY RED, CAROLINE, ADA, AWAL, [PIAS] AND OTHERS WHO ARE OPERATING IN YOUR SPACE?

To me, the real center of what differentiates us is that we are a unique combination of three things:

  • A cutting-edge and expansive technology platform that we’re continuing to invest in – one offering best-in-class opportunities for our partners to get their content to market, to monetize that content, to get paid on time in an accurate fashion and to have access to information about the actual performance of their content;
  • Our team of passionate experts in music, sales strategy and engagement marketing. Their role is to advise, educate and help our labels navigate the evolving music market to further develop their bands and brands. They can do this better than others because of our strong commitment to arming them with the right tools to make better decisions;
  • I fundamentally believe we are the only company in this space that is really making tangible investments in insights and analytics. A dashboard with lots of raw data and a great UI is neither insights nor analytics; it’s just a tool. What we are doing in the data science world is making sure we’re at the forefront of mining information to create real, actionable recommendations and strategic executions for our clients.

WHAT KIND OF INSIGHTS CAN YOU GIVE LABEL PARTNERS THAT A FANCY UI ALONE WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO provide?

The work we’re doing with the data scientists we employ – as well as things like machine learning and neural networks – is about looking for correlations that might otherwise not be obvious; to examine how content performs differently on different platforms, or how content performs based on genre or other factors.

“We’re looking for correlations that might otherwise not be obvious; to examine how content performs differently on different platforms, or how content performs based on genre or other factors.”

We’re also looking at how [releases] perform over time; do certain things require that first [marketing] splash more than others? It’s about recognizing those signposts so we can make sure we’re cultivating an audience to stay with this content for the longest period of time possible and maximizing value for our partners.


WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR HIGHLIGHTS SINCE JOINING THE COMPANY?

We have a range of great labels and artists we work with across many genres and it has been a highlight to collaborate and build smart campaigns with them – including Strange Music, Big Gigantic, Joe Bonamassa (pictured), Thievery Corporation, and Yellow Claw to name a few.

Additionally, extending our long-standing relationship with Jamie Oborne and his team at Dirty Hit was another highlight. Jamie is a fantastic and creative entrepreneur, and is very forward-thinking regarding a lot of the insight opportunities we are working on.

“extending our long-standing relationship with Jamie Oborne and his team at Dirty Hit was another highlight. Jamie is a fantastic and creative entrepreneur, and is very forward-thinking regarding a lot of the insight opportunities we are working on.”

From working on Wolf Alice’s debut in 2015, as well as working with Benjamin Francis Leftwich, we’re looking forward to the great stuff Dirty Hit has lined up, including Pale Waves, The Japanese House and QTY.

Our aim is to be a very valuable partner to all [our clients], to support the growth of their businesses and develop more opportunities for their artists.


DO YOU THINK A TIME WILL COME WHEN AN INDEPENDENT LABEL (OR ARTIST) WILL BE ABLE TO USE A SERVICE LIKE INGROOVES TO BUILD A GENUINE global POP SUPERSTAR?

Yes, I do – with a couple of caveats. It is absolutely possible for an independent artist to be cultivated alone by streaming – it just may happen along a different trajectory [than traditional superstars] and it may take a longer period of time.

Certain types of music and artists are still very dependent on terrestrial radio in some of the larger markets; we’ve been helpful to some of our clients in quarterbacking radio, but we are not investing in, for example, significant terrestrial radio promo departments

We are working hard to identify and cultivate the best promotional strategies for the digital age.


Do you have any concerns over the amount of distribution market share that the major labels currently control?

The only thing I’m really concerned about is that there be a level playing field, in the sense that independent artists and labels are not treated differently – as if their content is somehow less valuable. So far that hasn’t really been the case.

There are some very smart, progressive people at the consumer-facing services – I just can’t see them taking that myopic point of view.

At the end of the day, if companies who are not the majors, like ourselves, continue to demonstrate the real value-add that we can bring to the market, I think you’re going to see our market share and opportunities continue to grow and provide more and more balance in that regard.


Does Universal’s stake in INgrooves influence anything? I’m sure your competitors make a lot of that…

The short answer is it does not have any influence whatsoever. Universal is a minority stakeholder in INgrooves. They don’t control the business.

We value them as a customer, but that’s the focal point of our engagement with Universal. Their equity stake is not influential in any way over our conduct of business.


Are there any concerns over the level of day-to-day business Universal brings your way versus the rest of your operation?

Again, the short answer is no. They’re one of many customers.

We value them and work with them a little bit differently, versus how we work with all the rest of our customers, in that we are a supply chain provider for them as opposed to a full strategic growth partner. We value them but are not over-tilted towards them.


How far can an independent artist go on their own in 2017 – particularly emerging artists?

Technically speaking, an emerging artist can access the market directly. But in order to break out and be seen, they’re going to need resources and partnership around marketing.

That’s traditionally been the role of the label; an owner or co-owner of that intellectual property that invests in developing artists.

“Chance The Rapper did it without a label, of course, but I think he’s still the exception and not the rule.”

As our huge slate of independent labels demonstrates, they are incredibly valuable when it comes to artist development, then bringing music to market and finding it an audience.

While a newer or developing independent artist can technically do it alone, they’re going to find it difficult without access to those resources in some shape or form. Chance The Rapper did it without a label, of course, but I think he’s still the exception and not the rule.


What’s INgrooves’ overall market ambition?

We want to be known as the partner of choice for independent labels on a global basis. We have a complete technology suite combined with a best-in-class team working on behalf of our clients and executing globally in that regard.

We can point to a long list of case studies where we’ve significantly grown the business for our clients. We are a substantial and profitable business known for delivering real value to our clients.


Can you explain your physical distribution offering?

We do physical distribution on a global basis for a number of our clients, who tend to be clients who have a meaningful digital business – meaning we don’t really take on clients who are physical-only.

We’re doing the traditional physical side and increasingly, activity in vinyl. We are able to fully handle physical businesses [in the US] and abroad – we work with Proper in Europe.

We’ve had some real successes in physical innovation – the work we’ve done with Water Tower, for example, with soundtracks for the likes of Game Of Thrones and Westworld. We’ve developed them in the physical and vinyl arena, but also activate their content at the same time in the digital world and on playlists.


Which one thing about the modern music business would you change and why?

Without access to a time machine?… I’ll say for too long and even today, the dialogue that exists in the industry across consumer-facing services, content owners and the like is still too grounded in the past.

Too many people look backwards and the dialogue is framed around righting past wrongs – or people wanting to return the business to certain aspects of the way ‘it used to be’. I think that does everyone a real disservice.

“Everyone should recognize the music industry is an ecosystem where there is a symbiotic relationship between content owners, both recorded music artists and songwriters, and the consumer-facing services.”

So the thing I would change is to get everybody clearly focused on the go-forward – recognizing the music industry is an ecosystem where there is a symbiotic relationship between content owners, both recorded music artists and songwriters, and the consumer-facing services.

Everybody needs to work together to figure out what the fair, transparent approach to the market is, so that all boats rise.Music Business Worldwide

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