What’s Facebook’s game plan in music?

Little under two years ago, Facebook announced a global licensing deal with Universal Music Group – covering the use of music on FB, Instagram and VR platform Oculus. Over the following few months, we learned of similar agreements involving the likes of Warner Music Group, Sony/ATV (and Sony Music) and a host of independent labels via Merlin and others.

These deals put paid to long-held tensions between music rights-holders and Facebook. (They also came with large checks, but limited usage reporting requirements on FB’s side, according to MBW’s sources.)

Since Facebook signed these crucial agreements, the social media giant has publicly unveiled the first wave of its music strategy. Rather than launching an audio streaming player to rival the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, FB has instead introduced a numbers of features which consumers can use to decorate their content with licensed music, and which artists can use to better communicate with their audience – and better promote their wares.

Examples include licensed music clip soundtracks (via ‘Stickers’) being made available to be added to Instagram and Facebook ‘Stories’ , in addition to the launch of Lip Sync Live – a tool which allows Facebook users to lip sync along to their favorite tracks, and share the video result. (Initially, Lip Sync Live seemed like a natural rival to Musical.ly, the karaoke platform acquired by Bytedance for $800m in 2017 which would go on to fuel the phenom now known as TikTok.)

These features haven’t gone unnoticed by artists keen to take advantage of Facebook’s tech.

In August, for single Pieces Of Us, Mark Ronson released the song’s official music video on his Instagram Story. Dubbed ‘the future of music videos’ the production was purposefully made for Stories using real-time AR effects, and was periodically reposted in consecutive 24-hour cycles, each offering the viewer a different kind of interaction.

Others have used Facebook’s tools for more brazen promotional purposes: Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber teased recent single I Don’t Care via a pre-release Sticker on Insta; Major Lazer, J Balvin, and El Alfa made their collaborative track Que Calor available as a pre-release sticker on Facebook and IG a week before its official launch, while they also posted their own IG Stories encouraging fans to pre-save their track on Spotify.

Meanwhile, the likes of Jess Glynne (for UK hit Thursday) and boy band Why Don’t We (for 8 Letters) have posted content via Lip Sync Live to spread the word of their priority singles.

All the while, Facebook’s global reach in music has continued to spread.

After launches in territories such as the US, UK, Germany and France, ‘Music on Facebook’ has this summer made its way to Brazil, in addition to other Latin American territories like Colombia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. And earlier this month, Facebook expanded its music offering to seven new European markets (including the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Finland), taking its total EMEA reach to over 30 countries.

Facebook’s game plan in music is being driven by Tamara Hrivnak, the firm’s Head of Music Business Development and Partnerships.

When Hrivnak was hired by FB back in January 2017, her name carried both familiarity and respect in music biz circles: Hrivnak spent eight years at Warner Music Group in roles including Vice President, Digital Business Affairs & Strategy for Warner/Chappell before joining Google in 2011, where she became Director Of Music Partnerships at YouTube and Google Play .

Since leaving Google to join Mark Zuckerberg‘s company, Hrivnak has pinched a few key hires from Record Label Land, while driving forward with a strategy to bring music and Facebook closer together on a global basis.

Here, Hrivnak tells MBW about Facebook’s broader ambitions in music, what it would like to improve as time goes on – and why she thinks the firm is “filling a gap” which is missing in the streaming age…

You just launched Facebook in seven new EU territories. Why did it take a while for these features to reach these markets?

There are lots of music rights players around the world and we prioritise them all. Facebook and Instagram are places with audiences all over the world and we care deeply about bringing the music that’s most important to people, and local to them. so we took our time to make sure that we had partnerships in all of the right places – both global players, and local labels and societies. We want to do [things] in the right way.

Do you have any updates on the popularity of music stickers?

Music Stickers are one of our most popular music products, so we’re really excited to see the early results of [that], both on Instagram and Facebook. People are using Stickers as a soundtrack to their everyday moments, and artists are using them both to tease new releases in pre-release phase – an exclusive glimpse at a coming track – and also to promote projects that they’re working on.

The third use case [of Music on Facebook], my favorite, is artists simply sharing and having fun to create an evergreen connection with their fans. A great example of folks who do that well are J Balvin and Ariana Grande, [while] artists like Taylor Swift have used music stickers to promote big singles, like [in Swift’s case] ME!.

Instagram [recently] launched a version of music Stickers we call lyric Stickers. In addition to the track playing in the background to your Story, you’re visually seeing the lyrics in that snippet on screen. We think that feature has great legs, and has really brought a new dimension to how people and artists tell their stories with music.

Lip Sync Live has huge potential, with Facebook’s global MAU reach – 2.37bn at last count – combined with the power of interactive music. Obviously TikTok has made some big noise in that space this year. Do you think you can become the global market leader in that paradigm?

On Lip Sync Live, the most important thing is that it’s extremely fun for fans and artists alike. We want to harness the fun in it, but more specifically we want to give artists the ability to connect with fans in a way that’s more authentic, and less produced.

I don’t think we prioritise one [Facebook music] feature versus any other, but what we really care about is the authenticity of the connection and the depth of community we’re able to foster.

I am guessing that Facebook’s hope with these music features – and the associated licensing deals – is to grow and please its audience. What do you find to be the main aims of the music business, and how are you delivering on that?

To poke at the premise of the question a little, our main goal is to fill a hole in the digital ecosystem. When we look at digital music today, we see that music streaming has become very powerful and popular, and we think that’s wonderful; it means strength in the business of delivering plays and playlists.

But what has gotten lost in the evolution of music to digital is the ability for artists to tell their stories outside of their music, to connect the tracks on an album together, and to connect with fans. We’re seeking to fill that gap, which we think is an important opportunity both for artists and for people. That’s our main goal.

“What has gotten lost in the evolution of music to digital is the ability for artists to tell their stories outside of the music, to connect the tracks on an album together, and to connect with fans.”

We share with our partners the desire to fill that gap in the ecosystem. Partners often describe this [opportunity] as using the magic of social and bringing it to music – there’s always been this elusive [understanding] that social is important to music, and I think Facebook and Instagram have come to the table to really deliver on that.

The other thing our partners are excited about, and we share this optimism, is the ability to partner across our family of apps and services. Unlike other technology services who might create a single-destination music [platform], we’re looking to put music where people already are, and where they’re sharing and connecting. That presents a new, different and expansive opportunity for music that we’re all excited about.

Music licensing didn’t always have the best reputation on Facebook before you arrived at the company. There were a lot of takedown requests coming from publishers like UMPG just a few years back.

I want to share a bit more context around that moment in time.

Around the time I joined Facebook, Mark [Zuckerberg] had shared with the world that he believed the future of community building and connection would happen through video. That really marked a moment where the company plan became video-first, and we’ve [subsequently] seen that through our ongoing development of AR, VR and [drive] to create things like the Portal [hardware].

“We see [Facebook’s video-first strategy] and the coming together with the music industry, as our collective ability to seize those opportunities in a new era.”

In a version of the future that is video-first, there are simply more opportunities for music, and for media more generally. I joined Facebook at an important time, when all of that was just [starting] to take place.

We see that moment, and the coming together with the music industry, as our collective ability to seize those opportunities in a new era.

How has your professional experience helped you bring FaceBook and rightsholders closer together?

I’ve always believed that music and tech [have] suffered from not speaking the same language. The benefit of [Hrivnak] having worn all the hats – in a record label, a music publisher and in multiple tech companies – is seeing both the challenges and opportunities that we have from all sides.

“I’ve always believed that music and tech have suffered from not speaking the same language.”

I’ve endeavored to hire people who are like-minded; people who come to Facebook as industry veterans, whose No.1 passion is growing the digital music opportunities for artists, writers and people.

I believe that context, experience and understanding brings a great deal to our ability to partner closely with the industry – and to make our way around the world [as a licensed service] in a reasonably quick timeline.

Is there an aim at Facebook to provide music rights-holders with more sophisticated reporting tools as time goes on?

In a word, yes. Absolutely.

We have built an awful lot of infrastructure to support our partners in music in a very short amount of time. Most of the infrastructure and tools are in beta [currently], and they’re in beta because we’re working together with our partners to make sure they meet the industry’s needs.

All of our tools will be evolving and improving, including those for reporting, to meet the industry’s needs; that is something that’s important to us.

Why is Facebook’s Strategy, so Far, one of ‘soundtracking’ user content as opposed to a full-blown, conventional on-demand music service?

Facebook is in a unique position in the market because we partner with many of the folks who are most successful in being amazing music listening services: Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer [and more]… We really appreciate being a platform where each of those music services can tap into to reach our audience and grow music’s core business.

That is already working, and we’re proud and happy to be a part of growing that core digital music business. Instead [of competing with Spotify et al] we wanted to focus on the gaps in the digital ecosystem that we see, and that we can specifically deliver on: social connections and storytelling between artists and fans, and amongst fans beyond that.

How would you characterize Facebook’s general relationship with music rightsholders as we stand?

Positive, and optimistic. The optimism really comes from the fact that Facebook offers a differentiated opportunity that spans the entire family of our apps and services. It has to do in part with the way Facebook has reached out to the industry with its desire to build that video-first future together.

When I [worked at record labels/publishers], it was not uncommon to be presented with a proposition and to be asked to put your rights into it, and then, ‘See you in two or three years!’ That’s really not our model. Our model is to work closely with our industry partners in order to harness the value and opportunities that are out there – and to do that together.Music Business Worldwide

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