The music biz must make sense of its ‘disjointed soup of data’

The following MBW Blog comes from Stef Pascual (pictured), who is Head of Digital at UK-based Essential Music & Marketing. Essential offers a suite of digital and physical services to record labels including Fatcat, Concord, Silva Screen, Lojinx and Cooking Vinyl.


It’s been one of the music industry’s favourite buzzwords for a while now. But what does it actually mean? According to one definition it is, “the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data”.

But to most people, it remains a vague and opaque concept.

Our industry, as it migrates further and further towards a digital future, is overwhelmed by data. Big buckets of it scraped from the browsing activities of music consumers purporting to give unrivalled insight into sales, markets and behaviours.

To be fair, this may be true. It is all there in the data. How people react, engage, share and ultimately consume music, it’s all there.

The issue is, for the most part it exists as raw binary code, a disjointed and lifeless soup of data that no-one has the time, energy or know-how to interpret.

“for the most part, big data exists as a raw binary code, a disjointed and lifeless soup.”

All this data is also, more often than not, yesterday’s news.

The metrics it throws up inevitably refer to past activity and unless patterns can be extrapolated it is difficult to learn from them and to apply them to future thinking.

It seems like an obvious thing to say but the real value of analytics is in the insights that can be gained from the data.

Technology should be a tool, it should be a start point not the end game. Too often gathering the data and hoarding it is seen as an end in itself when it should always be the beginning of the process.

Our company puts a real focus on helping our clients understand and harness this opportunity. Often independent labels, our primary client base, simply don’t have the time or expertise to undertake data analysis. They have a lot of information and data from social media, websites, online retail activity and ticketing among other things but no way of applying it to their business strategy moving forward.

We help take that weight off their shoulders and assist them with joining the dots. They usually end up with an interpretation of the data they have collected that can be used to make sound commercial judgements and increase fan engagement. It also helps them navigate more effectively through the online offerings available to them.

This approach helps level the playing field for independent music companies who, more often that not, have limited resources to devote to this area, and usually attempt to look at data as a static snapshot of information, instead of identifying patterns and trends.

When looking at how data is actually used it is all too easy for labels, for example, to simply trust a ‘Heat Map’ generated by number of streams per country and to use that to send artists on tour in that territory.

Is this a sensible approach? After all a thousand streams by a thousand unique listeners is a very different picture than a thousand streams by five listeners.

“Rich data aligned with creative thinking and insightful analysis is a powerful combination. Too often we do one without the other.”

Clearly that data would be much more effective if looked at in conjunction with real world intelligence gathered from talking to partners with in-depth knowledge of the territory.

In other words the technology and data should always be seen in a real world context. It is a tool to be interpreted and utilized not a final fix.

It is clear that Apple Music, Spotify and Google understand this, and the trend is moving towards human curation, working from algorithm-generated data but adding value to it thanks to knowledgeable editorial teams.

Actual human beings remain a huge part of the analytics process, a fact that is often forgotten as we are confronted by ever more sophisticated technology.

Rich data aligned with creative thinking and insightful analysis is a powerful combination. Too often we do one without the other.

Expertise, insight and recommendations from real people are more critical than ever.Music Business Worldwide

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