3 Music Data Resolutions for the New Year

Happy new year everyone! Let’s start 2021 by sharing what we would like to see this year in the music & data world. Here are our goals:

  1. Develop data literacy
  2. Tell more data stories about emerging artists
  3. As an industry, be more mindful about how we use technology.

Wish #1 – Develop data literacy and critical thinking skills

In Cherie Hu’s words, “as much of the music industry remains online, data literacy has become more important than ever across all sectors”. Managers and marketers have plenty of information to analyze, and it’s sometimes difficult to extract the right insights from the abundance of available data. Now that I’m almost done writing our series about how music professionals use data – check it out on Cherie Hu’s Water & Music publication – I’d like to help professionals develop their critical thinking skills.

Here’s an example: Correlation doesn’t mean causality.

While the left example is fairly obvious: we all intuitively know that ice cream sales don’t increase murder rates (- hopefully). We wouldn’t jump to that conclusion even if someone was showing us data backing up that story. We would keep looking for another factor. Sometimes, it’s not that obvious: while Instagram growth is often paired with listeners growth on streaming platforms, it may not be the full story.

Wish #2 – Tell more data stories about emerging artists

There are a lot of success stories written in traditional media about artists hitting the billionaires club on Youtube or breaking charts records. These metrics are impressive and artists and their teams should indeed be praised for such achievements.

However, becoming a TikTok star or getting high volumes of views or streams matters, but it is not the only end-game. I discussed that topic in previous pieces focused on A&R and talent scouting, definitions of success vary widely from one case to another. Among the 25M music creators, about 43,000 artists account for the top 90% of streams in the world on Spotify (therefore belonging to the top-revenue generating artists on the platform). Not all of them are Youtube billionaires, and I’d like to see more coverage about non-billionaires and their strategies to achieve success. 

It’s not just the hits industry versus the long tail, there is a whole world in between.

Wish #3 – Be mindful about how we consume technology 

My last wish is for us to be more mindful about how we use technology, both as consumers and as music industry professionals.

Discussions about the environmental footprint of the music industry should focus as much on waste produced during music festivals and concerts, as on the digital carbon footprint. Technologies are great but they’re not neutral, even when they’re labelled renewable or green. 

On the consumer side, the dematerialization of music consumption has resulted in significantly higher carbon emissions than at any previous point in the history of music. Audio and video streaming are the biggest drivers of data consumption growth, and they are expected to account for more than 80% of Internet data traffic in 2021, according to Cisco. Streaming music videos from Youtube without watching them is an example of digital waste we could easily avoid by streaming audio only. 

On the business side, we can be mindful about when carbon-intensive technologies like HD-video streaming, VR or AI are relevant or not to solve our business problems. There are many discussions about whether tech efficiency gains can offset the carbon impact of online services’ rising demand. The answer is “it depends”, but it’s not very likely that efficiency gains will be enough to keep up with an exponentially rising demand. Here are the 2 best reads I could find about the topic: 

Data Cheat Sheet: A summary of data ownership in the live events industry

Guide by Julie Knibbe & Marie Cebrian

Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP

A study from PwC forecast that the live music industry would be worth $31 billion worldwide by 2022 if it weren’t for the pandemic. In the U.S., the live sector alone accounted for 48% of total music-industry revenues in 2019, outpacing the recorded-music sector. Long story short, the live sector is an industry within the music industry. 

I recently wrote a piece for Cherie Hu’s Water & Music publication, How the touring industry will use data in 2021 — even in a pandemic, providing guidance about how professionals use data in the live sector. During the research phase, I realized how data flows in this sector were even more complex than I thought. Ticketing platforms, promoters, venues, festivals, agents, bookers, and artist managers all collect and use data. On top of that, hybrid virtual events, live streaming and privacy regulations are now reshaping relationships between them: who owns what? Who needs access to what data? I even got lost at some point 🙂 That’s why I summed it all up in a Data Cheat Sheet to help you navigate this live universe within the music industry. 

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, Marie and I designed an illustrated version as well to describe data relationships between players of the live sector. As lines get blurrier between them and the recording industry, it’s a good time to review our basics to understand this ever-changing landscape.

How to read this chart

Ticket sales sit at the very center of this chart. It’s a goal and KPI shared by any player involved in the sector. All parties must define:

  • their own strategies to achieve ticket sales (outlined colored circles) 
  • data they own (colored circles)
  • external KPIs they need to get their job done effectively (outer circles)

Thanks to all the ground work done in the industry, data is now accessible and made actionable by several data tools that I will mention below. For more details regarding how to use these KPIs and tools, read the full guide on Water & Music.

Ticket sales

Incumbent ticketing platforms provide not only primary KPIs about sales, such as:

  • Tickets sold, 
  • Capacity percentage, 
  • Seating chart, 
  • Gross revenue,
  • Time of purchase,
  • Buyers personal information,
  • sometimes ticket transfers. 

but also secondary KPIs regarding the event marketing (see below) 

Tools: Eventbrite, Ticketmaster, Seated,…

Event marketing

Ticketing platforms like Eventbrite and Ticketmaster enable promoters to add pixels to track where sales come from, so that marketers can optimize their digital advertising investments according to which channel shows the best conversion rates. 

The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the event promotion structure. It gave more power to artists and labels, who often act as the promoter as well, through live streaming events. Data collected from virtual events can provide significant leverage when physical shows will happen again (email, D2F stores, advertising…).

KPIs include: 

  • Pre-sale registrations,
  • Ad campaigns performance,
  • Sales channels, 
  • Sales channels conversion rates.

Tools: Audience Republic, Audiencetools, Arenametrix, ….

Touring history

Cherie Hu wrote about this in how booking agents use (and don’t use) data (highly recommended reading). In her words an artist’s touring history is “by far the most crucial kind of data that agents reference in their day-to-day decision-making. 

However, depending on the granularity you require, you may find out that complete touring history (ticket sales, time of sales, sales channels, attendance, fan contacts, artist contracts, fan behavior during the event, …)  is dispatched between at least three players.

For example, while managers and agents “know about tours months in advance of them ever going on sale …  promoters are often the last ones in that chain owing, in the most part, to the bidding processes, despite being the folks with the biggest job to do” said Sammy Andrews, Digital Marketer, in Music Week

Tools: Pollstar, Bandsintown, Songkick, …

Fan behavior during the event

Data collection during live events primarily serves several purposes:

  • Making sure that logistics and operations are running smoothly, and that the event is profitable,
  • Learning more about fan behavior during the show to optimize future shows and to develop targeted marketing campaigns after the show,
  • Complying with sanitary regulations with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic.

KPIs include: 

  • Attendance
  • Time of entry
  • With whom the fan attended
  • Contact tracing (COVID)
  • Seating plan
  • Purchases
  • Merch purchases
  • Time of purchases

Tools: TicketMaster SmartEvent, Aloompa, Appmiral, atVenu, …

Artist fandom and local footprint

Gauging and anticipating demand for shows remains a challenge. Understanding where fans are and what makes them willing to see a show can go a long way to anticipate and build demand.

KPIs include:

  • Facebook, Instagram fans per city
  • DSP Streams & listeners per city
  • Local airplay

but also secondary KPIs such as:

  • Bandsintown trackers
  • Local charts
  • Local playlists

A side note about live streaming: the meaning of ‘local’ marketing takes a different shape online: In Diana Gremore’s words, Business Intelligence Analyst at Paradigm Talent Agency, “instead of events being geographically local, they are local to online communities.”

Tools: Social networks analytics, Soundcharts, Chartmetric, Google Trends, ..

About data sharing and ownerships

In the chart, arrows represent data that is potentially shared. Data that is actually being shared depends on the promoter’s relationship and contract with the ticketing company, and on the artist management / agent relationship and contract with the promoter.

It is imperative that data collection be organized carefully, as exchanging data between third parties is under GDPR/CIAA regulations to protect privacy. Artists and their teams need to make sure that they have the right to use the data collected in the contracts they form with their partners, at least for their own marketing purposes. Partners also need to make sure they comply with data protection laws, so that the artist can be legally granted access that they need.

The Music Managers Forum (MMF) published a Fan Data Guide, which is a great support to understand where fan data flows from ticket sales to event attendance. They also built a data checklist to highlight items you should be aware of when dealing with promoters as an artist or a manager.