Signing the next big artist or identifying a hit song once relied on the gut of label executives and radio station program directors. Today, however, technology and data from a raft of new digital sources has become indispensable to the success of labels, artists, and radio stations.
I spent nearly five years managing musicians long before I joined Techonomy, and I know firsthand what you used to have to do to get an artist signed or break them on radio. It was neither pretty nor scientific.
But the labels themselves weren’t much better off. “We used to call radio stations and record stores. That’s how we found Hootie & the Blowfish,” says Pete Ganbarg, head of Artists and Repertoire (A&R) at Atlantic Records. “Now I have a team of researchers looking at SoundCloud, YouTube, and Spotify—anywhere an independent artist can put their music. It’s easy for us to monitor and track.”
Says Dan Kruchkow, chief marketing officer and head of digital strategy at music management and promotion firm, Crush Music: “There used to be three data points—how many copies you’d sold, how many radio plays you had, and ticket sales. Now there are so many data points, it’s unthinkable. It’s my job to find the relevant ones and show what’s working, as well as what’s not.”
Working with young emerging recording artist MAX, Crush was able to leverage data, both to identify a song that would resonate with listeners, as well as demonstrate to radio stations and music streaming services that they had an international hit. It made all the difference.
MAX’s debut album, Hell’s Kitchen Angel, was released in March of 2016. A year later, it seemed to have nearly run its modest course. After promoting a few singles to radio stations nationwide with limited success, the label was beginning to think it was time to start working on another album. Then Krushow, studying the vast amounts of data, spotted a blip on the radar. The company had not promoted a track that was generating interest on Spotify, in the Netherlands. By the time Dutch listeners had streamed “Lights Down Low” 5 million times, Crush executives were already in London working to convince Spotify UK to pick up the track.
The song started performing well there. (In the Spotify domain, that means low skip rates.) Crush began lobbying Spotify in the United States, and the streaming music giant added the song to the biggest and most important playlist in streaming: “Today’s Top Hits.” Then, with a solid online story under its belt, Crush moved on to traditional radio, which still reaches an exponentially larger audience than streaming.
The single first got picked up by three pop stations in Hawaii. Then an exciting new data point emerged: it became the most Shazamed song in the state. That offered ammunition for a successful assault on the broader radio market, where the song took off. In September 2017, “Lights Down Low” went Gold.
“Success is ultimately fueled by a song that is real, that listeners react to,” says Krushow. “But we parlayed each of the data points to build a story.”
Josh Kampel is Techonomy’s president. He will interview Max onstage at Techonomy 2017, after he sings and performs.