Metrics Matter, Maybe – by Geordie Gillespie

Geordie Gillespie, music executive and entrepreneur, has spent the last 25 years developing new artists at indie and major labels and is a principal at unleashedmusic.com



I wanted to take a step back from the discussion of the actual mechanics of radio, and speak to the much broader, and maybe more important subject of the metrics of the current music business.  

There are so many metrics to consider – some old and even more that are new, and those who deal in media have to decide which to either embrace or dismiss.  

What has become increasingly important in today's rapidly morphing music "business" is how we measure the impact of all media. As promotion and marketing agents, we are responsible for considering first and foremost the intent of the artist. What is the audience that the artist wants to reach? What does the fan base look like? Is it a small group comprised of a certain subculture, or is it a massive group of people that transcends all demographics?

The artist has to be able to answer the question "who do I want to reach, who am I making the music for?" Is it a small tribe or huge universe? Often small tribe music can become universal if it has the magic to reach that level, but no amount of "pushing" or promoting will elevate an artist or a song beyond it's natural level of acceptance. 

An artist's marketing plan can only be created once the intent of the artist and the target audience is identified. Then and only then can we begin to move the music into the system to reach the right group of people, the early adopters, and build the awareness from there

So does it matter if your MySpace page has 10,000 friends?  

Only if they're the right friends – those that are connected to others that "get" the music and will share with other like minded connectors. I'd rather have 100 Friends that can spread the word than 100,000 passive names on my friend list.  

Can we qualify the relevance of any metric and equate it with success? Is having 10,000 friends on MySpace success?  Is selling 10,000 downloads through Tunecore success?  

For many artists either would be, and for others it would only be a starting place.

What does matter is that people do listen to radio – be it college, community or commercial, and the question is "are those people compelled to go buy the music or go see a concert of the artist they hear or are they not?". 

Ultimately this gives us a relative guide to the impressions made by a song using that medium. Some radio formats have more "active" listeners than others. I think streaming radio that doesn't use DJs, doesn't deal in local issues or create a local cultural context for the programming has way less impact on audience passion, awareness and sales than broadcast radio that defines and supports a specific community.

Can anyone really measure who is listening to broadcast and satellite radio? More to the point, does it impact listeners when they hear a song streamed on a channel such as Pandora the same way it may when they hear about it from a respected friend?

I spoke specifically of broadcast radio and the metrics used to measure total listeners. The point isn't really if the number is exactly 71 million  impressions a week on a top rotated song.

We can argue about the accuracy of Arbitron – if they're using the new People Meters or just the old fashioned diaries.   

As Steve Buscemi stated in Fargo, "I'm not here to debate you".  Because I actually agree that the methodology for measuring radio audiences is wildly inaccurate and it always has been. Just as the basis for the Nielsen television ratings for television are highly suspect, utilizing extrapolated audience measurements, when DVR use and internet viewing are notoriously difficult to quantify.

I firmly believe that music will connect with an audience or it won't. Does it have to be available everywhere to connect? Is it critical for a band to be on every single possible platform for people to discover and embrace it? I think not.  In fact I'm of the mind that the opposite is true. What is important is to be available in very specific placements for it to enter and develop into a collective consciousness. Being on the right website, the right radio station, the right movie soundtrack is way more effective than trying to get your music to everyone in the universe. If your intent is to reach a huge audience then taking the gradual steps, building a fan base, sales, credible exposure, will eventually get you there if the music has the potential to connect. I am more apt to listen to an artist if it is presented to me from a friend, or I discover it on a media platform that I respect. The right word of mouth means much more in the development of an artist than useless ubiquity.

What kind of artist do you want to be -Sonic Youth or Ke$sha? Do you want to make a musical and cultural statement that impacts fans and artists for years and years, or be the focus of a pop sensation that sells millions and millions right now. Both visions are important and valid.

In any event, as an artist you need to concentrate on the music, the message, the intent, the context. Make it exactly what you want it to be. It's your voice. Then create a team around you, people with the energy and passion to spread the word, and the understanding of who you are as an artist.  Something I learned early on is that you can't be an artist AND a music executive at the same time, dealing with the minutia of marketing and promotion.  Get other people involved, let them help you build your brand and YOUR coalition of the willing.

This whole process can't be about instantly rising to the top, but rather reaching and growing your audience. So, utilize specific sets of media in steps. Quality music that has a meaningful message or that somehow connects with the Zeitgeist, indeed even defines it, will reach it's own level of critical mass, and that is the metric that will define true success. 

  • http://www.mixmgmt.com Jeremy

    Good thoughts Geordie…
    metrics are great, but only truly valuable if they measure intentional honesty….that’s when you can KNOW that your music is actually something special instead of some conjured myspace blitz,etc.
    Put the time in folks…people want honestly great music, and those people are the key to your career in this industry.

  • gregory grim

    Thank you for your insight. It is valid and well stated. I do disagree with the 4th paragraph though. Over the years I’ve seen some absolutely horrid songs become sensations purely because they were “pushed”.
    If an artist can find someone who is market savvy and knows the right buttons to push and audience to which they may be directed, you’ll have a very good chance at some sort of popularity and monetary success. Isn’t that what “payola” in the 50’s and 60’s was all about?
    Thanks for this forum. It helps. -Sunken Heaven

  • http://www.azoz.com G. Ziemann

    “What kind of artist do you want to be…?”
    Interesting question. I’ve been playing 35 years and it’s not so important what the answer is as much as it is that everyone in the group has the same one. Otherwise, it’s going to fracture over this exact point at some point in time.
    Gregory Grim — Payola was still about the same thing in 2007.

  • Glenn Nolle

    I’ve played guitar for 40+ years as studio player and frontman in a variety of projects. I would be considered a metal/jazz fusion shred god and yet all of that takes a backseat to tenacity and persistance which is why simple, sometimes almost amateurish songs make it. My background also involves product design and marketing, a discipline of which I also taught in college and I’ve sold millions of dollars worth of the most ridiculous commodities you could possibly imagine, based purely on the fact that I knew how to sell that concept. Steve Vai and Joe Satriani will be long forgotten in the dusty pages of virtuoso history and people will still be playing covers of and humming the simple melodies of Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival tunes well into the next century. Which is cool! It’s just the way things work.

  • http://www.myspace.com/thetektonicsusa Adam D.

    Very good article . . . Taken in context, I agree that “pushing” music cannot gain more truck with audiences than the music itself can.
    However, I must say — and I will not begrudge that we all will define personal success in our own way — that you can add friends automatically on MySpace. Meaning that anybody who friends you is accepted automatically — you might never realize the fan exists! While that does not affect the value of the fan to the artist, in terms of receiving a reference, there is another interpretation. The MySpace community is very random. It is an organic community, with lots of disorganization from a marketing standpoint. I used to get tens of requests a week when MySpace was really hot. I can say most of the requests that I received WERE random because I was genuinely disinterested in many of those bands. On the other hand, I did not receive many requests from bands whose demographic I fit. I was living in New York at the time. You would think that I would have gotten more quality requests. . . . And I buy a LOT of music, so you want me to know you exist if you are a band trying to sell albums.
    I would like to read an article more focused on self-directed advertising vis-a-vis the artist AS a music executive, instead of the simple recommendation to “get other people involved.”

  • http://www.myspace.com/thetektonicsusa Adam D.

    MySpace seems to be floundering a bit, tho. Did anybody see the “Weekend Update” portion of SNL last Saturday? Seth made a comment about MySpace as a “wasteland.”
    I wonder if the number of MySpace friends indicate album sales, or drive album sales. The answer is no, in my opinion. Would love to hear another opinion on this. Take it with a grain of salt. I have focused very little on building a “fan-base” on MySpace. . . .
    But . . . some guys with whom I have worked are popular on MySpace. And one of them was chosen by a member of the team to his top 10 playlist of the year. Although, some of them are shutting down their profiles, moving exclusively to facebook, and so forth. And these were men of great means, who were able to generate interest thru touring with big names like (most notably) Rod Stewart, Sting, Steely Dan, and also many others. What services are available for artists of average market penetration to build a loyal following based on MySpace friends? And is that really worthwhile these days?

  • http://www.myspace.com/thetektonicsusa Adam D.

    I have heard about Zeitgeist — “The Spirit Of The Times” — in two recent articles here. I want to add to Glenn’s comment that I have a friend whose artistry is commensurate with mastery and greatness, but has not sold anywhere near the number of albums mentioned in recent Tune Core articles. He is a Berklee College Of Music graduate, who attended on merit scholarship. And his acumen is informed by a bona fide Jazz legend, with whom he performed. An undeniably great player, who will remain unnamed, that captured the attention of the public to become one of the top-most, successful Jazz guitarists in the decade in which he reigned. My friend is also a Jazz guy (plays regular gigs too).
    Now take a 17 year old, with a part-time job. He is trying to define his identity with the listening tastes of the music of his generation. And he has a partially disposable income. But with Jazz, I promise you hardly anybody younger than 21 who is not studying Jazz in a program is buying Jazz. Tell me if you disagree. A small strata of 21-30 year olds is interested in Jazz enough to buy an album on recommendation. Although, Jam Bands with a “jazzy” sound (Spyro Gyra, Keller Williams) might dominate this market share, if only because of the “lifestyle” factors of that audience (stony and spaced-out). A substantial portion of people 50+ are very loyal to the Classic Rock catalogue and purchase less than 10% of their music from releases after 1980. . . . Just some empirical data I am generalizing from! How do you reach the demographic that WILL buy from the Jazz catalogue up to the present day?
    In my simple view, you have to be able to tour extensively and put on an impressive live show to get a fan-base/generate album sales — it’s all about the gig. In that regard, I unfortunately rely extensively on MIDI programming, as it IS very hard to keep a band together (GZ). In one sense, musicians of my ilk are very modern . . . but also limited.
    Not to get existential, but does anybody have ideas on how a Jazz guy who utilizes MIDI programming can tour respectably? Can there be an intersection of Jazz and electronic, not just in style but also process?

  • http://www.jamesmbewe.com James Mbewe

    This is very informative. Thanks for the article.

  • Ken Loebel

    The key to the current marketplace is not how many friends you have on myspace, but how well you can monetize your “personal distribution network”. I’ve met producers who claim that they can hire hourly workers to build a huge myspace fanbase – they miss the point – numbers that aren’t loyal is nothing more than providing free samples – if you don’t nurture your audience and treat it as your “personal Distribution Network”, then you are missing the picture –

  • Son

    I seen where TuneCore , recently taken $5k worth of sales from my partners account, and deleted the records for a particular month. as of we have saved the records for the amount owed. iTunes retains 30% of gross sales. and we retain the rest of the net 100%. we’ll be engaging in the proper legal action for this notice. beware of music sharks and crooks.
    NOTE FROM JEFF OF TUNECORE IN RESPONSE TO THIS NOTE
    From time to time we get notified by a digital store that music was bought fraudulently in the digital stores. In some cases stolen credit cards are used to buy the music , in other cases illegally obtained gift certificates are used to buy the music. In these cases the digital store notify TuneCore of the fraudulent sales and send a message. Below is a sample of one received from iTunes:
    ————
    The items noted below has been removed from availability on the iTunes Store due to documented indications of fraudulent behavior that may have resulted in significant Apple financial losses. Apple has been alerted by customer financial institutions of unauthorized credit card use related to the items in question, indicating that a large percentage of the purchases of these items were placed fraudulently. Accordingly, we have removed this item to prevent further fraud on our customers and further losses to Apple.
    Royalty payments to you will be adjusted to account for refunds or chargebacks related to any fraudulent purchases.
    At this point, only the titles listed below has been removed from the iTunes Store, and the rest of your catalog has not been affected. However, Apple is continuing to investigate the full transaction history of items related to this title, and may take further action with respect to any additional titles that are found to be connected to fraud. Apple’s investigation may include the involvement of local or federal enforcement authorities.
    You should not attempt to re-deliver this content.
    ———–
    In other cases, people put up music that is not theirs, pretend to be artists they are not, use uncleared samples or do not get mechanical licenses. In these cases, once again, TuneCore gets notified by the digital stores and once again the sales are fraudulent.
    The response from these scammers is to threaten us, blog that we steal money and attempt to intimidate us to release money to them that (1) we do not have and (2) we could not legally do if we had it.
    Despite this being a pain for us, these fruadsters and scam artists could actually ruin things for everyone – at some point there may be repercussions from the digital stores that hurt everyone due to the actions of a few.
    Every single penny of the $47,000,000 earned by TuneCore Artists has been paid to them. This company was started on the philosophy of never screwing or hurting an artist and it never will.
    So to all the fruadsters and scam artists, please contact us with your legal representative, provide a name, phone number and email address so we can pass this along to the digital store and authorities so they can follow up with you directly

  • Mike

    Love everything you posted here. I not only love it I am a true believer of this way of thinking!
    MP