[Editors Note: This article was written by Stefan Toren, an artist develop manager and founder of A&R Factory – a music blog that counts record label owners, publishers, radio stations, PR executives, and managers from all over the world as part of their readership. TuneCore is proud to be the preferred distributor for A&R Factory.]

Radical shifts in the music industry haven’t gone in the favor of unsigned artists in recent years, but Big Data may just be the tool that underground artists were hoping for.

With physical record sales at an all-time low, it is easy to get a scope of what sells through using data extracted from the main streaming sources such as Spotify.

The ability to obtain this information was the first step for A&R departments. The second was moving away from the idea that musicians should be scouted and recognized by the gut instinct of those in charge of giving unsigned artists a platform and essential exposure.

Big Data saw its debut in March 2018 in the UK after Warner Music Group Conrad Withey raised $4.2m with a start-up which will help A&R departments to ‘mine’ through streaming sites and pinpoint potential.

Big Data is also making waves in America, one start-up Sodatone was acquired by Warner Music Group, and TuneGO, a technology platform that connects artists with the music industry, also raised $7.7 million in series B funding in 2018. Big Data is clearly worth the investment, so much so that it has been dubbed as the new currency in the industry that is set to revolutionize the way talent is spotted.

Now, instead of relying on one person’s ‘good ear’, millions of Spotify users will be able to indicate future potential worth nurturing; addressing the inefficiency problem of the A&R industry which currently costs $4.8bn globally each year. Combine that with the rate of commercial success, and it’s clear that industry innovation was well overdue.

In May 2017 Sony Music CEO Rob Stringer commented:

“All our business units must now leverage data and analytics in innovative ways to dig deeper than ever for new talent. The modern-day talent-spotter must have both an artistic ear and analytical eyes.”

How Will Big Data Work in the Favor of A&R

Big Data will give A&R departments information for potential marketing strategies which has never been at their disposal before. Big Data will facilitate the process of booking tours, as data from streaming sites such as Spotify will indicate which countries and cities the artist is popular.
The data will also indicate who to target with advertising in general. The concept isn’t new, email marketers have been using data to put products in front of the people for years. It seems about time that the same method would be applied to music.

It’s not only streaming platforms which offer valuable data to A&R reps, social platforms such as Instagram also give a real snapshot of the band which they will be working with. Of course, Social media can’t solely be relied on, as we saw with Theratin; the LA artist who faked a following to get a UK tour. But they still allow A&R to go after those who may not have hype in the right circles such as with writers, DJs and radio hosts.

There are two million artists on Spotify alone with less than 1% being in the top tier. The amount of music being uploaded is only increasing. With the rise of bedroom artists and those with the ability to produce their own music from home, many barriers into the music industry have been removed. This has led to a flood in the market.

How Will Future Talent Be Found?

Talent worth nurturing will exist online in many forms: from YouTube videos of people in their bedroom doing a vocal-only cover song by one of their favourite artists, to unsigned artists who have paid thousands for their material to be recorded in the hope of being discovered. As such, it would be disadvantageous for A&R to look over artist’s music as it is a little DIY or lo-fi

Labels had always looked at which artists got the writers, DJs, and radio hosts talking, which seemed to pay off for the founder of Rough Trade, Geoff Travis – who previously expressed that generally he would be tipped off about the music which excited him. Given that Travis signed the Smiths, The Strokes and the Libertines, there is a lot to be said about his method. Yet, that was a method that he began using back in 1978 when the company was founded.

With Big Data, Spotify playlists with over 10,000 followers are trawled (in excess of over 8,000 of them currently) to find the best artists. Playlists are typically the only way in which listeners will listen to an artist who they have never even heard of before. The artists already being signed to major labels being amongst the 400,000 artists is still a problem; yet not a problem big enough that data can’t handle. Talent AI is able to filter artists by the following criteria:

  • Nationality
  • Genre
  • Number of playlists on which they appear
  • Number of playlist subscribers
  • Industry standing
  • Whether the artist is signed or unsigned

What A&R now needs to see is momentum around artists on the way up; and not one who has already reached their maximum potential.

Streaming numbers and social media data are already being utilized as a deciding factor to whether an artist gets signed or not. But now, the same tools can be used to help them get spotted in the first place. It’s clear to see why big data was inevitable. There was the danger of A&R being replaced by data alone – yet A&R still plays a vital role when it comes to supporting the artists who deserve to be supported.

There is no feasible way of knowing through the number of streams an artist has had whether they can create two more successful albums – especially considering that younger listeners have a habit of jumping on transitional music trends. Therefore, historical streaming data may not be 100% reliant after all.

We believe traditional A&R will never be fully replaced by AI, instead, it will serve as a vital tool to make their jobs easier and do what they always set out to do; help the unsigned artists who deserve it.

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