The Benefits of Owning Your Masters in A Streaming World: Conversations with Traci Thomas (Thirty Tigers) and Jack Stratton (Vulfpeck)

Artists: own your masters and streaming can work for you. That’s the message we heard in our recent conversations with Traci Thomas and Jack Stratton. Thomas, a music business veteran, works at Thirty Tigers, where she manages the likes of Jason Isbell and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Stratton, a relative newcomer to the industry, is the mastermind behind the virtuosic and subversive Los Angeles-based funk/soul outfit, Vulfpeck.

Thomas has quietly established herself as one of the best managers in the business. She played a huge role in Isbell’s 2013 resurgence with Southeastern, a commercial success that topped a variety of critical year-end charts and received praise from the likes of John Prine and Bruce Springsteen. Not to mention Isbell’s 2015 release, Something More Than Free, which hit number 1 on the Billboard Rock, Country and Folk charts, and is nominated for two GRAMMYs this year. As for St. Paul? Within two years of partnering with Thomas, the band released a hot-selling album, Half the City, performed on CBS Sunday Morning, and toured with the Rolling Stones.

Vulfpeck first made international headlines with its Sleepify album, a silent record that was streamed 5.5 million times and raised $20,000 on Spotify before being pulled down by the service. The release was intended to fund a free tour for the band, but ended up drawing attention to the platform’s payment structure. Stratton has no qualms with bucking the system. He releases the band’s music through their own label, Vulf Records. He funds the projects using Kickstarter. (The latest campaign raised over $55,000. The goal was $1.) 95% of Vulpeck’s limited marketing outreach is via their cult following on Youtube, Reddit, and social media. (Their recent Colbert performance was shared on Facebook over 5k times.) And even though they’re a fantastic live band, they don’t really tour that often.

But Vulfpeck owns everything, so they can grow at their own pace. Stratton said on a podcast last year that he told his band, “We could be a fraction of the size of some of these groups we love, and still be getting the same amount of money after the split.” Thirty Tigers’ forward-thinking release model also allows the majority of its artists to control their masters, and so take a bigger piece of the pie. Thomas says the arrangement is extremely beneficial as we move into a streaming-dominated landscape.(“For my artists that own their masters [streaming] has affected their bottom line greatly.”) Read on to hear more from her and from Stratton. One manager leading the charge in the world of Americana, and one whip smart upstart trying to funk the system all up.

“If you’re in a position of owning your own master then it’s definitely a win.” — Traci Thomas on Streaming

Indie record labels have always played a role in championing music that might otherwise be overlooked by the majors. Has the rise of streaming services like YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Music leveled the playing field at all? Is it easier or more difficult for left of mainstream artists to gain exposure under the new model?

Thomas: I don’t know if they’ve leveled the playing field per se but I come from the mind set of the more the merrier. The streaming services offer everyone additional avenues to get their music heard. If you’re in a position of owning your own master then it’s definitely a win. I think it’s easier but everyone has to continue to be creative and most importantly only put out quality material.

How has streaming and the constantly evolving digital space changed your approach to releasing your artists’ music? Does an artist really still need 3 months to set up a record?

We’re not all Adele and can’t withhold our music from streaming services on release. I don’t think it’s changed the way we release our artists’ music.

Yes, I think to properly set up a release, it’s still smart to have that 3 month window….we’re all not Beyonce either.

Curated playlists on streaming sites have also gained influence as a marketing tool. How do you incorporate playlists into your promotional strategy? Do you see the power of playlists increasing as we move forward?

Our digital marketing team is alway asking for playlists from our artists and pitching for such curated playlists. Some are good at doing them…some are not. I don’t know that I’ve seen the needle move with those artists that make the playlists.

We’ve seen a lot of misinformation being thrown around regarding streaming payouts and streaming in general. How is the shift from ownership (sales & downloads) to access (streaming) affecting your artists’ bottom line?

Most artists don’t fully understand how the payouts work or they wouldn’t keep signing to labels. For my artists that own their masters it has affected their bottom line greatly.

Do you think streaming will produce a viable recorded music business? What needs to happen for it to work most effectively?

Yes, streaming services aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. For it to work more effectively they need to increase the payouts for songwriters.

“We own all our rights, so getting plays on Spotify is good for us.” — Jack Stratton

Vulfpeck has had a lot of success using Kickstarter to fund your releases. A lot of artists turn their nose up at the platform. Why do you think that is? Will you continue to utilize crowdfunding as the band grows?

Stratton: Kickstarter is fantastic. It is backwards that it’s uncool to raise money on Kickstarter and cool to take an advance from a corporation. People who think it is uncool should look inward. I will use Kickstarter for future releases. It also happens to be the cheapest method of doing preorders (cheaper than iTunes and Bandcamp).

Youtube has been another great platform for Vulfpeck, especially considering your videos appear to be produced for next to nothing. How does Youtube stack up as a promotional tool vs. revenue source for Vulfpeck? How can the platform improve?

Promotional. That said, hosting large videos that playback reliably would be expensive. Youtube is fantastic. I don’t know what it could do to improve. In fact, better is stay a little janky so that it doesn’t wipe out all the real music services.

You made a lot of noise with your Sleepify album, which you released as a way to raise money for a free tour, and to draw attention to Spotify’s payment structure. What benefits and challenges does streaming present for a band like Vulfpeck? What are some realistic changes would allow the system to work for artists of all shapes and sizes?

I wrote a short article about their payment structure. I don’t think any changes will be made. Spotify is fantastic. I go back and forth. They don’t seem to care about independent musicians. I’ve tried to get in touch a few times. We own all our rights, so getting plays on Spotify is good for us. If you don’t own your masters on streaming you will never make money. As far as changes, get the word out to musicians to keep all their rights. That would change the backlash against Spotify.

It seems like the most press you’ve ever gotten as a band is for that “album.” But you sell out of pretty much any physical product you manufacture and seemingly all of your live shows. What’s does the overall Vulfpeck marketing strategy look like?

Our marketing strategy is very Jewish. There is no outreach. It is my view that Vulf fans already exist and will find us. This approach has led to a fantastic group of fans. I want Vulf to be it’s own thing. Like Radiolab or Tim & Eric.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of running your own label in 2016? What would it take for Vulfpeck to sign a traditional label or publishing deal?

I enjoy running the label. It’s just me. If you have a working knowledge of Gmail and Excel, you can achieve incredible productivity alone. What type of deal would we sign? I have no idea. Once you get a taste of owning everything you can’t go back.

"A Conversation with Chris Stapleton"

"We're all a part of the same community, and music in general is a broader spectrum to me, like, if somebody's being successful and somebody's selling tickets to shows, it's good for the health of the whole thing," Chris Stapleton told the Nashville Scene. "And out of that, the commerce pays for the art, and the art lends some credibility to the commerce. To think that they're all separate things is just a ludicrous idea."

Stapleton graces the cover of the Scene's 16th Annual Country Music Critic's Poll Issue. The singer/songwriter topped four categories; Album, Artist, Male Vocalist, and Songwriter of the Year. He's also the subject of an insightful Q&A, in which Stapleton discusses the massive success of his recent album, Traveller. The #CMA Award-winning, #Billboard Chart-topping artist is also nominated for four #GRAMMYs this year.

John Strohm, Senior Counsel at Loeb & Loeb, on Streaming and the Bright Future It Presents for Unconventional Artists

The last 15 years have been a wild ride, but the dust is finally starting to settle, and we’re on the brink of a more efficient, transparent, and sustainable music business. All Together Now is a series of Q&As with some of the best and brightest minds in the music business regarding the changes they are experiencing and the steps they are taking to adapt. We interview influential artists and songwriters, as well as leaders from labels, management teams, publishers, and streaming services to hear what they think it takes for us to come together to build a faster, smarter music industry. All together now. Subscribe here to receive our roundup of notable music business news and ideas — delivered by email weekly.

“I want major labels to continue to be healthy and to continue to find their way in the new industry, but even more so I want for there to be viable alternatives and opportunities for artists who exist outside the commercial center lane. If everything goes as it should, there will be more opportunities than ever for all sorts of artists to have careers and sustainable livelihoods.”

John Strohm means it when he says that he cares about the musicians operating to the left of the dial. He spent half of his career playing in critically-acclaimed and criminally underappreciated alternative bands like the Blake Babies, Antenna, and the Lemonheads, before moving on to get his law degree in the early 2000s. These days, Strohm is Senior Counsel at Loeb & Loeb in Nashville, TN. He represents artists like GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter, Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver, and Gold-certified rock ‘n rollers, Alabama Shakes, whose Sound and Color is nominated for Album of the Year at the upcoming GRAMMY awards. Both demonstrate Strohm’s knack for finding unorthodox artists and helping them go on to achieve massive commercial success on their own terms.

Most recently Strohm was a part of the team behind Sturgill Simpson’s 2014 breakout album, Metamodern Sounds of Country Music. That record eschewed the sounds blasting from the genre’s current mainstream. It was cut for next to nothing (Simpson told American Songwriter it was “Around $4,000”), and it was released via a non-traditional partner (Thirty Tigers). But an impressive online campaign allowed Metamodern to reach wider audience, and it eventually rose to #8 on the Billboard Country charts. Simpson, who is also nominated for a 2016 GRAMMY (Americana Album of the Year), went on to sign deals with Atlantic Records and Downtown Publishing.

It’s not surprising that Strohm is also fan of streaming. “It’s been my prediction going back a decade that streaming would dominate,” he says. Read on to find out why the lawyer thinks the medium creates promising career opportunities for artists working outside of the box.

There’s a lot of buzz about artists being able to grow and break independently, especially with strong management teams. What’s does an artist’s ideal team look like in 2016? Do you still see advantages of partnering with a traditional label or publisher?

Strohm: This depends so much on the type of artist, and what their individual goals are. It would be very rare to find a commercially successful artist who didn’t have a personal manager, agent, attorney, and business manager accountant; however, what makes sense in terms of label and publisher will vary greatly. It usually comes down to balancing the need for resources against the artist’s willingness to let the label or publisher have a seat in the creative process.

If an artist doesn’t need expensive resources such as access to commercial radio or extensive “song-plugging” support, then it often makes sense for the artist to keep the label and publisher relationships fairly bare-bones, such as a label services or distribution deal on the label side, or an administration deal on the publishing side. But minimizing the role of the label or publisher also means increasing the role of the manager, or the artist taking on more business responsibility. Every successful artist “team” is tailored to the specific needs and goals of that particular artist.

How has the growth of streaming affected the label and publishing deals that cross your desk?

I think at this point most everyone in the business has accepted that subscription streaming is a big part of the current business and an even bigger part of the business going forward. It’s been my prediction going back a decade that streaming would dominate, and we’re seeing that. We’re also seeing artist careers made through streaming, and labels using services as valuable A&R resources. Publishing deals haven’t been affected too much, since the deals are based on percentage splits of mechanical income that would include streaming monies. These splits have remained constant despite the rise of streaming. Nevertheless, there is a lot of focus on the proportion of master to publishing payments for streaming on the policy side, with the publishing industry generally unsatisfied with the portion of streaming revenue that is paid to the publisher.

On the label side, streaming has become a term that can tip the scales towards artists doing indie deals over majors. Majors have been fairly aggressive in negotiating the streaming rate, typically pushing to keep the rate consistent with the artist’s all-in royalty rate (which is typically between 15–20%). Indie deals are often based on a 50/50 net profit split, including streaming monies. Everyone realizes how valuable this piece of the deal is, so it becomes a major focus. The industry standard is still developing, and deals will probably look a lot different in coming years. I predict that net splits will become more common as the retail/wholesale royalty based on a unit of physical product becomes less relevant to the economic reality.

We talked to Paul Roper from Dualtone about Spotify’s problem with misinformation re: payouts. What are some of the biggest issues that you see holding back the streaming services at this point? How can they improve the situation?

It’s such a huge challenge, with billions of streams and millions of rightsholders. It seems almost inevitable that there will be some serious growing pains. I would like to think that the services are doing their best to pay the appropriate amount to the appropriate parties, and they’ve seemed to be responsive to criticism. We’re already seeing lawsuits, and there will be more. I’m hopeful that the future will be a selection of user-friendly subscription services that give consumers access to all recorded music and pay an appropriate split to rightsholders in a reliable way. We’re getting closer to that reality. Competition will force the services to maintain a quality product, and the pressure of rightsholders and their negotiating bodies such as the RIAA and NMPA will force the services to account and pay as they should.

On the other hand, there is so much misinformation about how artists and writers are paid, and so much emotion as they try to comprehend the new system. There is a danger of “devaluation” as we switch to an entirely new way to making music available; however, some people assume that going from a product-based system to one of micropayments for performances is a devaluation by definition. I’ve seen how the scale can work to artists’ benefit, and I’ve seen the opportunities that can come through streaming. There’s plenty to work out in how the system will work, but a great deal of it is a matter of time and exposure. I’ve seen plenty of streaming converts once people see how much money can be generated.

There’s been a lot of recent discussion about potential changes to copyright, consent decrees, rate courts, etc. By design, it takes a lot of time to update laws, but technology is exponentially changing how intellectual property functions in the market. Will the legal protections for music rights ever be able to keep up with the pace of technological progress?

We’re all hoping for an overhaul of the copyright act, and it will happen eventually. But Congress has a lot of important issues to address, and copyright law isn’t their first priority. But since we’re dealing with a copyright law that precedes digital, and amendments drafted decades ago to address specific issues, it’s clear the law is strained to deal with current issues. We’re able to protect rights largely through private contract; but as the technology continues to develop and evolve, we will need a new copyright act in the next few years. Then, I’m sure, we’ll need another one right away.

Moving forward, what do you see as a viable model for the music business as a whole? What can music creators and the folks who represent them do to move towards that?

One thing I like about subscription streaming is that, once it’s firmly in place, it’s tough to think what will disrupt that system. The business and laws are always scrambling to adapt to new formats that become possible via technology — wax cylinders to vinyl discs to cassette tapes to CDs to digital files — and it seems that once everyone can stream at CD quality at home, in their cars, from their phones, that we’ve arrived at a potentially stable place. If the industry isn’t constantly disrupted, then we can really get things right for once, with a fair system of licensing and payment. But we’re not there yet, and there’s so much yet to work out. But I’m optimistic we will get there.

For creative artists, the Internet provides opportunities to connect commercially without having to give up copyright ownership or creative control, which is fantastic. I hope this continues to be the case, as major labels figure out how to effectively market music in the digital space. I want major labels to continue to be healthy and to continue to find their way in the new industry, but even more so I want for there to be viable alternatives and opportunities for artists who exist outside the commercial center lane. If everything goes as it should, there will be more opportunities than ever for all sorts of artists to have careers and sustainable livelihoods.

Joe Conyers III, VP of Technology at Downtown Music, on Forward-Thinking Music Publishing

“Many companies in our space do not understand that data is their most important asset. They’re still using databases built in the 90’s.”

In his role as VP of Technology at Downtown Music Publishing, Joe Conyers III works hard to make sure the publisher isn’t one of those companies. Downtown offers a wide range of services to a roster and catalog that includes John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Hans Zimmer, and Elle Goulding. Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Imogen Heap signed an innovative administrative deal with the publisher in December, which allows her to develop her new blockchain-inspired “fair-trade” music distribution and payment system, Mycelia.

Heap, who contributed as a co-writer and producer to Taylor Swift’s 1989, praised Downtown in an interview with Billboard, saying, “It’s really a great opportunity to work with a forward-thinking publishing company when the future is so wide open at the moment.”

Conyers was right in the middle of that deal, and told Billboard it “was great to partner with somebody like [Heap], who’s really going to be a builder with us. That’s the spirit of this.”

In 2011, Downtown started Songtrust, where Conyers is also the VP/General Manager. The platform’s online admin system allows songwriters, artists, managers, labels and publishers to efficiently collect royalties from digital service providers like Spotify, Youtube, and Pandora, as well as terrestrial radio, film, TV, and other formats in over 50 markets worldwide. Songtrust now represents more than 50,000 writers with a combined catalog of 250,000+ songs, some of which have been performed by the likes of Bruno Mars, Selena Gomez, and Frank Ocean.

Conyers eats, sleeps and breathes technology. In our brief email exchange, he referenced an illuminating article he penned regarding the issue of unlicensed music in user-generated Facebook content, discussed the possibilities of virtual reality music videos, which he says we aren’t ready for yet, and mentioned the rising number of digital proposals (i.e Heap) that cross his desk every month. Downtown and Songtrust are in good hands, as it’s clear that Conyers will continue to study and adapt to the various new platforms and deal structures he sees on a regular basis.

There’s been chatter that Adele’s recent decision to keep 25 off on-demand streaming services is short-sighted. How can labels and publishers balance a need for what’s best for them “right now” with what’s good for the overall industry in the long term?

Certain incredibly high profile artists have a market privilege right now. Right now it’s just a gut calculation that people will still buy CDs and Downloads from some artists. I think labels and publishers have little ability to influence any change here, it’s a technology adoption lifecycle issue. A small few are able to take advantage of the fact that they will be able to double dip here, in 6–24 months when they launch on streaming services they will still get incredible amounts of playlist addition and a bunch of free marketing from DSPs.

CDs are slowly becoming a relic — this is a function of how many cars with CD players still exist and how many holiday seasons where a gift receiver complains they don’t have a CD Player. (There are now zero new macs with optical drives. PCs with them are becoming a rarity as well.) Digital Downloads are well understood by the late majority and laggards and streaming is still barely cracking into the early majority. It will take 2–4 cycles of replacing phones to really move the needle here — and switching to streaming must be easier than moving your download catalog to your new phone. Once Apple and Google/Youtube crack this UX problem it will be a lot easier to convince people to go.

We’ve also heard different opinions concerning streaming royalties. You are in a position where you see a wide variety of statements between Downtown and Songtrust. What do you see as the most exciting emerging revenue opportunities for publishers and songwriters?

The old adage of publishing being a pennies business is still going strong and bears repeating. I’m now looking at 5–10 new digital deals a month. We are seeing more and more interesting business models outside of traditional streaming services. I’m very excited about other UGC video and streaming platforms getting licensed in the coming years, in particular Facebook will be a major opportunity. (For those interested, I’ve written in depth about their issues in video on our advocacy blog.) I’m also excited by Instagram, Vine, Periscope, YouNow, and other short form and live platforms.

It is a Huge challenge for these companies to get licensed and operational — but once they have the music ecosystem will be so much more robust. Looking farther on the horizon VR will be a major category. I think we will have another ringtone / Guitar hero like spike in revenue from a number of emerging services there(think VR music videos). VR is likely going to be massive but I’m not sure if music is going to be a top category just yet. The next two holiday cycles will be the big indicator of the future there as at present the average consumer’s computers are not powerful enough to run VR.

Has the shift towards Film & TV as a primary publishing revenue source affected Downtown’s strategy towards signing artists?

It certainly helps when our clients are attractive for synch, Downtown started in 2007 and never relied on mechanicals as a major income source. We’ve always had to go out and earn money for our clients. Synch has always been core to our business — we’ve kept this strong as we’ve grown by maintaining a high staff to song ratio.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities an all-streaming future would present to Downtown?

We see the ratio of Publishing to Master revenue to be one of our biggest challenges. Publishers are investing more in artists and writers in recent history but are not being compensated for it. We’ve only really started to see that rate creep up in last year, there is still so much uncertainty around the consent decree so it’s tough for the DSPs to ask for this give from the labels.
Opportunity wise we really tried to get ahead of metadata issues, which is now paying off. Our investments in technology and staff on that front are beginning to show the fruits of their labor.

Putting the politics aside, from a pure technology perspective, what still needs to be built for the music industry to be as structurally efficient and transparent as possible?

There is a lot of 90s business organization and ‘IT’ thinking still happening in various institutions. The industry and institutions in the market have not really grasped the idea that your software development teams should probably not report to your IT division who was originally charged with making sure everyone had a computer. The industry is still heavily reliant on FTP and batch files rather than using real time APIs which leads to a lot of bad data and slow feedback loops. The other major issue is that many companies in our space do not understand that data is their most important asset. Many institutions are still using databases built in the 90’s that are silo’d by division. This is all stuff that was solved in the 2000’s by finance and tech companies but has yet to come to our industry as there has been a distinct lack of technology and operational investment in this space.

Downtown Music Publishing, along with a handful of other publishers are customers and investors in Songspace.

Check out our All Together Now series.

T Bone Burnett on the Value of Music in the "Brave New Digital World"

"Music is an important part of who we are, an indelible record of what we care about and how we live.

And if we let that slip away — whether through legal gridlock, cultural apathy or technological drift — we will have lost something irreplaceable and fundamental to our lives."

Read legendary singer, songwriter, producer and music supervisor T. Bone Burnett's Op-Ed in the Washington Post regarding the value of music in the "brave new digital world."

2015: The Year of Dave Cobb

"I think I moved here for the same reason everybody else is moving here now. I moved here because I felt like it's mecca for music. I've never lived in a city that had the energy, musically, that Nashville has. The fact that I could go out to any bar tonight and see something that's really badass — every night. There's so much to be discovered. There's so much to be found. I moved to Nashville because Chris Stapleton lived here, Sturgill lived here, Jason Isbell lived here. It's easy to connect when you're in the same neighborhood."

Nashville's been good to Dave Cobb. So has 2015. NPR Music's Ann K. Powers sat down with the GRAMMY-nominated producer behind two of year's biggest releases, Chris Stapleton's Traveller and Jason Isbell's Something More Than Free, as well as Sturgill Simpson's 2014 breakout album, Metamodern Sounds of Country Music. Read the full interview.

#ALLTOGETHERNOW Q&A WITH MTHEORY FOUNDER J.T. MYERS

The last 15 years have been a wild ride, but the dust is finally starting to settle, and we’re on the brink of a more efficient, transparent, and sustainable music business. ATN is a series of Q&As with some of the best and brightest minds in the music business regarding the changes they are experiencing and the steps they are taking to adapt. We interview influential artists and songwriters, as well as leaders from labels, management teams, publishers, and streaming services to hear what they think it takes for us to come together to build a faster, smarter music industry. All together now.

“SO IT'S INTERESTING TO HAVE THIS NEW TOOL FOR ARTISTS AND THEIR TEAMS TO ACHIEVE GLOBAL IMPACT FROM A CENTRAL POINT. THE FACT THAT YOU GENERATE MONEY ON THOSE STREAMS JUST MAKES IT MORE COMPELLING FOR ME."


J.T. Myers knows the value of streaming. Major Lazer’s “Lean On,” a global #1 hit, recently became the most streamed track in Spotify history, with over 566 million streams and counting. As a founder and Managing Partner of mtheory, Myers directs a staff that provides services, support and strategy across a wide range of disciplines, including marketing, touring, live event production, financing, digital services, and label services, to managers of some of the world’s most successful and innovative artists, including Diplo, fun., Mumford & Sons, Skrillex, Dillon Francis, Trey Songz, and more.

mtheory worked with Major Lazer’s management team at TMWRK to design and implement a strategy that was initiated over a year before “Lean On” saw the light of day. Read on to learn the specifics about said plan, how its execution created opportunities around the world, and why a group effort was necessary to make it all possible.

From the perspective of adding value to an artist’s career, do you view streaming services as a marketing vehicle, a revenue source, or both? How do you that envision that value evolving as the platforms mature?

Myers: It's both. We view playlists on streaming services as global radio stations - placement on a popular playlist is a great way to expose an artist to a new audience. And our experience has been that when you generate interest in one geographic territory, playlists really help that success travel. If you have a hit in Scandinavia, it will get added to a bunch of playlists, and suddenly you have a bunch of awareness in Mexico, which can then empower your marketing efforts in that territory.

So it's interesting to have this new tool for artists and their teams to achieve global impact from a central point. The fact that you generate money on those streams just makes it more compelling for me. I know there has been a lot of debate around the economics of streaming, but from our point of view, being very focused on generating awareness and interest in artists, it's a very important tool for us. And our experience has been that when you have success in streaming it can generate significant money in and of itself.

Playlists were one of the pieces that helped “Lean On” succeed at Spotify. You ended up hiring Jay Frank’s company, DigMark, to pitch the track to independent playlisters. Was there a point in the lifecycle of “Lean On” breaking worldwide where playlist placements were most effective? Do you think more artists will begin to hire services like Frank’s?

We had ongoing conversations with Spotify, who control many of the most widely listened to playlists, and with DigMark, who had relationships with many of the independent playlists. It was an area that really got constant attention over the entire lifecycle of the release - even before the cycle I should say. Really, the first step was prioritizing building Diplo's own Spotify playlist, about a year before the release of “Lean On.” We explained to Wes and his team how it was possible for him to have his own widely listened to playlist, and how that could be a key tool for him debuting new music. So we spent a year helping him grow that following, and Spotify was a great partner in providing additional visibility for that playlist, which is regularly updated and refreshed. By the time “Lean On” was coming, his 'Diplo & Friends Radio' playlist was one of the 5 biggest artist playlists and among the top overall playlists on Spotify. So that gave us a megaphone to kickstart the campaign.

Spotify also provided great placements, and Digmark helped us identify important and influential regional playlists to talk to about the placing “Lean On.” As we saw good response to the song and started charting on the Viral and Country charts, that improved the story and helped DigMark target additional playlists, while we used the same stats to inform our other promotion discussions (radio, etc.). These effects kept compounding until we had a pretty massive global hit. Streaming had been the leading indicator for us, and then Shazams, radio spins, and track sales came along as well. Over the next few years we do expect artists to put more attention on playlists as a promotional outlet, whether that's hiring a company like DigMark, building relationships with influential curators directly, or putting more focus on their ability to be curators themselves.

You spent many years at Warner Music Group. How has your experience working within the traditional structure of a record label informed mtheory’s approach to artist management services?

I spent over 10 years in the major label environment, and that gave me a great appreciation for the need to have a great team to develop and execute cohesive marketing strategies with artists. The evolution of the industry over the last 15 years has really changed the revenue profile for artists - recorded music is still a significant stream, but areas like live and sponsorships have become significant business for many artists. So the business mix has changed significantly, but the need for a team to help you develop your career has been a constant. In many ways this was the rationale from the label perspective for "360 deals" - labels have traditionally been that development team for artists, and so felt justified in requesting income from other revenue streams to provide that service.

What we saw was that because the business had changed so much, many labels weren't optimized to provide that service in a world were touring was often the #1 income stream for an artist, and so artists were looking to other members of their team to step up and help them achieve their objectives. When we started mtheory 6 years ago, managers were starting to play an increasingly important role in artist development. We felt that we could provide marketing and strategy capability (that had previously lived in labels for the most part) to managers, and that could really make a difference for their artists' careers. We've had the pleasure of working with the managers of some of the biggest artists in the world, and over the years we've seen managers now emerge as central figures in the music business ecosystem. It is almost impossible for an artist to have a sustainable career today without a great manager. We love partnering with ambitious managers to help them grow their artists' careers, and it's exciting that we can empower artists to approach their career on their own terms - whether that's partnering with a label team, or pursuing a more independent approach as was the case with Major Lazer.

Pandora CEO: Music Shouldn't Be (Completely) Free

As Pandora preps to enter the on-demand streaming battle royale, CEO Brian McAndrews is taking jabs at the freemium business model espoused by Spotify and YouTube.

In a recent op-ed in Business Insider, McAndrews explained the somewhat obvious challenges the transition from physical to digital has created for music companies.

Years ago, if anyone could have walked into a record store, legally taken every record home for free, and listened to the exact songs they wanted for as long as they chose, the music industry model would have completely broken down. But that is exactly the situation the music industry faces today.

Free-to-the-listener on-demand services are driving down music’s intrinsic value by creating a “gray market.” By that I mean a market where listeners can perpetually access licensed, free, on-demand music. An ever-growing number of listeners are happily lingering in music’s gray market, enjoying full access to all music without paying for the privilege and with little incentive or intention to convert to a full-paying subscription.

It's a very public hint at how Pandora might leverage its massive base of listeners to monetize a forthcoming on-demand streaming service, and most certainly a peace offering as the company preps to negotiate new on-demand licenses with labels and publishers.

Coldplay: To Stream or Not to Stream?

Coldplay out, too? Bloomberg reported yesterday that the British rock band hasn't said if its new album, A Head Full of Dreams, will be available on Spotify and Apple Music tomorrow. The news comes just a few weeks after Adele decided not to stream her latest, 25.

This isn't a huge surprise from Coldplay. Both last year's Turn Blue and 2011's Mylo Xyloto weren't available to stream for the first few months after their release.

Both singles on the upcoming release are currently streaming via Spotify and Apple Music, though Coldplay used a similar strategy with Turn Blue.

Frontman Chris Martin has ownership in TIDAL, which could also play a factor in the decision.

Read the full Bloomberg article here.

Tobias Jesso, Jr. on Writing with Adele

"Her music changed my life and as a songwriter she was an inspiration and showed just what a song could go on to do if it came from the right place... When I got the call that I would be working with her, my heart stopped."

Read Tobias Jesso Jr.'s thoughts on writing with Adele. Their song, "When We Were Young," is one of the many highlights on 25. via Facebook.

"a few months back I had the opportunity to not only meet, but to work with my favorite singer/songwriter since I first heard her music in 2009. I've been saying it since my very first interview with pitchfork and had no idea I would ever get to meet her or what I would do/say if I ever did. Her music changed my life and as a songwriter she was an inspiration and showed just what a song could go on to do if it came from the right place (although lets be honest, her voice helps a bit :P). When I got the call that I would be working with her, my heart stopped. I spent four years in Los Angeles trying to write songs for anybody I could get to sing them, and eventually, as some of you know, I had to start singing them myself just to get them on a record. I was nervous as shit as anybody would be with someone like Adele walking in the room and being my first professional collaboration I would ever have. She was so down to earth and so very sweet, even after realizing what she probably realizes every day of her life, that the person sitting across from her is having trouble registering what is really happening in that moment. That was me, just a gigantic Adele fan meeting her for the first time. She made me instantly comfortable, we just sat in the garden and shot the shit. After that we spent two days writing songs and trading jokes. There was no studio, just a piano and us, and we wrote a lot. I mean a lot lot. I learned a lot from her, most of all just how much she truly deserves to be exactly where she is, and why all of her songs mean so much to the people who hear them. I can tell from the bottom of my heart she means what she says and the words she puts into her music. Every lyric and every line comes from a place that she feels. She does not settle. For a songwriter it was probably the best experience I could have possibly had. One of the songs, When We Were Young, made her record, and a second one we did made it onto her bonus track album from Target (get it, it's amazing). I'm writing this because my very first show was a year ago. Before that, I had nothing, no hopes of getting to write for anybody, no big dreams I thought would ever come true. Just a 28 year old in his parents basement learning the piano for the very first time.
But a dream did come true, and I couldn't be happier about it.
If it could happen to me, it can happen to you.
I love you Adele. sorry for any spelling errors i'm writing from a studio in NY, ha (She's on SNL tonight!)"

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