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.