Are Record Labels Facing an A&R Crisis?

A succession of conversations with record labels over the last couple of months has made me start to ponder whether we are approaching a tipping point in streaming era A&R. At the heart of the conversations is whether the growing role of playlists and the increased use of streaming analytics is making label A&R strategy proactive or reactive? Is what people are listening to shaped by the labels or the streaming service? To subvert Paul Weller’s 1980s Jam lyrics: Does the public get what the public wants or does the public want what the public gets?

An old dynamic reinvented

Radio used to be the main way in which audiences were essentially told what to listen to. Labels influenced what radios would play through a range of soft tactics – boozy lunches, listening sessions etc. – and hard tactics – pluggers, payola etc. Now radio is in long-term decline, losing its much-coveted younger audience to YouTube and audio streaming services. Streaming services have learned to capture much of this listening time by looking and feeling a lot more like radio through tactics such as curated playlists, stations, personalisation and podcasts. Curated listening is increasingly shaping streaming consumption, ensuring that the listening behaviours of streaming users resembles radio-like behaviour as much as it does user-led listening. The problem for the record labels is that they have less direct influence on streaming services’ playlists than they did on radio.

Chasing the data

All record labels have become far more data savvy over recent years, with the major labels in particular building out powerful data capabilities. This has resulted in a shift in emphasis from more strategic, insight-led data, such as audience segmentation, to more tactical, data such as streaming analytics.

At MIDiA we have worked with many organisations to help them improve their use of data and the number one problem we fix, is going to deep with analytics. It might sound like a crazy thing to say, but we have seen again and again, companies fetishize analytics, pushing out endless dashboards across the organisation. Too often the results are:

  1. decision makers paradoxically pay less attention to data than previously, not more, because they assume someone else must be ‘on it’ because of all the dashboards
  2. strategic decisions are made because of ‘blips’ in the data.

There is a danger that record labels are now following this path, relying too heavily on streaming analytics. It is interesting to contrast labels with TV companies. Until the rise of streaming, TV networks were obsessed with ‘overnight ratings’, looking at how a show performed the prior night. Now streaming has made the picture more nuanced, TV networks are turning to a diverse mix of metrics, incorporating ratings, streaming metrics, social data and TV show brand trackers. Streaming made the TV networks take a more diverse approach to data, but has made record labels pursue a narrower approach.

The risk for record labels is that doubling down on streaming analytics can easily result in double and fake positives and create the illusion of causality. Arguably the biggest problem is making curation-led trends look like user-led trends, mis-interpreting organic hits for manufactured ones.

Lean-back hits

One major label exec was recently telling me about how one of his label’s artists had ended up in Spotify Today’s Top Hits and racked up super-impressive stats. The success surprised the label as everything else they knew about the artists suggested it would not be such a big breakthrough performer. Nonetheless the label decided to rewrite its plan and threw a huge amount of marketing support behind the next single. Yes, you guessed it, it flopped. When the label went back to the streaming stats, it transpired that the vast majority of plays were passive. It was a hit because it was in a hit playlist that users tend not to skip through, which created an artificial hit, albeit a transitory one.

This case study highlights the two big challenges we face:

  1. Streaming analytics stripped of the context of insight can mislead
  2. Lean-back hits are not real hits

Chasing the stats

The two points are now combining to create what may yet be an A&R crisis. By chasing streaming metrics, the more commercially inclined record labels – which does not exclusively mean major labels – are creating a data feedback loop. By signing the genre of artists that they see doing best on playlists, they push more of that genre into the marketplace which in turn influences the playlists, which creates the double positive of that genre becoming even more pervasive. This sets off the whole process all over again. And because the labels are chasing the same genre of artists, bidding wars escalate and A&R budgets explode. This leads to labels having to commit even more money to marketing those genres because they can’t afford for their expensively acquired new artists not to succeed. All of this helps ensure that the music becomes even more pervasive. And so on, ad infinitum. Five years ago, this probably wouldn’t have been a problem but now record labels are flush with cash again, they are throwing out advances that they can now afford on a cash flow basis, but not on a margin basis. Because record labels – majors especially – remain obsessed with market share, none are willing to jump off the spinning wheel in case they jump too soon. It is a game of chicken. As one label exec put it to me: “In the old days we were betting on the gut instinct of an A+R guy who at least knew his music, now we’re chasing stats rather than tunes”.

Not so neutral platforms

Of course, none of this should be happening. Streaming platforms should be neutral arbiters of taste, simply connecting users with the music that best matches their tastes. But streaming services are locked in their own market share wars, each trying to add the most subscribers and drive the most impressive streaming stats – just look at how Spotify and Apple fell over each other to claim who had streamed Drake’s Scorpion most. In such an intense arms race, can any streaming service risk delivering a song to its users that might result in fewer streams than another one? Therefore, what we are now seeing is a subtle, but crucial, change in the way recommendation algorithms work. Instead of simply looking a user’s taste to estimate what other music she might like, the algorithms test the music on a sample of users to make sure they like it first before pushing it to a wider group of users that match that profile. In short, the algorithms are playing it safe with hits, which means surprise breakouts are becoming ever less likely to happen. Passenger’s slow burning ‘Let Her Go’ simply might never have broken through if it had been launched today. And yes, if you didn’t skip that Scorpion track in Today’s Top Hits then you are now that bit more of a Drake fan, even if you actually aren’t.

Where this all goes

Something needs to change, and ideally someone will have the balls to jump off the wheel before it stops spinning. Right now, we are on a path towards musical homogeneity where serendipitous discovery gets shoved to the side lines. And with listeners having progressively less say in what they like because they are too lazy to skip, record labels will become less and less able to determine whether they are getting value for money from their marketing and A&R spend.

Pop will eat itself.

From https://musicindustryblog.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/are-record-labels-facing-an-ar-crisis/#comments

I Pray Official Video

Indie Lagone, I Pray The day in the life of a homeless man. Homelessness is rampant more so than most realize. The struggles endured are real everyday, for those who have to wake up to its reality.

Filmed by Mitchell Bain. Actor Roger Gregg. Music By: Indie Lagone Music Recorded at Rain Song Creative Studios with Brian Vodinh.

GET THIS SONG HERE!

www.indielagone.bandcamp.com

www.indielagone.com

I PRAY LYRICS

WATCH THE WORLD GO BY AS THIS CIGARETTE SLOWLY DIES

FEELS LIKE I AM STANDING STILL

WATCH THE CROWDS PASS BY AND EVEN IF I CRIED OUT

I’D GET LOST BENEATH THE WAVE LOST WITHIN THE BLUR

I’VE BEEN ALL BUT CROSSED OUT OVERLOOKED AND LEFT FOR BLAME

PROBABLY LEAVE THIS PLACE WITHOUT A NAME WITHOUT MONEY WITHOUT FAME

I CAN STILL TASTE THE SWEET THOUGH I’VE NOT TAKEN IN WEEKS

OH THE CONVERSATIONS I’VE HAD TO REMEMBER I COULD SPEAK

USE TO HAVE A MOTHER WHO LOVED ME NOW SHE’S GONE

USE TO HAVE A FATHER WHO KNEW BUT IT HAS BEEN SO LONG NOW

SCARED TO DEATH I’M GONNA JOIN THEM SOON

MY DEMONS, MY DEMONS

I PRAY I PRAY THEY WILL SEE THIS DUST UPON MY HANDS IS NOT WHO I AM

I STAY I STAY THIS LIFE WAS NOT MY PLAN BUT STILL HERE I AM HERE I AM

 

The Best Song You Never Wrote

How do you write a hit song?

Writing songs has existed as far back as probably fire. That is far enough back that can shamelessly say, I do not care when or how it actually all began. I do know that since the inception of recording, song writing has gained interest at an astronomical rate. Here we sit in the digital age and all of a sudden everyone seems to be a songwriter. Every teen on the planet has the capability to record their latest creation. Most writers, experimental and semi professional seem to be missing the mark though. What is the difference between the success story and the forgotten. So what is the perfect song writing process?
Writing Your Hit Song
Writing Doesn’t have to hurt!
I am going to let you in on a little secret that will set your next song apart from the rest.
There are people charging Big Money for the use of their vast knowledge within the music industry. This is definitely one of the things you will hear summed up in this one article. FOR FREE! So save your money and read on. READY?
Would you believe that the majority of hit songs are all virtually carbon copies of the songs preceding them? I do so hate to burst the creative bubble, just in case you didn’t know this. All of those songs at the top of the charts barring just a few, are replicas of the songs that have been embedded by the record labels over the years. We are habitual creatures and we love all that is familiar. Therefore yes we have cloned our own entertainment. A blatant example of this Axis of Awesome.
Wait… all hit songs don’t sound the same! No they don’t. That is where the individual artist comes in. That is YOU! Yes, you are special and now you are going to have a an awesome tool to help you write more palatable songs for your listeners. Remember, you are NOT stealing their material or sound. You are mimicking the process. There are several methods for doing this. We are going to use a Mashup method. Sort of like the Bruno Mars Funk it Up Single.

Step one: Top Picks
We need to 1st pick 10 hit songs that you love and that reflect your current style from the past 10 years. You can visit Billboard Charts to find yours by genre.
Step Two: Analysis.
Write down how many bars are in the intro, verse, chorus, bridge etc. You need to understand the structure of a song. Listeners are tuned into the pattern. You will also need to pick out the rhyming patterns.
Example AABA
There was a DOG
Who liked the FOG
Went down the STREET
and ate a FROG

Then pick out the Chords being used. You can cheat a little by visiting Ultimate Guitar. They are not always perfect but most are pretty close.

NOTE: Do one song at a time or you may find yourself over whelmed.

Step Three: Lyrics

This is all you. For inspiration though look at those songs and what they are talking about subject wise. Find one that has the same message you are wanting to convey. Don’t write all of your ideas down yet. That will come in a bit after we put all of this together.

Ok, now that you have put in some work lets get it going.

1 Pick one of those 10 songs. You are going to use the chord pattern from it for our New Hit Song.

2 Pick another song. You will use this as your base rhythm to be changed by your drummer later. HAHAHA! They can’t help it.

3 Pick another for your structure.

4 Pick another and use the lyric pattern for your amazing lyrics.
5 Make sure you do NOT forget your hook. Every song has one. KEEP IT SIMPLE!
Each musician in your band is going to have their own take on your new song. Let them. Do not tell them where you pulled from. It will allow them to put a creative twist on it giving it that original flare. That is what your existing fans love. Remember you do not want to sound like anyone else. You still want to be you, but with a process to speed up your writing. That will give you an edge when it comes to recruiting new listeners in the future. It will also make your songs translatable in a live situations. Especially with people who have never heard your music before.
skillet-2222711_1920.jpg
Some things to keep in mind.
Some keys are more popular than others. Simply creating music that mimics successful artists that you love will not make you successful. It’s hopefully just a guideline that might help in the writing process. After spending time analyzing songs from popular artists you will begin to automatically recognize a lot of commonalities among them. Most musicians go their entire lives without considering that there may be a formula for the creation of all these great songs. I was one of those.
Fill the Room
You can’t fill a room with songs people can not relate to. They need to feel familiar.
For many years the idea was to write music to the fullest possible extent of the skill level. Take a simple concept and complicate it until it becomes something original, technical and forever LOCAL! You will have critics because there will always be the hater. The “That s/*- is simple and they Suck!” people. Remember it isn’t about complicated, it is about instrumentation and knowing before you begin, what the masses want. You can see the same process through greats like Muse all the way down to Nirvana.
Something to keep in mind if you are feeling a little dirty holding this knowledge and how easy it is.
Why do certain chord progressions get used so much, and why do people simply just not get sick of them?

The answer… They don’t sound the same, they sound familiar.

Hope this helped! If it did please comment below or share this post!
Allen Swank

Awesome write up from +Music

We always appreciate getting content out there for everyone. If you are interested in doing an interview or write up contact us at indielagone@gmail.com and we will respond ASAP.

http://www.musictalentpool.com/featured-artists/artist-to-watch-indie-lagone/

What’s In A Number: Can Streaming Really Be Worth $28 Billion? — Music Industry Blog

Goldman Sachs just made some headlines with its assessment that Universal Music is worth $23.5 billion and that the paid streaming market will be worth $28 billion in 2030 (up from $3.5 billion in 2016 and close to double the size of the entire recorded music business in 2016). For a little bit of perspective, […]

via What’s In A Number: Can Streaming Really Be Worth $28 Billion? — Music Industry Blog

Band Bio-Jason

IMG_2929 Long ago in a small town in east TN called Union County, I became interested in playing music. My first experience was with the bass guitar. I remember borrowing a fender bass from my friends neighbor and trying out for the band. None of us had really been playing long if any at all and we had no idea what we were doing. Shortly after that I decided to switch to guitar. Luckily, I had a good friend that learned a lot from his father and he helped me out. I had a bit of a knack for it and learned most of the basic chords in a few months. I was quite young, around 12 or so and I had lots of time to practice. After a few years of playing together we became a proficient band for our age and began to play a few shows and get together. After being on the stage I was hooked. It was so much fun and all the work was finally paying off. I continued on playing music with my first band till I got out of high school. Shortly after graduating I sign up for the military. This was in 2001 not long after the 911 attacks and I did not go overseas until 2005. Throughout this time I continued to make music and played with a number of bands as a singer and/or guitarist. Around the later years of the 2000’s I started playing music with my first band again. We made a good run but did not have the financial backing or will to succeed in such a business. I got a degree in web design that did not serve me well and worked dead end jobs mostly. It was a difficult time for me. I struggled financially and ended up in a divorce. Around 2009-2010 I met my wife and began to get things together. I ended up as a CNA at a local nursing home an worked there for almost 3 years. Around 2013-2014 I went to an Indie Lagone show for a meet and greet. I liked the vibe of the music and the laid back atmosphere of the band. It was a nice break from all the very serious heavier music I had played in the past. I started nursing school in 2015 and made it though by the skin on my teeth. As my career got better the band finally started finding stable band members and we began to grow in a positive direction. The direction of the music changed and we worked with a A and R representative to make better more marketable music. We did lots of analysis on popular music and structures of songs. It helped us immensely and we feel like our new music is the best we have made yet. On January 26, 2017 my baby girl Emberly Nyxx was born. I am so thankful for everything I have and glad to be a part of such a dedicated band as Indie Lagone.

Singing in the Strain

The crowd has arrived, the stage is set, the band is pumped. Meanwhile, behind the facade of the confident singer, nerves have begun to come unhinged. He/She has tried to down a couple drinks to relax and started doing some much needed warmups. To no avail they still just can not find that comfort zone. What to do…..

Nerves can get the best of any good singer and make them appear less of the vocal god that they really are. Here are a few tips to help get that confidence up and reduce the urgency to blow out your vocals in the first 3 songs of your set.

IMG_3652

PROBLEM: Can’t relax and produce clean notes in your higher range.

Here are several ideas for you that have proven effective for me. 1st the obvious. STRETCH. Relax everything. Try raising your shoulders and then while doing tail up and tail down vowels let them drop. Be sure to take very deep breaths and do this for about 3 minutes.

YAAAWWWWNNNN! Yawning is one of the best relaxation exercises for a singer. It allows your throat to open and your larynx to drop.

EAT! Not nachos and cheese or jalapeno bites from the bar. STAY AWAY FROM DAIRY! Try to eat something that is going to make you chew. The chewing motion will help open everything up and make your throat relax. It has to do so in order to allow you to swallow. I would suggest a hard fruit like apples. You can also try celery and peanut butter. The peanut butter will provide you with energy for your show as well. Remember the point in this is to chew, not just to get it in your stomach.

PROBLEM: DRY THROAT

Nothing like having cotton mouth just before you are supposed to perform. Ways to combat this? Well there are a thousand ways to do this but my advice is water. Stay away from alcohol. Not only will your body be hydrating to replace all the sweat that will pour out of your body during your show, but it will continue that swallowing action.You can also try sour candies to get that saliva flowing.

PROBLEM: I lose my voice halfway through our set.

If you are in a rock band with high energy shows, this is most likely something you have experienced. Sometimes this can be caused just by being too pumped up and screaming to the back of the room for the first few songs. At that point you have probably started to rip those chords. It is just downhill from here. Keep reading.

Another reason could be that you are simply out of breath. You know…. it takes air to make those notes. The less air we have the harder we push, the harder we push the more we strain, the more we strain the more we scream, the more we scream the less we sing.

Simple solution…. CALM DOWN!

jason and allen

 

As much as a stage show matters, it is not worth making your band look bad. Think of it from this perspective. If you were playing a ballad and you were in the midst of this super smooth light part and then your guitarist comes in full blown distortion with strings just out of tune. It wouldn’t really matter that he was pretty good about keeping it in the road, bending certain strings that he thinks are flat trying to make the chord sound whole. It would absolutely ruin that moment. That is what we do as singers when we push too hard for lack of air. Straining and sounding more like Chewbacca than the guy on the CD.

We can make ourselves believe that coming out running across the stage for the big “WE ARE HERE” intro. Eh… I would rather see someone actually have something left for the song. 30 seconds of BOOM is so not worth 30 minutes of UGH.

Try doing some deep breathing exercises before you hit the stage. Stretch your lungs. Stretch your arms out straight above your head and take in as much air as possible. SLOWLY exhale.. repeat.

Draw a mental road map of your show. Keep to it. If you find yourself getting off course pull it back in. Remember big, slow gestures are worth as much as the pogo stick bounce that grinds you down. You can also get your band to fill a little between songs to give you a chance to get a drink and recoup.

Remember this one point and it will help keep perspective. Fans come to see you play the songs they know. Your friends and family will always be way more forgiving than someone seeing you for the 1st time, having no idea what you should sound like. Some people like to see people fail. No matter what the reason is for those people to have shown up, you want them to remember you for your gift not the crash.

Give it a shot, put on a great show and CALM DOWN! It will make a huge difference in your performance and you may find your confidence and ability has not quite left the building.

 

My name is Allen Swank and I play in the band Indie LAgone. I have been performing for more than half of my life and love to share the knowledge I have gained along the way.

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From the minds of Indie Lagone

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