Music Industry

Here’s How Bands Can Use Big Data to Further Their Careers

MTV was struggling. The channel had signed on in August 1981 in the midst of a brutal recession, one that was killing the music industry. When MTV went to the record labels asking that they invest money in promotional clips for their artists’ songs–clips that MTV said they would not pay for–most of them balked. The labels had other things to worry about.

“Besides,” they said, “what kind of coverage do you have? How many cable companies are carrying your channel? And what makes you think anyone is going to watch a twenty-four-hour music video channel? It’s a waste of money.”

Because American labels weren’t interested into creating music videos, the network had no choice but to go to the UK where there was a reasonably strong history of mating music with visuals. That’s where they found the highly telegenic Duran Duran.

On cable systems did carry MTV–minor metropolitan centres like Oklahoma City–Duran Duran’s management and label noticed a big spike in record sales. MTV used this new form of data correlation to prove that their service was good for business.

Fast-forward to the late 90s. After having a good run in early part of the decade, the Barenaked Ladies career was flagging. But their new management, Terry McBride, had a plan. He tracked BNL record sales using Soundscan data.  If there was a spike in sales in a particular city, then the band’s tour was routed that way. If this meant a zig-zag tour itinerary, so be it.  The plan worked. Thanks to shrewd data crunching, the Barenaked Ladies once again ended up on the platinum side of the ledger.

Fifteen years later, streaming music companies can offer all kinds of data to artists, managers and labels. Pandora–which considers itself to be a technology company first–wants to show artists who they can use Pandora data when it comes to making decisions about their audience.  From SF Gate:

The Colorado jam band Leftover Salmon sat in a conference room at Pandora’s Oakland headquarters as a screen projected a torrent of data — which of their songs were most popular on the Internet radio service, how many times their songs were “spun” over the past month, the number people who created Leftover Salmon “stations.”

One data set mapped the regions of the country in which the band was most popular.

“Wow, that’s crazy,” said bassist Greg Garrison.

Leftover Salmon, a group that formed in 1989 and invented a subgenre they call “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass,” already had a pretty good idea of who was into their music. Still, the band was impressed.

Employees like to say Pandora is as much a data company as it is a music streaming service. Its huge data trove helps the company determine which song to play for which listener. That data, Pandora believes, is what gives the company its edge over competitors like Spotify and iTunes Radio.

Leftover Salmon was there to hear about ways the band could harness Pandora’s data.

In October, Pandora started offering data to musicians in a program dubbed the Artist Marketing Platform.

It was intended as a peace offering of sorts.

Continue reading.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38553 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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