Twitter and the music industry: Big data and bigger questions

By Jason Free, Executive Editor 

Twitter boasts over 200 million active profiles, and these devoted users send out 400 million tweets a day. It’s a number that only continues to grow, and everyone from celebrities to corporations relies on Twitter as a way to get their messaging across.

Now, Twitter is going to take their global influence up a notch by pairing with 300 Entertainment. The social media site will share its data with the music industry in order to assist in “music-related analytics,” meaning that producers can use the site to find hidden talent and that artists can find the best ways to reach new fans and expand their brand.

Karl Volkman, the Chief Technology Officer of SRV Network, Inc. in Chicago, is an IT professional with over 30 years of experience.

He and I spoke about this new partnership and what it may mean for the music industry,

Jason Free: Let’s talk specifically about this new initiative by Twitter. What do you think they are going to do and how it’s going to influence the music industry?

Karl VolkmanKarl Volkman: Let’s take a step back and look at the global positioning of everything.

Honestly, media and media points are becoming the drivers for most businesses. If you look at the whole issue, everybody wants to deliver to the end user, as much as they can, across a single function. If you look at Comcast, obviously, they deliver your Internet. They can deliver to you phone, email and the cloud. They’re a full utility.

This is similar to Twitter and the music industry.

They are trying to get to where the consumer lives. Right now, that is the media interface. Therefore, the more you can put into that, the more information you can take away, the better and more reactive other business are going to be, particularly on the marketing and selling side.

Twitter, is a huge world for people live. Getting them involved in other types of businesses, it’s going to fund their business, and there will be some sort of reciprocal monies going back and forth. You’re also going to get an opportunity for advertisement, an opportunity for analytics; for pulling away who likes what, all those types of things.

That’s really the driver of today’s industry.

Determining where advertising/analytics dollars need to be is the real challenge. After that it’s just a matter of finding what people are thinking, what people are playing, what people are doing, and tying it to the ability to deliver service or advertising to it.

Free: What do you foresee as being the first effects from this partnership?

Volkman: There could be a potential of more advertising. The effects could be quicker answers, and changes, and trend setting occurring.

If you look at the music industry of the past, the original was radio stations where, you had to get your record in the radio stations and your record sales were based on that. You had to have your promoter cajole D.J.’s and station owners to play your music. Eventually, it converted into sales at the record stores. Then it became more word of mouth with iTunes. They would tell you who’s selling what and who’s doing what.

As you start to take information out of those conversations, which people are just talking about, or tweeting about, and react to it, they’re going to be able to set and make trends because of it. It’s is a quicker process now. From their standpoint, ideally, they’re getting faster answers, better information, and, therefore, they can target certain people and segments of the population better and faster. It’s always the reaction of any business to meet the need and the desire at the moment it’s there.

Sometimes, we know there is a need but we don’t deliver until after the need or interest is waning. This partnership is the case where it can be accelerated quite a bit in terms of understanding the analytics of what people are talking to, and trying to deliver it.

Free: Well one of the things that people have brought up time and time again is that the industry isn't patient enough. They don’t develop artists enough and this sort of relationship, and I may be being a devil’s advocate here, is going to possibly encourage more knee-jerk reactions.

It doesn't seem that the industry, since like the 80’s, puts time into an artist anymore; the way they did with somebody like U2.

U2 didn't make any money on their first 3 albums and they were given one more chance, an EP to pull themselves out in terms of Island Records. That EP not only did that, but because they had that back catalog that people were able to go back and purchase.

In this day and age, that process doesn't happen. Some people would argue having this real time access to valuable analytics, might not be used the right way.

Volkman: If you look at the potential artists, there are artists that need to mature. They need to go through the school of hard knocks, learn their craft better. Many times those avenues and paths aren't open anymore. People tend not to go to coffee houses and listen to a local guitar player play anymore. We’re a media device-centric populous now. We listen to what’s being put through our headphones. So, I would agree wholeheartedly.

In the past, there was always the most popular artist that can throw anything out there and still be popular. The music producers knew that, and would play it for as long as they were able to. Today, the one-hit wonders that you are seeing, the ones that flame out quickly, that’s going to accelerate. You’re going to have more and more burn through. You’re going to be trying to match what you believe is the desire quickly, with some person singing a certain song, a certain way, that may not be right for that particular artist.

Free: Let’s not just say the music industry because you can say this about almost any industry. It becomes a notion of, just because you give them “better data”, faster and more efficiently, it doesn’t mean they’re going to make the right decisions with that data.

Volkman: I can almost equate it to initial Apple Mac.

It was a hot-looking device. Apple has built a huge million-dollar company based on giving something flashy and great. If you talk to a lot of the programmers, or people who work in business, they say,
“Stay away from Macs on the desktop.” As a single device, it’s great. For business, it doesn't work well with others. That could be the same thing here in the music industry. You might diminish the craft just to be what that shiny apple is for people.

There are several different ways people can react to the information, how it can be interpreted. If someone says, “I like gangster music” and because people got that information right away and are able to react, all the sudden there is a plethora of gangster music. It could artificially burn out quickly because they are flooding the market. They’re pushing, perhaps, lesser artists to put something out there and could water down the actual product.

You’re right. Access to all this new data doesn't guarantee you’re going to make right decisions. All it’s going to guarantee is you can make quicker decisions.

Free: If you were in a position of power within the music industry, or if you were giving advice to someone in the music industry, what would be some of the things that you would advise them to do, and advise them not to do with such data?

Volkman: If you look at it from a pure money making standpoint, anytime there are two parties, there’s got to be a win-win. It can’t only be that you’re making money.

You really need a win-win-win.

The customer gets what they want, the producer gets what they want, and the artist doesn't suffer. They get what they need.

I would say, be weary of what people ask for. It’s not always necessarily what they intend, many times people will put on Twitter something to be outlandish. It’s not always something they are going to listen to. There is still artistry. In the music industry, you have to consider what art is. Art is creation. Art is something beyond what people are demanding at the moment. Sometimes, they don’t even know what they want until you show them there’s a difference.

Free: One of the things we like to do at SixFinger Learning is look at other industries and try and apply their policies and processes to the creative industries. What you’re telling me is echoing what’s going on in the healthcare industry. This demand for what they call “big data” and analytics it yields. What they are finding now is they’re awash with information that they don’t know how to use. They almost can’t see the forest for the trees. You’re not talking about socks. You’re not talking about a widget. You’re talking about healthcare. You’re talking about people. It isn't data. It’s a person. It seems that is kind of analogous to what’s going on with the music industry, and the potential of having all this data. You can have all the hard numbers that you want, but there is almost an art to developing an artist that has nothing to do with data.

Volkman: Exactly.

In a way, you could equate it to raising a child. The child is going to cry. The child is going to want sugar all day. If you take the analytics of what that child is giving you, and try to set up your parenting according to that, you’re going to do the whole world a disservice. That child is going to be a spoiled brat. The child might never know to do things as they grow and mature. Many times people don’t know what they want, and what benefits the whole world around them.

Every industry has to have win-win-win. All the players have got to have a plus side here. Someone asking for something, doesn't mean you give it to them right away.

JF: It seems like there is more of a potential for, I will use a harsh word here, disaster, than there is in terms of benefit. Essentially what you’re doing is feeding to the base reaction of the masses. You are almost encouraging –

Volkman: The mob mentality, you defiantly are.

Free: Not only are you encouraging mob mentality, but you’re encouraging, I’ll just keep it with music, I can listen to something that’s instantly catchy, and then I just get sick of it. Versus, I can listen to something that initially, I don’t like, but if I keep listening and keep listening –

Volkman: You really like it.

It’s like that movie, I never knew it had that theme running through, or I didn't catch that the first time. Music is an art form, as opposed to just supplying a single consumerable commodity. There is some longitude, some lasting that should occur with music.

I never wanted to hear one song because it sounds good, and then throw it out. There should be some repetitiveness. There’s got to be something more to it. It shouldn’t be looked at as a throw away consumerable product.

Free: What’s happening here is not necessarily the need for more analytics. You need to have somebody, or a group of people, who are skilled enough to say, “Ok, this is a one-hit wonder” versus, “Right now, no one is going to like this, but in time, they will.” So, really it’s going to be the interpretation side of things that is going to be really important. If you find the people who interpret it the wrong way, you’re just guaranteeing one-hit wonders with no long tail.

Volkman: I don’t disagree.

If you look at the music listening industry, I would say your trends are towards teenage and younger people. They tend to listen to music longer and more than other people. It’s always typically been where the music industry would focus to make their sales. Oftentimes, you’re going to have younger, immature people that are going to make the demands of what the music should do.

The analytics in that almost seems a little bit backward. You can take that to help guide you, to how you’re going to market, or how you’re going to advise, but not necessarily make it the driving force. Again, taking numbers and taking information and doing analysis on it can take you down the multiple paths. Do you use it as the blueprint of how you move forward or do you just take it into consideration? It should not be a simple step forward from what you think the analytics should be. It should be part of a process with many other elements as well.

They are doing this because they want to make some money from the music industry. The instant information is a two-edged sword. It can give you information to meet the needs better, but it can also be a lot of blather that sends you in the wrong direction; especially Twitter.

Twitter is comments.

A good percentage of Twitter is people acting like they are on stage; to have reactions that are not necessarily their true 24-hour-a- day feelings about something.

It’s a three minute moment where I can’t stand this.

I heard Lynyrd Skynyrd playing too many times on the radio back in my day, so I can’t stand it today. Not that it’s a bad song. It’s just that I've been overblown with it.

How are you going to interoperate that? Getting the information’s not bad but its how they use it that could be a detrimental step to an industry that needs artistry, needs variants, and needs exploration.

That’s how it grows.

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