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Next Big Sound’s Data Journalist Finds Stories In Numbers And Helps Labels Measure Success

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By Cortney Harding of The Upward
Spiral

That cohort, according to Bulli and a number of other
researchers, prioritizes experiences over possessions. Raised
in a world of plenty, they listen online, are starting to shun
digital downloads, and still buy vinyl. They balk at spending
$9.99 a month for a streaming service subscription but will
fork over hundreds of dollars for concert tickets and
interesting merchandise. And if a young artist doesn’t feel
like using social media, he or she will likely be left out in
the cold. For some emerging artists, Bulli estimates
three-quarters of their audience are millennials—and they crave
online interaction and engagement.

The Upward Spiral spoke to Bulli recently about how artists can
use data to their advantage, why Facebook isn’t dead yet, and
why some people are still buying CDs.

Cortney Harding: In terms of the fans, what do
you think are some of the most interesting and surprising data
points that you have found about music fans today?

Liv Buli: That’s another point from our “State
of the Industry” report. We did a genre breakdown for most of
the sources that we’re tracking and found that last year about
25 percent of all follows that were music-related that happened
on Twitter were for indie rock artists, which I just thought
was shocking.

We also highlighted a few different things around user behavior
for different networks, one being that Instagram is growing
incredibly fast. And while Twitter is still a bigger platform
for musicians, it has plateaued a bit in terms of growth rate
of artists adding new followers. It’s steady, but it has
nowhere near the same trajectory as what Instagram is currently
seeing.

Another really interesting thing we found is that despite all
the talk about how Facebook is aging and no longer a popular
platform for younger people, millennials are still the biggest
user group on Facebook in terms of following artists. Of all
those who have liked an artist’s page, somewhere around 38
percent of them fell within the ages of 18 to 24.

Cortney Harding: Have you worked out any way
to figure out the ideal number of tweets that artists should be
posting, or the ideal level of engagement an artist should
have?

I ask that because I recently unfollowed an artist whose music
I really enjoyed, and whom I wanted to keep up with, but he
posted too much and re-tweeted absolutely everything about
himself—he was taking over my Twitter feed.

I’m not a millennial, so maybe millennials have a much higher
tolerance for tweet storms. But do you have any insight into
that in terms of how much artists should be engaging on
different platforms?

Liv Buli: This goes back to what I was saying
about engagement. If you’re posting a slew of content just to
post content and no one is interacting with it, then you’re not
leveraging that fan base in the right way and it’s not very
valuable to you.

We’ve done some calculations on what is expected performance
within each bucket and what range you should see on a daily
basis. But also we recently launched our new profile page where
anybody can log in for free and see a large amount of data.

One of the things that we’ve added to that is a bit of data
science work. An artist can view his or her social stage and
engagement metrics, including a measure of how engaged his or
her fan base is and the percentile that falls into. The artist
can also see whether or not that engagement is strong or
moderate or weak.

I would recommend that artists go in and see the amount of
activity that they currently have through one of their social
channels, to determine whether or not people are actually
engaging with that activity.

Cortney Harding: Let’s keep talking about
millennials, since that’s so much fun to do. In a recent
interview with Larry Rosen of Edison Research, we learned that
American teens now spend more time with streaming music
services like Pandora and Spotify than they do with traditional
terrestrial radio. He said the increasing amount of time that
teens spend with streaming music services could be a lens into
the future of audio usage.

I know that you’ve been doing a lot of research into
millennials at Next Big Sound. Can you tell us about how
millennials are streaming and interacting with music?

Liv Buli: I believe that millennials make up
somewhere around 23 percent of the population, but if you look
for any given artist, it’s likely that about 67 percent of his
or her following or audience is millennial. And that’s true for
both male and female artists. So millennials make up a
remarkable proportion of music fans. And I think that’s also
part of the reason why music activations are such a high focus
for brands right now—these are exactly the consumers that
they’re trying to reach.

We also found that for some of the fastest-growing artists, the
millennial audience gets even bigger. For these artists, about
75 percent of their audience would be millennial. So this group
is really driving activity, particularly online when it comes
to interacting with artists.

Cortney Harding: Are millennials also
listening to terrestrial radio and buying music? Taylor Swift
aside, are millennials actually buying physical product?

Liv Buli: These aren’t Next Big Sound numbers,
but we all know that digital downloads are on the decline. It’s
interesting to see vinyl grow so much in recent years. But then
again, I just went to a panel where Catherine Moore from the
NYU Music Business School spoke about how she considers vinyl
merchandise. She provided an interesting perspective on vinyl
as something that people are buying.

But we haven’t really dug too much into how millennials are
purchasing, or how that cohort is taking advantage of
purchasing albums. Overall, I think it’s interesting to look at
how the music industry in general is changing, with the driving
force being people in this age range. The change might
stabilize over time, and in the future, people might not buy
anything except for merchandise and concert tickets and just
stream everything because it’s available that way.

A kind of curated ownership might develop where people, through
streaming services, have access to absolutely everything they
want, but they buy the things that they want to own.
Personally, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars a month for concert
tickets. I also buy records. But I still use streaming services
regularly because everything is available to me. Then I
purchase whatever I really want to own.

Cortney Harding: In terms of millennials, are
there any other misconceptions about what millennials are doing
or aren’t doing with music? I’m thinking about illegal
downloading, that was such a big thing for such a long time.
Have you seen a move away from that now that you have actual
options like Spotify and RDIO

Liv Buli: Spotify has done some really
interesting research around piracy and how that works,
particularly in Holland. But what he’s showing through his
research is that access to music—the simplicity and the ease of
access through services like Spotify—actually puts a dent in
piracy.

This makes sense. Why bother to go out of your way to rent
illegally when you have it readily available to you? Even if
you’re not willing to pay for a premium subscription to
Spotify, you will still have access to music. You just have to
listen to ads.

That shrinks that group of people who are willing to go out and
search for illegal downloads, download them onto their
computers, and download whatever program they need to have for
that into a very small core group.

Cortney Harding: In your most recent “State of
the Industry” report, you wrote, “You might still be the type
of consumer that buys CDs at gas stations or at Starbucks, but
most of us are hunting down the content of our playlists
through myriad streaming services.” On the one hand, I know
that you’re kind of kidding and being snarky and playful, but
on the other hand, the statement’s kind of worrisome because it
suggests to me that some NYC people need to get out of the city
more.

Certainly, CD sales are declining, but people are still buying
physical CDs, listening to terrestrial radio, and consuming
music in this really old-school way. And I’m just sort of
curious about that. It’s shocking for me, too. When I see
people purchasing physical CDs, I want to shake them and ask,
“Do you know what the value is here versus the value for
Spotify?” And vinyl I get. Vinyl’s a different animal, but I
still know people who purchase physical CDs. And it still kind
of blows my mind.

What are your thoughts here? Do you think it’s just other
people are a little bit slower on the uptake but eventually
we’re going to have a situation like in Norway where
grandmothers have Spotify subscriptions

Liv Buli: I’m from Norway—full disclosure—and
had Spotify long before I moved to the U.S. I freaked out when
I moved here and they told me that I had to change my credit
card and that I might not have Spotify anymore. So I’m a huge
believer in streaming.

But I agree with you. I think it’s also particularly easy to
forget when you work in the music industry and you’re in major
cities like New York City that not everybody is using streaming
services like this. And Americans spend an amazing amount of
time in their cars. Just look at services like Sirius and how
much they’ve grown and how many users they have because people
are generally quite often consuming music while they’re driving
around the U.S.

As far as purchasing CDs goes, well, I purchase CDs. And this
goes back to what I mentioned about moving toward an ecosystem
of access and curated ownership. You might decide that you’re
going to buy that CD that you see at the gas station because
it’s an artist you particularly like or because your radio
keeps going in and out of service. Why you buy that CD, I don’t
care, but I don’t see purchasing completely disappearing from
the music industry.

My perspective is that many streams will lead to one pool.
Flowing into that pool would be streaming services, sales,
concert tickets, merch—any means of leveraging your music
career.

I don’t see sales completely disappearing for the music
industry. While Spotify and RDIO and Pandora and these services
are making huge inroads, they have nowhere near cornered the
market. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops over time
and just how big these services get.

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