Data, Spotify and Discovery: Jason Flom, Julia Willinger, Michelle Klein and More Talk Turkey at Social Media Week

From left: Piotr Orlov (Raspberry Jones), Dave Altarescu (New Markets Lead, Spotify), J. Period (producer and music coordinator, Brooklyn Nets), Julia Willinger (VP of A&R, Mom + Pop) and Liv Buli (data journalist, Next Big Sound)

Courtesy of Social Media Week

As streaming music services and social media tools continue to evolve, the music industry is keeping a close eye on the new media’s metrics -- while making sure that quality music remains a priority. This was the overarching theme of "The Future of Social Music," a three-hour long program presented by Spotify as part of New York's sixth annual Social Media Week. The program, featuring both industry execs and journalists, explored how the music industry and brands utilize streaming and social data in order to better inform them about the consumption, discovery and branding of music in the streaming era.

Spotify's best-known success story, Lorde (whose single "Royals" debuted on co-founder Sean Parker's popular Hipster International playlist last April), was the primary case study in the program. Jason Flom, present of Lava Records, explained how utilizing Spotify and creating a down-to-earth social media personality led Lorde on the road to pop stardom (and a #3 charting debut). "We live in an era where artists have a relationship with others, and [Lorde] has built a trust relationship. She's not trying to be perfect. She's almost like the anti-Bieber, and the music is very much in that direction."

It goes without saying that streaming services such as Spotify and Soundcloud have opened the gates of music discovery, but the panel sought to highlight the significance of the shift. "[In the past], people had to be willing to buy things, which was a barrier of entry [for listening to new music]. By taking out that risk, it makes it easier," said Matthew Perpetua, editor of Buzzfeed Music. Spotify puts music discovery at its core, offering both algorithm-based suggestions and the ability to see what your friends are listening to as options for finding new music. "Sometimes, you want to be surprised and delighted," explained Spotify's Dave Altarescu. "When discovering, we feel like we're the first [to find an artist].


Those at the forefront of breaking artists look to data from streaming and social media services as key factors in taking on a new artist. "I find [new artists] my own way, but when it comes to closing a deal and getting invested, data is involved. If you have 600,000 plays on Soundcloud, I'm intrigued," said Julia Willinger, VP of A&R at Mom + Pop. Big data has been a hot topic in the music business lately (see: Warner Music's deal with Shazam  and Lyor Cohen's 300 Entertainment), and music analytics firm Next Big Sound fuels similar research independently. "We are looking at how people are consuming across platforms. Looking at things like Google Search, streaming plays and Wikipedia visits predict success [well]," explains NBS' Liv Buli. When push comes to shove, though, Spotify plays, Facebook likes and Twitter followers are simply indicators. "At the end of the day, sales are still based upon the connection to the artist," said Elliott Wilson, CEO of Rap Radar.

The latter part of the program focused on how brands utilize social and streaming music as a marketing tool. Cedric Devitt, CCO for branding agency MRY, recently launched 'placelists' for Coca Cola, a partnership with Spotify that 'creates a living, breathing playlist for any location.' "You could check in at a bar or nightlife [venue]," said Devitt. "When you think of what a place sounds like, that's where music and social gets really interesting." Associating bands and brands can be a tricky business, though. "One of the biggest challenges with brands when you get into that music space is polarization. You can win and lose fans," said Michelle Klein, VP Global Marketing of Smirnoff. She challenges brands to "take risks with the space. People are passionate either way."