2019 American Music Awards

Remembering Jay Frank, a Thought Leader Who Led the Industry to Trust Data

BB25 2019 - PR for OBIT
Courtesy of Universal Music Group
Jay Frank

When Universal Music Group senior vp global streaming marketing Jay Frank died Oct. 13 after a battle with cancer, the industry lost a thought leader who for years encouraged executives to adapt to a music business shaped by technology.

"Stop caring about what the music business used to be," he would say, "and start appreciating how the business is transforming." In his first book, Futurehit.DNA -- published in 2009, just as Spotify launched in Europe and well before streaming arrived in the United States -- Frank argued passionately that streaming would require songwriters to shorten introductions because songs were no longer built for radio. A decade later, Frank's warnings of waning attention spans seem to have come true: Tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2019 are, on average, 30 seconds shorter than in 2018.

Anyone who spoke with Frank came away a little smarter with a new perspective on a topic. To people who knew Frank well, he was much more than a brilliant thinker. His longtime friend, music publicist Ariel Hyatt, called him "a magical, irreplaceable, thoughtful and beautiful soul." He wanted his legacy to be one of a person who enjoyed his work immensely, she said, but also wanted his wife, Linda, and daughter, Alex, to be OK.

Frank wasn't the first person to discuss the notion of media becoming an "attention economy," where cost-free entertainment would be monetized by advertising. But he understood that advertising would be an integral part of music revenue. In 2011, he left a plum executive position at CMT to launch a record label, DigSin, with the belief that giving away free music would attract an audience and then advertisers. That led to DigMark, a trailblazing company that promoted songs to independent playlist creators.

He was quick to understand that playlists weren't simply a collection of songs, but were replacing radio as an industry kingmaker. Single tracks and playlists are now what shape popular music. Frank saw it coming.

For music, having a mind like Frank's could be a competitive edge: In a global music business with trillions of streams, even slight improvements can influence who gets heard -- and paid. He traveled the world to share his insights with Universal's labels and encourage them to follow the data, another of his cornerstone creeds.

His message to the industry, and Universal, was, "You can trust data. Here's what it tells us." His insights were worth trusting, too.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of Billboard.

 


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