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Billboard Touring Conference: Hip-Hop Executives Explain How the Genre Is Capitalizing on Its Streaming Domination

Post Malone
Arthur Mola/Invision/AP

Post Malone arrives at the iHeartRadio Much Music Video Awards on June 18, 2017, in Toronto.

At the Billboard Touring Conference on Wednesday (Nov. 15), hip-hop executives described how the strength of streaming has removed terrestrial radio as the gatekeeper of popular music.

“Pop doesn’t mean Lady Gaga. Pop means popular,” said Live Nation’s senior VP North American Touring, Omar Al Joulani, at the conference’s Hip-Hop Power Panel.

“Hip-hop is pop. There are no lines anymore,” added WME senior partner/music agent Brent Smith on Wednesday.

Moderated by Billboard’s senior correspondent, R&B, Gail Mitchell, the Hip-Hop Power Panel featured Al Joulani, Smith, ICM’s partner/senior music agent Robert Gibbs, Paradigm Talent Agency agent Erin Larsen, London Entertainment CEO Dre London, and UTA agent Cheryl Paglierani.

“Streaming has really flipped things upside down,” said Paglierani. “It has made a way for touring for a lot of artists who wouldn’t have an opportunity this early on in their careers. Now that everyone has a direct-to-consumer relationship, anyone can put something out, and if it connects there is an opportunity to form strategies.”

Al Joulani added “You’re not worried about album sales. You’re just putting out great music and then chasing it where people are listening to it.”

Trends in music consumption have severely altered since the emergence of digital music. In the past few years, a majority of music fans have chosen to spend more money on live experiences than digital downloads. Artists’ incomes are now commonly generated from touring rather than sales, placing an impetus on an artist’s team to get them in front of an audience.

“It is incredible to see how artists can put music out and it reaches the world,” said Gibbs, who is an agent for such artists as J Cole. “From a touring perspective, artists are putting music out internationally, and [it] allows us to route around the world.”

London, who works with rapper Post Malone, said the artist had zero terrestrial radio play before when he went on tour with Diplo in Australia earlier this year.

“Without radio play, [Australians] were educated on Post Malone,” London said. “We had 4-5,000 people a night singing word for word. Without streaming today, that wouldn’t be possible.”

“A lot of my artists don’t like to do promo," said Larsen, who represents acts like Lil Uzi Vert, "They aren’t going to go out and do radio interviews... It puts a lot of listeners behind a record they might not have heard otherwise. It has created a new opportunity for them to be heard.”

The panel agreed that the demand for hip-hop has grown tremendously in the last five to ten years, not only in music consumption, but at festivals as well.  

“When you look at the number of hip-hop headliners, [what] we have today versus what we had 10 years ago is incredible,” said Gibbs.

“The truth is, these artists are at the top of all the charts,” Al Joulani added. “Whether it is the touring charts, top of festival bills -- the time of segmenting hip-hop away from other music is over.”

“Terrestrial radio still has the whole incubus in the system,” Paglierani told the audience. “It has research and people choosing what people who listen to radio are listening to or not listening to. Streaming, you can listen to whatever the fuck you want.”

Streaming services like Spotify also have the added benefit of accessible data for artists. Digital services can show artists and their teams where their music is being listened to the most, to help route tours and even push out pre-sale ticketing information to fans who have listened to an artist on multiple occasions.

“Music consumption is easy -- it stands that the more people listen to music, the more they are going to want to buy a concert ticket,” Smith said at the conference. “This is not a hip-hop thing. This is music in general. This is going to continue. What we need to figure out is how do we take advantage of this incredible opportunity.”


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