Jay Frank saw the future. Long before streaming came to dominate the music industry, and well before companies became awash in a flood of data, the Universal Music Group executive encouraged others to adapt to a music business shaped by technology.
“You can trust data,” said Frank, who made the case early on for a data-driven approach to answering questions about consumer behavior. Frank, who was UMG senior vp global streaming marketing, died at age 47 in October after a fight with cancer.
To recognize his legacy, Billboard has created the Jay Frank Award for leadership in digital music. The first recipient is Frank’s colleague Mitchell Shymansky, UMG vp data and analytics, who will be presented with the honor at the Billboard Power event in Los Angeles on Jan. 23.
Frank, a former executive at CMT and Yahoo! Music, was the founder of the digital-only record label DigSin and the digital music marketing company DigMark. He came to UMG in 2015 after the music group acquired a stake in both companies.
“He was a creative and tireless leader who made significant contributions to the evolution of our global marketing efforts,” said UMG chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge at the time of Frank’s death. “Many of the ways we market our artists and their music in the streaming era stem from Jay’s innovative work.” Billboard senior vp charts and data development Silvio Pietroluongo recalls that Frank urged streaming to be factored in to the Billboard Hot 100 — over 15 years ago, when Frank was still at Yahoo!.
Frank also realized early how fans were using music: creating playlists that focused on mood rather than artists. In his first book, Futurehit. DNA (published in 2009 just as Spotify launched in Europe and well before streaming got traction stateside), Frank argued passionately that streaming would require songwriters to shorten introductions — because songs were no longer built for radio. A decade later, his warnings of waning attention spans have proved prescient: Tracks on the Hot 100 in 2019 were, on average, 30 seconds shorter than in 2018.
Shymansky recalls that he and Frank built their working friendship on inquisitiveness and a belief that data analysis can create a competitive advantage for labels fighting for market share. To share insights at company meetings, Frank posed the questions and Shymansky provided the answers.
Recalls Shymansky: “[We were] the data nerds.”