Episode 14 (ft. Amit Gurbaxani): What India's music industry can teach us about paid YouTube views, musical regionalism and the productive uselessness of charts
Mumbai-based music journalist Amit Gurbaxani joins this episode to discuss the latest trends defining the Indian music business. We start by examining the implications of Amit's early reporting on Badshah and Sony Music India, who openly admitted to buying views on YouTube in order to "break" the platform's record for most views in the first 24 hours —a practice that YouTube formally banned shortly thereafter. We then expand to wider industry issues, including but not limited to how language might be more important than genre in determining an artist's success in the Indian music market; why the terms "non-film music" and "independent music" are both flawed in an Indian context; what the first-ever India charts for Spotify and YouTube, both launched this year, reveal about local music-industry trends; and why charts in general have always been meaningless — and why that isn't necessarily a bad thing. At the end, we discuss whether radio payola and record labels launched by film studios are overrated or underrated.
Garrison Snell, Founder & CEO of Gyrosity Projects, joins this episode to unpack the opportunities and challenges that independent music marketers face in the modern industry landscape. We discuss the ongoing consolidation of marketing agencies and consulting firms both inside and outside of music; why now is not the best time to start a new music-marketing agency, and where the few remaining gaps in the market might be found; how record labels are now competing with music-marketing agencies for work, as labels move towards a more service- rather than ownership-oriented business model; the impact of automation on music marketers' jobs; how the gig economy transforms the way music marketing is done, often for the worse; and, importantly, why artists should care about all this in the first place. At the end, we argue why Spotify's acquisition of SoundBetter and Netflix's new reality-TV music competition "Rhythm + Flow" are both overrated.
Prolific drummer, electronic artist, feminist activist and public speaker Kiran Gandhi (a.k.a. Madame Gandhi) joins this episode to exchange perspectives not just on how technological change has transformed artists' careers, but also on what artists themselves can do about it. We discuss, among other things, the potential reasons why artists are left out of the majority of conversations about the future of music-tech; the importance of artist-residency programs within music and tech startups (of which Kiran was previously a participant); the myth of the "gut-versus-data" binary; and how international consumption trends are changing the type of visual content artists need to create. At the end, we discuss the surge in new lyric-display features on social-media platforms, and how artists rely heavily on tech platforms to determine the constraints of their creativity — perhaps to a fault.
Patreon's SVP Product Wyatt Jenkins joins this episode to dive into the opportunities and challenges around growing membership models in the music industry. We unpack the financial and ideological roadblocks to making music a top-two category on Patreon, why it's so difficult to bake both discovery and membership mechanisms into the same product and how Patreon might compete with music distribution platforms and other music-oriented software services in the long run, with respect to providing alternative sources of capital to independent artists. At the end, we discuss whether paywalled podcast apps and the Jonas Brothers' vinyl "club" are overrated or underrated. NOTE: This episode was recorded in late June 2019, around a month before Patreon announced their $60 million Series D round, so we don't mention that funding here — but there's still lots to dig into around their future roadmap.
Episode 10 (ft. Alex Mitchell): How artificial intelligence will do to music creation what Instagram did to photography
Boomy founder/CEO Alex Mitchell joins this episode — recorded just an hour after Boomy launched out of beta! — to talk about the disruptive impact that artificial intelligence will have on music creation and distribution. We unpack why there's arguably no such thing as "A.I.-generated music," the importance of optimizing for creativity rather than for accuracy in music-composition algorithms, what the "win condition" would be for A.I. and music and why tools like Boomy could do to the music industry what Instagram did to photography. At the end, we discuss whether Splice's new research on extracting stems from musical recordings and Apple's reported investment in original podcasts are overrated or underrated.
Deviate Digital CEO Sammy Andrews joins this episode to unpack why there remain so many stubborn data silos among artists, labels, distributors, promoters and streaming platforms in the music industry, and what steps we might be able to take to address the problem. We discuss the types of data that music companies would actually benefit from sharing *more* with each other, as well as the merits and drawbacks of breaking down silos through company diversification (e.g. management companies starting labels) and bundling (e.g. selling merch and digital music downloads together to game the charts). At the end, we discuss big-tech companies investing in different kinds of original content and the implications of Spotify backing Facebook's forthcoming cryptocurrency Libra.
Episode 8 (ft. Eugene Kan + Charis Poon): The case for greater creative and algorithmic accountability in the music industry
MAEKAN's Eugene Kan and Charis Poon join this episode to discuss the key ideas in their essay "The Modern Creator's Paradigm," which argues that continuing cultural innovation will require greater creative and critical accountability from artists, platforms and consumers combined. We discuss the undeniable gatekeeping of music streaming platforms, the positive implications of raising financial barriers to creation and consumption, how Lil Nas X's career would not exist without multiple forms of cultural critique and how the future of media can escape endless news cycles and the psychology of "never getting caught up." At the end, we discuss Taylor Swift's latest music video, the role of merch bundles in establishing artists' cultural influence (and chart placement) and the departure of several key execs from YG Entertainment.
Episode 7 (ft. Ben Gross + Laura Kinniburgh): How lyrics are a leading indicator of innovation in music licensing
Genius' Chief Strategy Officer Ben Gross and Head of Music Licensing Laura Ostler Kinniburgh join this episode to discuss the challenges and opportunities in valuing and monetizing lyrics properly in the modern music industry. We break down how technology has made the music licensing process easier (and harder), how Genius' evolution as a media brand has changed its approach to licensing, how the company's YouTube series "VERIFIED" generates publishing income for artists and how Genius' sprawling online database of user-generated content relates to their official agreements with publishers. At the end, we discuss the recent spike in frivolous copyright infringement lawsuits against songwriters, the importance of Rihanna's new luxury fashion house with LVMH and the reasons why Mariah Carey should be in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
WAVO's Head of Business Development Alex Bonavia joins this episode to discuss the new marketing paradigm in the music industry that treats artists as de facto brands and media properties, independent of any song or album cycles. What are the implications of being able to "subscribe" to an artist long-term, instead of just streaming their music? Why does seemingly every music company with some kind of brand cachet want to start a joint venture with a record label? Why are creative directors for artists more in-demand today than ever? And how can data analytics help artists and their teams land better deals and make smarter decisions in this new landscape? After answering these and many other questions, we discuss some of the buzziest recent industry news—including Sylvia Rhone's promotion to Chairman/CEO of Epic Records, and reflections on Beyoncé's Netflix doc "Homecoming" and her decision to make "Lemonade" available beyond Tidal.
DJ-rapper-producer Kero One joins this episode to break down the past, present and future of lo-fi hip-hop—from the perspective of an artist who has been making music for almost two decades, but became associated with the "lo-fi" scene only recently after the genre's solidification in the mainstream. We dive into the deep ties among lo-fi hip-hop, jazz and Asian culture, the positioning of lo-fi as an alternative to trap, the role of technology in evolving who gets to participate in the lo-fi resurgence and the reasons why Kero hates the term "study beats." Towards the end, we share our thoughts on Lil Nas X and the infiltration of K-pop groups like BLACKPINK and BTS into traditional U.S. media.
Episode 4 (ft. Amber Horsburgh): Why marketing music to strangers, not to existing fans, is more profitable
Music-marketing consultant Amber Horsburgh joins this episode to discuss why marketing music to strangers—i.e. to people who don't know who you are yet—is more profitable than catering only to existing fans. What are the limitations of Kevin Kelly's widely-cited "1,000 True Fans" theory in the context of artists trying to scale their brands? Why do record labels fall into the "content is king" trap and spend so little of their marketing budgets on reach and distribution, compared to other industries? How can artists engineer demand for their work and cater to lighter and more casual listeners without diluting the integrity of their core product and creative vision? After answering these and many other questions, we provide forward-looking as well as cynical takes on the recent news about Bandsintown acquiring media sites Hypebot and Music Think Tank.
Streaming expert Mike Warner joins this episode to set the record straight on what playlists really can, and cannot, do for artists' careers. How does one build a playlist strategy that optimizes for fandom? What does it mean to be "ready" for a placement on New Music Friday, and how can artists maximize their preparation? How can you ensure that third-party playlist pitching services aren't ripping you off? And how will the playlist as a format continue to evolve in the future? At the end, Mike and I discuss whether the launches of both Spotify's and Facebook's music offerings in India and other emerging markets are overrated or underrated.
Trapital founder Dan Runcie joins this episode to discuss the wide variety of shared opportunities—and problems—between hip-hop and venture capital. What are the similarities in how independent musicians and tech founders navigate their respective funding landscapes, and what alternative funding models are emerging to serve their needs? How do record labels and VC firms make investment decisions, and how could they potentially improve (e.g. pattern-matching biases)? How are third-party music distributors like UnitedMasters similar to tech accelerators like Y Combinator? At large, will the convergence of music and venture capital actually increase the value of recorded music itself—or only exacerbate current issues of wealth disparity and diversity in the music industry? After diving into these questions, we each share our carefully-selected picks for the latest overrated music news.
Fellow music writer David Turner joins the inaugural episode of the Water & Music podcast! We unpack Ariana Grande's record-breaking, rapid-fire release strategy, debunk the stereotype of pop music as "lagging behind" in the streaming era, debate the pitfalls of manufacturing virality and flooding the market at all costs, and emphasize the importance of giving fans multiple entry points to participating in your story as an artist. As part of a new segment, we also share one piece of recent music-industry news that we think is over- and/or underrated (hint: our answers this time around involve Fortnite and holograms).