On Wednesday 27 June we welcomed a select group of speakers and industry guests to Abbey Road’s Studio Three for the latest in our knowledge sharing series of Red Talks.
This Red Talk was about the Science of A&R, specifically about the point at which gut meets data and how the two can play together, or not, in the process of scouting and developing artists and their music.
A&R is an enigmatic term. It stands for ‘Artists & Repertoire’ and refers to the lifeblood of any label or label services company; its artists and their music. It has become a verb which refers to the process of discovering and developing talent – ‘A&R-ing’, and has become a label for the executives tasked with the process - ‘A&Rs’.
We hosted four key speakers and a room of selected stakeholders, from A&Rs to label services platforms and more:
Conrad Withey – CEO and co-founder of Instrumental, a data driven talent discovery platform which scours listening data on Spotify and other platforms and social media data to highlight emerging talent and trends
Matt Riley – Senior Director, Creative at AWAL, the label services arm of Kobalt Music, whose role is to scout and sign talent to AWAL.
Roxanne Greene - Strategic Relationship Manager, EMEA, Tubular Labs, who works with clients to provide emerging talent and trends data on YouTube and other social video platforms
Withey told us about Instrumental’s roots as an artist development network – Poptrack – where he was excited about the potential of YouTube to discover new artists. Poptrack built its own technology platform and was rebranded as Instrumental in 2016 with the aim of helping to find talent at early stages and to present easily digestible packets of data to the user, which frees them up to spend more time making decisions.
Withey explained an important approach in matching technology with data: Instrumental is not using AI to listen to songs and tell you who to sign, Withey claiming “that’s redundant, we are trying to augment what scouts / A&Rs do in their jobs and using artificial intelligence to give you a chance to be more efficient and discover new opportunities and then apply your human skills.”
Following on from Withey, AWAL’s Matt Riley defined what ‘A&R-ing’ in 2018 really means: identifying talent and signing it; development of the artist after signing; marketing the record and being an internal champion of the artist; educating the artists and the company about what's happening with their releases and projecting their success. Data is important for AWAL to educate artists about their true value, as well as their projected value and future earnings.
Riley feels that while data has offered a new level of insight into artist engagement and future earnings, specifically as a tool to educate artists of their value and of the value of AWAL to them, an analogue gut led approach is still very important in the rather human assessment of ‘is this artist any good?’
Roxanne Greene followed Riley and told us that Tubular Labs can help the industry see a give a holistic, standardised view of social video from Facebook, YouTube, Dailymotion, Twitter, Instagram; and crucially what UGC video content can mean in terms of marketing artists.
Tubular is in a strong position as one of the five founding members of the YouTube Measurement Programme, which means the data Tubular receives is sanctioned by YouTube and allows them to model data effectively while helping its clients understand what their competition is doing and providing them with a view of the whole ecosystem of social video. Greene’s view on the gut versus data question is that we should use data as a source of truth and blend in the human decisions.
Next, we had a Skype dial in from recent Midemlab winner Laylo’s founder Alec Ellin. Laylo provides a social layer for music listening where fans can share the artists they are listening to and compete to be the highest ranking super-fan. It monitors this behaviour to spot emerging talent and share the listening and sharing data with rights holders. Laylo is using machine learning models to help speed up the A&R process and give users answers to questions they are asking about emerging artists. It is also working with Fader and other key partners to improve its model. Fader gets insights on who is listening to music and how are they sharing it.
We then moved to a floor discussion, where the audience members had a chance to voice their questions and opinions. Some of the topics coverd included:
- Data and data reports can be automated and help with some insights, for example into new territories, but marketing and other related activities is still very human and manual.
- Startup Hypertribe – whose early focus is understanding subcultures – felt that from their perspective data helps them understand fans and their perspectives and mindsets.
- YouTube and Spotify artists are generating followers outside the mainstream and generating invaluable data on new and existing artists, which is helping the industry learn.
- Despite this move towards data led A&R, the UK scene seems to be signing artists very early, before the data indicates anything. In this scenario, the data plays a key role after the artist is signed, and can help with their development.
- The opportunities to discover artists are better now than ever before, between online listening and social platforms and data about emerging artists - but at the same time the UK is now competing with everyone else in the world for the same artists. It’s a global playing field.
We would like to thank our brilliant speakers and audience for making this a great evening of debate and knowledge sharing.
Keep an eye out for our next Red Talk. We’ll be announcing our new series soon!