11 Jul 2017

Retiring the ‘It Will Never Replace…’ Trope or Learning to Love Data…Again

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Just a few years ago, data was ‘…the New Oil’ across industry conferences and trade media alike. As an industry, we were generating lots of it even if we didn’t entirely know what to do with it. Platforms such as Musicmetric and Next Big Sound helped us visualise it, but there were only so many data scientists to go around and a dearth of marketers coming in to the industry from sectors that frankly had been employing big data analysis effectively for years, including other media and entertainment outlets.

There is now more to track but also more capability to accurately and comprehensively track it. There are digital service providers that have been around long enough for us to identify patterns and extract insights. We can be more confident about cause not just correlation.

Yet collectively, we’ve never been able to let go of the caveat ‘…but it will never replace the human touch’. We hear it on panels, in the press. Who is making this argument we’re constantly countering?

Will technology replace you or me? Well, yes and no. Depending on who you read (Wait But Why – The Artificial Intelligence Revolution), there’s a 50/50 chance that everything and everyone will be replaced by machines eventually, and that will either be paradise or we won’t be around to worry about it. That’s not happening soon however and Skynet probably won’t start with the music business.

For the time being, no one is really making the argument that we should hand the keys to the music industry over to artificial intelligence, sit back and enjoy ‘Daddy’s Car’ in our flying mobility-scooters.

Reviewing your merch sales figures and deciding not to order any more of the vomit green sleeveless longline t-shirts is using data. Using Big data is discerning from the conversation going on amongst your fans and their followers, that a gross shirt might be exactly what they want. Are the two things really so different? Does not knowing information that is readily available add authenticity to your brand?

There are perhaps two factors at work here. Music and tech have an uneasy relationship since the invention of the printing press (it just sounds better on vellum, doesn’t it?). The biggest digital platforms pay the least. We’re cool and maths isn’t cool, right?

Using data doesn’t have to mean you neglect your taste, gut instinct or common sense (shaped by experience, education…i.e. more data). It means you can potentially find what you are looking for amongst the wall of digital noise, and do more with it when you find it.

There is also an argument that the increased role of licensing and brands as revenue generators in the face of dwindling record income (due to technology; yes, I know. Complicated, isn’t it?) has a role to play.

In May’s The Drum, Soundtrack Your Brand and Jack Daniels offered that that role of data in music marketing ‘will always be small’. “We find ourselves in situations where data always wins….[marketers] only want to look at that, not listen to music. They want to know what’s trending and engage with that artist, right now, no questions asked. There’s a huge challenge in trying to fight back.” Ola Sars, CEO/Founder Soundtrack Your Brand.

It’s dangerous to say anything will always being anything when it comes to technology (see previous AI link) but point taken.

Is this how we best fight that perception amongst the marketers that marshall the revenue that has become so vital to our business? By reminding each other that we’ll always be cool, really. Let’s retire the ‘data isn’t everything trope’, take it as assumed and maybe it will be.