#FMC10: Travelling Into the Belly of the Beast That Is Data

Live coverage from the Future of Music Policy Summit (#FMC10), Georgetown University, Washington DC

Panel Title: Monsters of Data

Description: For decades, the music industry has relied on a few basic metrics to gauge a band’s popularity and understand career arcs: SoundScan reports, airplay charts, tour grosses. But what happens to our understanding of music’s “value” when it’s possible to collect billions of points of data, online and off? What can massive amounts of traffic and consumption data — from P2P downloads to subscription plays, YouTube hits — tell us about where and how people are accessing music? How are we now using this data?  How has it affected musicians’ choices? And have music fans changed their consumption patterns to either protect or reduce their privacy? A panel of data monsters will discuss what billions of data points can tell us about the future of music consumption and access.

Panel Participants:

– Danah Boyd, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research

– Eric Garland, Co-Founder/CEO, BigChampagne Media Measurement

– Erin McKeown, Musician

– Tim Quirk Musician; Recovering online music executive

– Peter DiCola, Assistant Professor, Northwestern School of Law (moderator)

 

What kinds of data are now available? (past 10 years)?

 

Live coverage from the Future of Music Policy Summit (#FMC10), Georgetown University, Washington DC

Panel Title: Monsters of Data

Description: For decades, the music industry has relied on a few basic metrics to gauge a band’s popularity and understand career arcs: SoundScan reports, airplay charts, tour grosses. But what happens to our understanding of music’s “value” when it’s possible to collect billions of points of data, online and off? What can massive amounts of traffic and consumption data — from P2P downloads to subscription plays, YouTube hits — tell us about where and how people are accessing music? How are we now using this data?  How has it affected musicians’ choices? And have music fans changed their consumption patterns to either protect or reduce their privacy? A panel of data monsters will discuss what billions of data points can tell us about the future of music consumption and access.

Panel Participants:

– Danah Boyd, Senior Researcher, Microsoft Research

– Eric Garland, Co-Founder/CEO, BigChampagne Media Measurement

– Erin McKeown, Musician

– Tim Quirk Musician; Recovering online music executive

– Peter DiCola, Assistant Professor, Northwestern School of Law (moderator)

 

What kinds of data are now available? (past 10 years)?

Quirk: “In the 21st century, there are no more tastemakers or gatekeepers…”

[except stuff like Pitchfork?  and the music blog category?]

…but data-driven knowledge helped to really feed curation on Rhapsody.  “The ways we used to measure success really don’t apply any more…”

Notes that one interesting statistic was how many times people would listen to the same artist over and over again.  And, lots of different styles of artists.  References Ya Lo Tengo, “those fans play you over and over and over again…,” a new catagory that may not have been as recognizable before.

Garland: much different measures of success now…

In the old days, gaming the charts and spending money to get #1 was commonplace… “more importantly, [discussion is now about] creating a lasting relationship with fans…”

…and, focus is on “the conversation between the artist and the fans,” and mass media has typically never had that level of respect for the audience.  Artists have always wanted to make fans happy and make them fall in love, though the broader entertainment infrastructure was not geared towards this (and is still not, in many cases).

So, less about the billions of points of data, and more about how they can help to inform that relationship.

Boyd: Music fans are still making cultural references to their peers – but largely through digital channels.    And, ‘cultural currency’ translates into social interaction… and that is the main thrust of this that is often confused into the monetization discussion.

Boyd also notes, young people feel credit is the most important – unless someone else is making money off of their idea – but otherwise it’s not so much about cash compensation.

McKeown: “One of my values is that I don’t want to be tracked…”

Garland: “scalable resources” and “cheating” still needed to create this intimacy with fans when the circle gets too big… and “it’s a real inflection point for an artist...”

McKeown“Soundscan drove me crazy…” and, “there were times when I didn’t get the gig” because of scan problems….

Garland: “It’s defining success by the numbers…” and, at this particular moment, we’re making artists feel that it’s more important to participate in social media than make great music.  “We’re pretending that there’s only one mold” that says that artists “should be desperately insecure with their numbers”… “it’s just a lie”.

 

The question of whether social media has mostly ‘loose ties’ as theorized by Malcolm Gladwell?  

Boyd: challenges this, and points to “strong tie local” that happens on college campuses etc.

Quirk: discusses when someone tries to chat on MySpace, or puncturing that intimacy wall…

Boyd: Para-social relations – strange phenomenon with fame – a fan knows everything about you, while you (the celeb) knows nothing in the other direction.  Social media promises to offer the bridge… though smaller artists have difficulty managing these “para-sociality” relationships… and it’s not a workable relationship…

Garland: Telling an artist to do something as a “forced march” (as in, getting onto Facebook), is not a good move.  Artists can alienate fans, network poorly, etc.   Should not necessarily be a knee-jerk thing…

Boyd: If artists sit it out, they lose the ability to be part of the cultural currency.  “But opting out of Facebook now is like opting out of Ticketmaster…” this is more than just a marketing relationship and more about currency.

Garland: Putting the media into the stream is one thing, “but if you don’t want to be in that stream” then you shouldn’t be.

 

How can we use all of this data to better understand things like earnings, income breakdowns, how many artists are actually making a living, etc.?

Garland: moves into census-like data, “really getting good information about that is now easy…”

Boyd: We’re going to end up seeing a new way of making numbers that “cost more money to buy but will be as inaccurate as ever…” and “banging my head about how inaccurate comScore is…” and “there’s always going to be politics behind what those numbers are,” ie, who’s putting together these algorithms?

Garland: [to McKeown] do you look at any of these numbers under discussion?

McKeown: behind on this, doesn’t have a manager anymore… “I like Twitter, I look at my Twitter a lot,” then looks at Facebook less often, uses Nimbit for ecommerce and mailing list – so, opens Nimbit dashboard.  “I was paying separately for those things and now they’re in one place…”

Quirk: Digital distro handled by IODA, ‘incredibly detailed,’ DTF = Topspin, and “the stats for the websites, and seeing how that all connects is interesting,” and “Every few months I do a reality test..”

 

On tribes…

Quirk: There’s a lot more crossover between the tribes than before…  Hank Shocklee listens to Barry Manilow, “that’s fucking great,” and…

Garland: Groups are forming around these affinities like they haven’t been able to do so before.  “The tribe I’d like to be a part of on Facebook, I’ve probably never met,” and “they’re not my friends and family – I love them, but in a different context.”

Boyd: data has given us lots of insight into communities that we never had access to without extreme events – ie, a group of teenagers committed suicide in Bergen County in 1988, using Metallica lyrics as their suicide note.  That was an extreme event that offered cultural insight.

 

On the Jack Johnson ghost tweeter…

This became a mini-theme, Quirk raised the issue to show some authenticity issues.

 

Audience question: On targeted advertising… artists can target any level of granularity.  Good?  bad? inevitable?  scary?

Quirk: All of the above…

Garland: You’ll get different answers from different artists…

McKeown: Uncomfortable with certain targeting and information aspects, “finding out what moisturizer they want, feels uncomfortable to me…”… and partners with Webilicious.  And, without advertising they are bringing webcasts to fans.

Boyd:” It’s amazing the slippage of data you can get from something…” … there are all sorts of ways that super-targeted, cookie-based data can be captured.  “The bigger companies are definitely thinking about this,” and artists are often “unaware of the slippage involved…”

And, “it’s getting nasty in the online space..” and “lots of ways that people are manipulating the advertising” in certain ways.

 

Audience question: data is often inaccurate, how to fix that?

Boyd: these are people…  not just data points

One Response

  1. wallow-T

    Thanks for these quick panel summaries!!!! Reading these is much simpler than trying to pick through a rapidly-scrolling-away twitter feed.