Big Data in the Music Industry: An interview with Chris Carey

Much has been told about music industry blurry situation, the effects of the digital impact on the business and the trial-and-error approach to their future model. In such a context, a new sort of “fortune tellers” have aroused: Big Data specialists, holding in their hands some of the big expectations of the music industry.

Far from this image of “clairvoyant”, Chris Carey surprised us with his straightforward, realistic pitch. Nothing deliberately obscure or tangled in his answers, but a sincere interest in explaining clearly the role of Big Data as an useful tool to give some light in the nebulous scenario of music industry today. One of the more celebrated Big Data specialists on music business, Chris Carey co-authored the influential Adding Up the Music Industry papers at PRS for Music, leaded innovative initiatives as Global Insight Director in strong companies as Universal Music Group or EMI Music, and now he is the founder of his own company, Media Insight Consulting.

P.N. From a technical point of view, how are Big Data used in huge music companies ?

C.C. Working in EMI or Universal we put emphasis on making sure that all the important data were grouped together in a way that everyone could connect: sales figures, number of streams, e-mail responses… The biggest challenge in front of Big Data is to put them together in a way easy for people to connect. At that point you need to ask more questions of the data, and so we are careful of how we structure them to make sure that they can answer all kind of questions: artist level questions, album level questions, fans level questions… What this means is that for an artist you can say how his music compares to the genre overall, and so for instance an artist can have a profile of the standard rock genre. Comparing their behavior to a norm, to a genre group, you can see how they behave. You can take it even further and see what happens when you compare one artist to another, or compare one song to another.

Chris Carey at Sonar +D
Chris Carey at Sónar +D Barcelona

P.N. Could you predict the behavior in the next few years?

C.C. We would if we understand how the market is changing, the demographics changes… We are certainly keen to understand the movements within the year or the two years forward, try to look ahead and say “well, ok, this had happened, what happens next? What we would do differently as a result of what’s coming?”.

P.N. Is it different to analyze data from the music industry than from others?

C. C. I think so, because music is fundamentally personal… In fact by watching data, it is clear what they mean to me, it is clear what I’m going to do with it. When I listen to a song, the way it’s connected with me it’s much more powerful that when some other connects, and the interesting thing is that it means something completely different to me. I’m very interested in seeing how it is different for one consumer from another hearing the same song differently. The music ability to transform moods and energy, to convey something deeply personal, with many people combining experiences in a different way, goes beyond the debate of watching data.

P.N. In a world where Internet will be utterly everywhere, how would the behavior of consumers change?

C.C. From a data perspective, I think we would get much more information, that would be fascinating. Consumers would have music more present with them: for instance, the Premiership in football does incredibly  well in the UK because on Saturday the team plays, on Sunday the team plays, on Monday the team plays, on Monday at work you talk about the plays of Saturday and Sunday, on Tuesday you talk about the Monday game and worry about what will happen on the Wednesday’s… and it becomes a continuing conversation. And I think that music has now an ability more than ever to form part of a continuing conversation, because if you recommend a band to me I can hear them almost instantaneously and so I get related with what you are saying, hence I can recommend them too. People talk more about  music as music is more available. And I think that with Internet of Things music is becoming a sort of complement: music it is with  while you are doing other things, so hopefully it can spread out and enjoy the benefits of IoT.

P.N. And if everything is connected, devices won’t be so determinant… How do you imagine the music industry can make money in such a context?

C.C. I think actually this is where the music is moving to anyway: you hear music on a mobile phone, or in a PC, etc. I think there is a market there, that is making music available to everybody. It can make it available in a timely manner and in the right context, and I think that this ability to reach timely and contextually would be the value added of the device. And I would say that the speakers at devices will be something incredibly important for the music experience… but we would expect this to be proved in time as well.

PostDigital Node

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