This episode Nick Sadler sits down with Alex Branson. Formerly the mastermind behind Ingrooves' international expansion, Alex is now working with Rotor Videos, "the ultimate Music Video App for musicians" that allows artists and labels to create stunning videos for their releases in just a few minutes. He is also the host of his own podcast, "ABC Music Talk Podcast," where Nick has been a featured guest in a recent episode.
Join us for an hour-long talk on Alex's tremendous journey in the music industry and his take on the evolution of digital distribution, paid advertising, music technology, social media marketing and much more!
NICK SADLER: Welcome to The Label Machine series where we discuss with successful industry professionals are artists and record labels, market and sell music. My name is Nick Sadler, and today's guest is Alex Branson. Alex has spent many years in record companies, including Sony Music, the last generation in Music and Media Records, past work included creating a startup inside Warner Music Group, living music.com and building up the Ingrooves distribution business from the ground up, which is a fantastic company. And I still distribute one of my record labels through them, amongst other things. He's also head of business development at Rotor, he also does business development and employment in Beatport, as well as running his own music podcast, ABC Music Talk Podcast. Alex, how are you today?
ALEX BRANSON: My life just flashed before my eyes there. Thank you for the quick, fast history.
NS: Yeah, it's amazing. And I know at the beginning, you know, I was just going to go and look at your most recent work. And I wasn't aware of sort of how many acts you wore as well. And I guess, to be honest, that sort of probably just leads straight into the sort of my first question, which has sort of just rewrote, just before we started after discovering sort of all the hats you wear as you do work across so many different roles. And it makes me realize these days, how many people in the music industry do work across many roles? Do you think this is a growing trend?
AB: Oh, goodness, yeah. Well, okay, so I more by accident than anything else. For me, at least I actually, I'm quite envious of people that can apply for very specific, say, marketing roles that you see advertised, and actually, you know, be the right person for that. Because I know that I look at most Job had some I'm not the right person for any of these things. So not I mean, I'm definitely sort of a bit of a Swiss army knife, you know, not the sharpest tool in the box, but you'll find it use for me eventually. And it has come from this kind of sort of, you know, slightly eclectic career. But yeah, so do I think it's a trend, I think people are having to understand a lot more about lots of different roles for certain. But I think there's still a lot of room for experts in its industry, and I hope they do continue to be so.
NS: So do you think you've always been a Swiss army knife? You know, earlier, we're talking about, you know, you're a bassist, and you were sort of the guy who was sort of organizing the press shoots and things like that, you know, just going back to sort of how you got into the music industry, was it always that way?
AB: I was just always interested in in everything. And I actually, weirdly, when I was in band, thought I might become a music publisher, because I just learned what a music publisher was. And I thought that's really interesting. And, you know, I'm the sort of person that this is pre internet, I'm very old, it's horrible. You know, I went and found, you know, some information about, you know, sort of legal minimum splits of publishing, you know, between the publisher and the songwriter, and just learning about these things. That was that was all a bit nerdy, I suppose, really, and just was really interested in, in everything that was going on. And I think that probably that natural curiosity led me to pick up skills, learn things, as I went along, also earn lots of credit to some of the people that helped me in my early career. And it's part of the reason why I do the podcast and the way that I do it. They allowed me to do lots of different things. So you know, when I was at Sony in the 90s, Lynn Cosgrave Cox's manager, you know, she, she just trusted me to run a Josh wink campaign, run a campaign before banner, Josh, wink shore, you know, and, and in this sort of carried on, and then she was like, Oh, well, you want to do the licensing for Gatecrasher albums, like, what is licensing? But yes, you know, and I think you do need these people that do just sort of trust you in your career development to allow you to either figure out what the bit that you are really good at. And therefore you learn that that's the thing that I want to then go on and do more as in my case, it just meant that I continued with this sort of fascination with this, this industry called the music industry, and this sort of carried out I mean, there are things that I've never really done a lot of like the live side, other than being in a band myself. So, but I think maybe that's just, you know, I probably haven't gone to as many gigs as other people have that might have been stage hands and progressed up to producing the shows, but certainly, I think it's mostly been on the recorded side of the business, you know, and, and so that's typically where I've stayed. Question was…
NS: I think it was just do you think it's a growing trend for? Well, so I was just asking about your background, actually. Right. And you alluded you worked at Sony as well. I mean, I guess how did I'm actually very interested in how did Ingrooves come about?
AB: Well, so Ingrooves so just a slight correction. I built the the North American business from the ground up, I started chatting in my in my bedroom, and with Rob McDaniels, who's now CEO of Ruby Port, but the founder of Ingrooves. You know, he and I built this global business and later got bought by Universal. And that came about because I had got, by complete chance involved with digital distribution before it was called digital distribution. I was working at a record company called Media Records, I was doing this thing licensing, which kind of covered many different sins. And then when when the sort of earliest DSPs came around, that these agreements would appear at the company, and they look like licensing contracts. So they were just given to me. And what I then realized is that it wasn't just as simple as looking through the agreement and working out whether it's something wanted to do or not business, we then also had to do the supply of the the audio and the artwork and the metadata. And, again, this is perhaps slightly unnecessary, because it's an irrelevance now, but none of that stuff at record companies was organized. I mean, metadata that was labeled, we used to call it label copy, because it was a stuff that went on the back of the vinyl records. It wasn't anything to do with, you know, a database anywhere. And it was all in Word documents. So you then had to convert that into Excel spreadsheets. Yes. I'm very old. It's horrible. No, no, the age just just, just Nick just looked to me with what bits of paper? Yes, no, that's right. And actually, that strip, so So this particular record company, we had all of our audio Masters on dats, in boxes, that also contained a printout of the labor copy. And that was, that was the storage that was our, you know, that was that was your database. That was our database. And we actually had, there was a there's a chat before she passed away. But he, he knew every catalog number, because that's how we stored things by catalog number. He could tell you the release, what remixes were done. knew the entire list is a large catalog. Can you everything buy in from the catalog number? And it's like, it was it was the most impressive thing people used to just shout across the office, you know, his name was rich. He was like, Hey, rich, you know, what's the what's which box is this in type of thing. And he wasn't that one there. Just knew that it was it was really, really impressive. Anyway, databases now exist. And so we can all do it. But again, can't remember where I was going with this. But so the digital distribution. Yeah, so. So yeah, so that got me into that world. And it was at a time when there wasn't really digital supply chain businesses, they were just sort of starting to come about. And certainly a lot of record companies didn't have any agreements with the DSPS, as we call them now, or the digital retailers, obviously, all downloads prescribing really, and, and so the trade body aim at started to realize that their members there, they represent record companies typically didn't know what they were doing or didn't needed some help, we just say, and so they put together a couple of committees, the New Media Committee, the Business Affairs Committee, and then you had kind of the board, sign off and stuff. And so I left this record company having met these, these people that were doing this sort of very early kind of foray into trying to help technology companies interact with the music industry, that was what really what we're talking about here, because the two were not natural bedfellows in the music industry weren't technologists, for the most part, I mean, not every record company, or every person at our company would have had a computer, but you know, when I was doing because, you know, they don't need it. So, so that, and this was all just really, you know, technology evolving, I suppose around us, but so so. So what I was doing at the trade body was the very first collective negotiations for record companies in in the UK, we now call this, Jeremy would hate me for making the comparison. But this is kind of what Berlin does now. Right. But we were doing it from a slightly different angle, where we were just putting together sort of template agreements. So the record companies still had to sign up directly to the DSP. And as a consequence, then had to maintain the relationship ongoing, which was the the asset supply, so the metadata, the artwork, and the audio, and also the marketing relationships. So it wasn't aggregation in that sort of way. But of course, over over in the States, this wasn't really happening so much, and you had companies like The Orchard, IODA as well as Ingrooves. And they were the kind of the three big companies that were that you know, looking at this, and during this period of time, when I was at the record company and the trade body, I had my own company, I had a label management company, born out of a record company that I had, and because I started to work with this, this company called Rights router, which was a consultancy firm to, to the trade body, and they built the technology. So that was their, their bit of it.
You know, I just kind of got involved in that world and I had my own aggregation as part of my label management company that was using the technology and is this you know, and so, that was kind of where all that happened, and oh, Over time, the company right through to that got bought by an American telecommunications linked company because they thought they could do something clever with the media assets over the copper wires that they had as their network and built a business called Broadstreet. Digital went through a few name changes where we got to that point, and then that eventually got sold to royalty share. So which thing got bought by the every company gets bought by somebody, it seems, or at least ones that I get involved with the and and I essentially was just consulting for royalty share at the time, you know, helping the handover, I knew it was coming to an end. And mutual friend of mine who I now again work with guy called PJ doula, a brilliant guy, one of the sort of the early minds in this space as well. You know, he, he's, he knew this guy called Robert Daniels. And Rob was trying to figure out how we could take his San Francisco based company onto the global stage, didn't have anyone outside of North America, San Francisco, and Robin I met up and honestly hit it off immediately. And he just sort of said, kind of give it a go see what you can do. And I already had got this kind of large set of relationships with UK based record companies. So all I did is I just went out and spoke to the all the people that I already knew and said, Hey, you got this cool company, that was a really, really good tech. And that was always Ingrooves’ thing. It was really good technology. Why universal got and when, you know, English, we handled universals North American digital supply chain for decades. You know, it's like the you know, that's how that relationship kind of came around. So yeah, so that that was really kind of how I found my way into that. And of course, over time, built it up, you know, I opened offices all around the world, and had a great old time with it. And it was, by far, I would say, the most fun I've had in the music industry. And I think that I think that's quite interesting, because I have worked directly with artists and all that kind of glamorous stuff. But this was just it was it was the birth of digital distribution. And it was so exciting,
NS: Yeah, I, you know, and I said, that must be in early 2000s, mid 2000?
AB: So that was I mean, I was early 2002, I think I really kind of got involved with digital distribution. And this is pre DX, and things that we take for granted now, by the way in which I was unknown with help. format. And, yes, so English was 2008.
NS: Yeah. So I mean, I think when I, when I started the label, it's 2009. And I do think it was a really exciting time. Because, you know, as well as what was happening on the back end, and what you were working on, you know, there was YouTube just started blowing up UK, if it just started, you know, the whole like, like, you know, channel music channels being born out of just having someone curate to music on a YouTube channel. And I think it was a really exciting time. Yeah, it still is an exciting time.
AB: I mean, I, I've kind of moved slightly away from my digital distribution routes, because it it became, honestly, really easy to do, but and everybody, everybody has a distribution business. I mean, I just interviewed a guy, Andy Irvine, from direct distribution, he's now built a company, so that you can have your own distribution company, not your own record, label, your own distribution company, it's like, it's become that easy to kind of build and build tech, but the tech didn't exist. I mean, that, you know, first metadata sets we were working on had five fields, they're essentially ID three tags, you know, in that, that has got more complex and more involved in an editor, you know, it's still a big old job, you know, you got to maintain multiple relationships across the globe, you know, with all these DSPs, and all those technical data feeds, but of course, there are companies like burger in the world where they just sort of go well, so I will take care of it. So it's just, it's changed. It's not I don't think it's as innovative and as interesting anymore, I've kind of done that. So that's kind of where I've knew it,
NS: You're like me, it's like, it's all about the new. And once something's established, it's like, what's the next thing?
AB: Well, you know, exactly, why not? Right. I you know, and I think that, again, that comes back to that curious mind that we, that we mentioned before, you know, and, and I, I am and I'm, I'm well read in blockchain and cryptocurrencies and, you know, NFT's and I've written a few blog posts and, you know, I, I, that that's something I'm very interested in because it's, it is a potential, you know, new way of doing things and
NS: So, you know, through you know, you've worked at some of these huge companies before and, and whether either directly within them or indirectly, and I'm sure you've worked somewhere Be successful artists, you mentioned Josh wink before, what was the one artist you're most proud of? And, and the project that you're a part of?
AB: One of my fondest memories from back in the day was working with Satoshi Tommy, I just, you know, I was a bit of a fan anyway, and so to get to work with him at an early stage in my career, and, you know, meeting the, you know, the, the Deaf makes crew, Judy Weinstein, and, you know, working with some really, really, you know, legendary people very early on having a great old time and a beat the, you know, getting sort of, like VIPs to cognize things, you know, as a, as a young sort of early twins, well, you know, coming out my teens, I guess, into your early 20s, you know, that was just a hell of a time. I'd say more recently, though, something I'm really proud of the I've just done with Empire is working with an Indonesian superstar called Afgan, who's a solo singer. You know, in in Indonesia, I've seen him build a stadium on his own, you know, he's, he's just, you know, it's just millions of followers on Instagram, and, you know, does really, really well, in the music space. And we just started a record with with Empire as his first full English album. And this was something that I'd wanted to do for a long time working with Asian artists in general, and trying to help them cross into other markets to the west, and Latin because they just, they were just really struggling to do it. Because there's language, there's just access, you know, and, and, but of course, the Internet has changed a lot of this, you can now have these, and we've seen it with cable, lots of other things. I'm not the first person to thought of doing it. And so we did that, that first record, we had a former Korean star from Hong Kong, Jackson Wang, and that opened up new markets for Afgan in in Asia. And that was, that was a great sort of moment. But then we just had Robin Thicke do a remix of one of his records, and that sort of opened up the the American side of things. And so that that project was just, it's just a really good way of, again, I think there's a sort of a natural curiosity that I have about is this sort of thing possible. And yes, it's not, it didn't go number one in the States and in the UK. And that would have been a fantastic moment. But it's the very beginnings of taking this artist who is already a huge star in his home country, into new markets. And I'm I'm, that's something I've been very interested in for a long time, I think, a bit of a byproduct byproduct of some of the work that I did at Ingrooves, where we, you know, had people on the ground that understood the local market, that we would make connections, you know, with things, I suppose the other artists I'd like to mention also is working with Adam Lambert. He was an absolute scholar and a gent and a lot of fun to to be around and a true talent. And that was something I did a couple years ago now. But but that was that was awesome. That was a great experience.
NS: When going back to the artist, Afgan you mentioned language and access, you know, what, why they're struggling? What, which one do you think it is? Do you think it's my gut is like, is it an access thing? Is that just a connection? So they don't know the right people? Like, what do you think is that biggest barrier for the crossover?
AB: I mean, some of the stuff that you do with The Label Machine, you know, this is the those skills of taking a record to market. If you appreciate the, the the Indonesia in particular, I was one I know very well, a lot of my good friends now are people that run the industry. I mean, I mean that in the sense that it's just not very big. And this is in part because they didn't really have a recorded music business for so long because of piracy. So they didn't concentrate on that. And so a lot of the the Indonesian stars, yes, they'll do a record, but that's not really the bit. It's the, it's the live side of things. It's the brand endorsements, it's the doing things on a TV or whatever it's like their industry, their bit where the money comes from comes from, but it's much more done on recorded music, it doesn't come from a sale of recorded music, and that has started to change. And so if you appreciate that, when that wasn't there before, it's kind of like we're like, it's, it's a lot harder to take that celebrity concept and export that, whereas the music and travel much better. And so and so that that's been a big change for them, YouTube, driven a lot of that just because, you know, ad funded free access, you know, you've got a population of 264 million people, but so many of those, in fact, the large majority of them have very poor by Western standards and therefore have limited access. But again, those things are changing. You know, one of the things I always talk about is the fascination. I when I realized that there's such a large secondhand market for smartphones, you know, and I saw them go through the the feature phone evolution, something doing going in and out of the country for so many years. You know, watching that sort of evolution of technology, and then also the connectivity. And that was something that if you think about countries like Indonesia, they they skipped broadband for much it's not that broadband doesn't exist, the course it does. But in the sort of more provincial parts where the mass populace is the first bit of connectivity they got, because it wasn't telephone lines, right. So you couldn't run, no one had not had a telephone, but their mobile phones came in because they could put masks. In fact, I worked with somebody whose grandfather was one of the sort of early pioneers around putting mobile phone masts in place. And, you know, so they skipped it. So of course, this, this movement to digital music consumption, they've kind of already they're already really sort of set up for it, you know, beforehand, if you like. And so, you know, that's been, it's been a slower process. So it's technology, its connectivity, then also having the requisite skill set to then take that record to market in the internet age. And if you don't, you weren't really focused on recording music before, as a thing that you were really promoting. As opposed to celebrity, it's just a different way of looking. So yeah, so
NS: Just sticking on the, you know, the, the Asia territory as well. And you say it's changing, is there a growing, I guess, middle class that can afford to say, you know, buy merch, or have a Spotify? Pro subscription account, you know, with their pay for it? Like, is, is that growing year on year? Or is it something static?
AB: It's definitely growing, there are some odd things about that country in particular, you will never find an official Apple store in the country, Apple aren't allowed to have actual shops there. So just the most basic sense of buying that handset, they have premium resellers, right, so there's a sort of a bit of a loophole there. So you see the premium resellers. But there's this very heavy taxation, the devices are much more expensive. And actually, you've got enough money to have all these things in the first place. You don't buy it from Indonesia, get on a plane, you go to Singapore, and you buy it from there.
NS: You talking about the device that will actually place this was loaded and play exactly
AB: Like the beginning stages of it, and why, you know, companies like Samsung have done so well. And of course, you know, the therefore the Android platform so that there's there's just, it's a different market. It's a very different market to the west. And so like in America, like Empire, for example, over indexes on Apple Music, in part because of the music genre, that sort of Beats by Dre there for hip hop kind of thing. But also just the the dominance of Apple in America as a handset, which then of course, it's just easier to have Apple Music right there when you get the phone. And they've obviously ceded their way into that. But it just isn't true for the rest of the world, not not in the slightest. And it's why companies like 10 cent, Chinese companies do so well. In fact, the biggest streaming service in Indonesia, is Dukes, which is owned by Tencent, right? It's just that it's a very, very different market. And unless you know that stuff, and it's really hard to kind of navigate
NS: Is the audience there becoming more open to Western music? So I guess where I'm going for this is I believe that, like, if you're in, you're talking about taking someone from Asia and bringing Western, I'm so talking about what about people in Western music want to go that way? Because, you know, is is it growing?
AB: It’s official, and one of the most sort of popular ways of experiencing music in somewhere like Indonesia, it's good to go to karaoke place. And just anecdotally on that one things, I've spent a lot of time doing that, because I just have people like, like to spend their evenings, right. So a lot of business meetings, or just hanging out with friends, you know, would be, you know, in one of those types of venues. And I'm always fascinated by the fact that you know, whether it's away ces or blur or some other band from my past, the songs that they like to sing to aren't the songs that were the hits in the UK, right? And it's because it's the Besides, it's the more Ballad stuff because in Indonesia, pop music, typically is barely sort of, we would call it quite vanilla. It's for its love songs. It's, it's falling in love or breaking up, right? That's pretty much for every song is about right. And so I think that's had an impact on how people enjoyed music from the west. And they're not, they're just not always the big retros that went to radio in the UK, they're the they're often the besides, they're the ones that are slightly less, you know, catchy or she's probably the wrong word, but more like the less gritty they're less sort of divisive and yeah, right. So there's just lots of kind of nuances about countries like Indonesia, and of course, they're all different. They all have, you know, there are sometimes some similarities but yeah, so
NS: You mentioned ballads, like, so if people are listening, and they do want to kind of, you know, take their music to say, and let's, let's break it up into two rough groups, you got Asia, you've got China mainland, what would you say are the top three genres that people that are growing and listening to us? By talking about like pop rock, like indie rock EDM, and maybe hip hop like us, those are those growing?
AB: Well, EDM has always traveled quite well into other countries because of the lyrics generally. So it's quite accessible. Right. And, and the idea of, you know, a club is now a fairly sort of common form. Okay, I think, though, that you've got to get, you've got to get past a little bit of your western understanding of things. So for example, one of the most popular forms of music in Indonesia is something called Dangdut. And Danga is very high energy, they actually have a sort of an EDM version of it. But it's, it's music for the masses. It's what if you go to the villages, that's what they listen to, that's what they like, and it is completely alien to what we would listen to in the West, we just would never listen to it. There are kind of some Western things, I guess, a little bit like it, but it's, you know, it's music for the people of the people. So, it depends on what you're trying to do, you know, you know, doing some work with Ziering out in Vietnam, for example, and, you know, we're really trying to work out how can we make our music perform better on what is the biggest local service there? And unfortunately, what's biggest sort of music, there is local music, it don't care about, you know, these, these artists, for even some of the biggest artists in the world, you know, just don't do as well as the local celebrities. But of course, they don't break. Of course, they don't, you know, in the same way that, you know, only the odd sort of, you know, Scandi you know, sort of, you know, folk singer will make it through in the UK, because we've got our own stuff. We're interested in our own celebrity, right, we you know, that's an it's the same the world over. So but if you can find your way in,
NS: I guess, not wanting to put I guess, then, you know, not saying you want to try and push it on, like, hey, there's a huge audience there. So like, let's get involved, but I mean, yeah, you're saying for the music that people maybe not so much, but, you know, is there? Is there a growing interest in western music areas?
AB: Yes. So that is, it is worth it is worth, it is absolutely changed? Yes. So I did some work with an artist, she's just been signed to Warner now, a hip hop artist. And when I first met her hip hop was still in Indonesia, quite, quite a sort of underground type of music. There was definitely a scene, but it was nowhere near what it is in the UK or in states. And at but the, the fact that she can even have a career is what's changing. She wouldn't have been able to do that. Rahman goes, the artist. And but it's not there. There is enough people there now that have gone Oh, like there's all this kind of new sounds that we've not really heard before. And the internet is absolutely helping spread that message and YouTube ticular fantastic. A lot of these types of countries where
NS: YouTube? Or they do they use Facebook and Instagram?
AB: Facebook? Yes. Yeah, they do. There are in many of these countries, local services, that that are more popular in mainland China, of course, you know, with the way that the internet works out there, you really need to be sort of on a WeChat rather than WhatsApp. You know, it's just kind of how it is. So yes, there are there are local services.
NS: I guess I'm just trying to, you know, think about, you know, what we, what, how you can, you know, like, the method I have of creating interest in getting people interested in your music and growing your audience, you know, as doing the paid advertising using those platforms, you know, do you think that can work by the sounds of YouTube's bag? It sounds like you'd be wanting to run YouTube based advertising campaigns. I'm sure.
AB: Oh, yeah. No, absolutely. And yeah, and there are those, there's plenty places where you can get the statistics from, from, from the different countries for the different platforms. And but you're absolutely right, that that the idea of running a sort of a global paid ad campaign, no, you've got to really understand that what what, what people are actually using locally in in the country? Sure. Yeah. And it might change over of course, age demographic, or you know, maybe genre of music and therefore the type of person that might engage with that type of platform. So yeah, again, work but test is Test test test. Exactly. And again, it depends on what your goals are.
"I opened offices all around the world, and had a great old time with it. And it was, by far, I would say, the most fun I've had in the music industry. And I think that's quite interesting, because I have worked directly with artists and all that kind of glamorous stuff. But this was just, it was the birth of digital distribution. And it was so exciting..."
NS: So we've talked, I guess moving back to music in the West. I know through Rotor, your your work more up and coming out, as I'm sure you work with up and coming artists across all your, you know, all your different companies. I guess in the last few years, what are some of the challenges you've seen for artists trying to break into the music industry today?
AB: Okay, I have a good one for you. Because you're like, you're like, This is a statistical thing about this. I worked with an artist who was formerly known as Emily Middlemas, she was an X-Factor finalist. And, as a consequence, went on the tour that they do after the show, and, as a consequence, had quite a large following. But, you know, she also was a child back then, and she grew up. And so she wanted to change her image and, and how she presented herself to, to the rest of the world. And I guess one of the sort of the big takeaways from the campaign that I worked on with her was it came at a time where she wanted to change her stage name. Now, that has such an impact on everything that you've got up until that point, right. I mean, social handles, but the biggest one for us was the, the Spotify artist profile. And that, that really messed up that campaign. Because I think everybody involved in that probably underestimated how much because of course, if you're following me, Middlemas, you aren't getting notified about the new stage name is “ili,” you're not getting notified about the new music. And so it was a real, like, ground up trying to create this artist out of nowhere, right? I mean, yes, you had access, because you've had some social channels, but then they got changed. And, and we saw a massive drop off, when we changed, we changed that name, because we bought it the moment that like, who's really like, that doesn't mean anything to me, because they fall in love with her through the experience of watching x-factor. And so, you know, you have to be so conscious about those sorts of things, but it really messed up the algorithms, you know, it's like, artists, you know, didn't mean anything to Spotify in the way that that all works. So we missed out on playlists, we missed out on all bunch of stuff. And it was kind of heartbreaking to watch, because actually, I think that the the sort of image that she created around herself, and she looked better, felt better, she sounded better, you know, and this was musically a change in what she was doing. It was more grown up a bit more edgy than what she'd done before. So she's done it for all the right reasons of being an artist and wanting that expression. So and it was a, you know, a fantastic EP that we did together. But unfortunately, it didn't.
NS: How did she have a big email list when she was?
AB: Well, this is the this is the other thing she didn't because she wasn't in control of that it was all Psycho and all the rest of it…
NS: Because that's why I was just out because my next question was like, What would have you done differently? Like, how would have you now you've gone through experience to make that more of a success? And, you know, an answering my own question. I guess I was thinking, when you just said that anybody molesters? Like yeah, because if you had all those it was she wasn't in control of it all on Facebook, Instagram, and everything in Spotify. Whereas if all those audiences, she also had their email addresses, yeah, she would just email and go, Hey, guys, I am now going to be changing my thing and going on this new journey, who's with me?
AB: So to her credit, that we did spot as a floor, and she has been trying to build that up. And she's getting better at it. Males look better, they are better organized. But she's now on her own. Right? I mean, this is the thing. It's like she she went from having this whole big sort of, you know, psycho to the label around her people doing stuff. And then she didn't, right, and an impart, you know, she wanted to, you know, go it alone and do it so often. It's not such an app could be around. But, you know, it was it was a very different experience for her think, than what she had done previously. And the the name change really, unfortunately, because of the way those algorithms work. He just really messed up the the result, great campaign, but underestimated that. So yeah, it was a bit of a shame. But but she, you know, she's a fighter, and she's doing some great stuff now and continuing on, and it's great to see a flourish and she's a great songwriter. So she's now writing for some really big acts and having really big success elsewhere. It's great. Great see,
NS: Oh, awesome. Ellie, is it? Ellie?
AB: I-L-I, go check it out. Yeah.
NS: So my my audience of listeners, they sitting up music companies themselves record labels. Being that you have built up some pretty incredible music companies in the past. What would be some advice you'd give to your younger self that Some other music entrepreneurs would benefit the most from that being that they're at the beginning of their journey.
AB: Okay, so I think one of the things that I've realized, in my older self, and it really manifested in what my podcast is, is I didn't fully appreciate at the time, the amount of information I'd got from other people. And I think I think I hope, at least that I'm a relatively good listener. And certainly a lot of the anecdotal stories that I was being told back then about how to get through a particular issue, or just something to look out for, or just a great experience or something to think about as a, you know, evolve a particular project, you're listening to all of all of that input, you with something I probably should have really, I suppose just paid more attention to, because that collective knowledge, I still use a lot of it now. Like, I still think back to Oh, that's right, that happened then to let's not do that now. Because that doesn't work or whatever it might be. So I, as we've mentioned before, you know, I'm, I'm curious by nature, but listen to other people, and I will say that to people on my, my podcast is, you know, listen to all of that information and choose the bits that you think are right, and put it all back together again, and then do the things that you want to do in the future. Other career advice? I, more luck than judgment progressed very quickly to running businesses. I don't know that that's anything other than I moved around a lot. And it can be hazardous on your CV, why people distrust that person that comes and goes, I was never very purposeful. I mean, it just sort of happened. I just saw an opportunity, when, really, but I've moved around a lot. And as a consequence, you just learned so much more. And that's not to say that, and maybe for different people, it works differently, right? And I'm I'm slightly envious every now and again, when I think about it, probably everything, the people that you go into, say a major revenue company at the bottom and stay with it for 20. Right, I think, and I've singled out the major companies, there are so many other companies that you could do that with now. And that's admirable, it really is. And, you know, just but and I think that creates a very different type of music executive, personally, but I know that I recently was at Warner. And I bill level, as you mentioned in your intro, which is their DIY distribution business. And it's a very alien place for someone like me now, you know, I'm, I'm not really very huge. I mean, I was lucky, because really, I was like, you know, kind of like the startup though, right? I would sort of walked in there and just creating this business from scratch with literally naming it onwards. You know, Grace, Grace support from the people at wanting really think very highly of a lot of and as a consequence, I wasn't so sucked into some of the sort of very structured the department or by came into contact with it. So I sort of was able to sort of view it almost from the outside, looking to see kind of the structure that was in place. That's not somewhere where I would ever exist very well. I don't like I just, it's, it's, and the people that do well, there are very happy doing that job. That that very specific job.
NS: Yeah, I think you're almost talking about the different types of people. Yes, yeah. There's some people that just suit like, follow the path, neither of them they're like, right or wrong? Definitely not. Yes. I'm in the lane. I just focus on that. And other people are like, I need to be across many things. Yes, we, you know, that's where you work? Well. And I'm like, you're more like, across many things. Yeah. So I guess, you know, going back some some of the advice, what I kind of picked up from that then is learn off learn as much as you can, either off your off the people you're working with, and your experiences. And, or, you know, be curious. And and yeah, just try and learn and absorb and then take in what's going to work for me.
AB: Yeah. And also don't be dismissive of new ideas. That's something that I think has held the music industry back, you know, and it's an it's a horrible cliche, but there's that sort of idea of the the typically older white male record executive that is in charge of a music company. That is, is saying no to things. And of course, as we've discussed, I live through the very early digital adoption by the consumer, we just call it that. And it was sort of railed against by certain people that I came across in the music industry. And I can't tell you the amount of times that I was at media meeting with labels, explaining to them that streaming was a better way for the music band to discover music. And they wouldn't have it wouldn't have it at all. And it was, I guess, impart of beer if they didn't understand it. They were somebody who'd grown up buying You know, vinyl records, cassettes, CDs, whatever. And that's, that was music, you know, that was how it was delivered. And the idea of just listening to attract was it was already kind of download age, you know, something they'd felt very, you know, anti because it had broken apart that container that had all of the tracks on now that one track that was you know, you'd got the expensive songwriters in to help the artists do a really good catchy, you know, hit radio record, because by that song, you didn't have to buy the album, whereas they've built their businesses based on the idea that if you want that song, we either got to buy a very expensive single CD, or you get better value, but better bang for your buck by buying the album. But of course, it was still more money, right? See the basket values. So you know, that whole change that went on, and and it was held back by people that didn't want to see that change.
NS: Yeah, but not just an executive level. I remember I was in the States, and I was in, we were going between gigs, one of the EDM festivals. And actually, I won't, I won't say the artist name. But it's pretty high profile. And we were discussing Spotify and streaming was becoming more popular. And he was just so against it. And there was so many artists in the early days that didn't like it. And I was just thinking, why are you saying that? I was like, why didn't they like it. And it was a money thing. They were like, I'm not going to earn as much money. So I don't think it's great. And they were really though like I'm not supporting it. I'm not sending people to Spotify. And I was saying like, I was like, look at you should get a now because it is definitely the future. Like the more Pete if you can, bro Spotify now, it's going to pay dividends in the future that we're like mad bit of an argument about it. You know, and I was thinking well, we'll see how things turn out. We'll see. It's where it's gone is with the streaming. So yeah, I think it was not just exact level. It was across the industry. People just yeah, not not not wanting to get on board with it. Yeah, for sure. So, we've talked about challenges. I'm just going to have a quick look at time. Goodness, may how long? We've been recording this…
AB: 42 minutes.
NS: Okay, I'm going to skip that question. I'm going to get on to kind of selling music questions. Because I know you've got to get some great insight on here. So record sales, or streaming sales. Where are you finding royalties are coming from across the major platforms from Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Tidal? Yeah, were you were you seeing? What's the breakdown missing? Much they're coming from?
AB: It depends on on the record company. Empire for example, does very well in the jail system in America, for example. And, you know, we, as a company, you mean jails as an as in prisons? Yeah. Yeah. So in America, they, it's your business. And, you know, you can make a decent amount of money from that. So but that's that's a sort of, that's a sort of like a nuanced bit, I suppose about empire. But no Empire is these days, it puts out very commercially acceptable music as much as it has a sort of harder or less, more niche, you know, sort of styles. But it's all the usual suspects for a Western based company. Right? It's, it is your YouTube, it is your Spotify and your apple, and then it starts to fall away. And you get into sort of Deezer and tidal and some of the others. But again, certain records do better on on other platforms, you know, these massive brands, right? So it's mostly Exactly, yeah, well, this is it. And that's why that's why my former career of digital distribution and aggregation was so important because you didn't necessarily know where it was going to work. I mean, we an empire, we just had an interesting thing recently, where a African artist that we're working with kitty got picked up by a Bollywood star on Tik Tok. And so all of a sudden, we like, is now massive in India palette, how did that happen? So not the UK, not the US like It's like nothing to do with any of those countries. Now we're going to figure out his African story and his Indian story, I mean, other things as well. But you know, and it was suddenly Of course, like the, like the, the biggest platform there is seven. So you know, I'm now right okay, now I could really focus on this DSP that purple SEVEN, SEVEN sa a vn write a geo seven J. Io say? Yeah, it's the biggest platform there. And but it's because it has deals with all the local music and the local repertoire and of course in India, that's what they like listening to. Right It's just what they like listening to it's okay. But they're different. But you know it but it has meant that this African artist has crossed into that, that sort of that focus because it by accident, but by This local celebrity has picked up his record. And of course, you know, TikTok has done that. So many records, older records as much newest stuff as well,
NS: I guess TikTok, have you? You know, everyone's talking about getting discovered on TikTok. Do you think that is like you said accidentally? Do you think that's something that can be engineered? Or do you think it's, it's just chance? Like, you know, if so, if we're talking to just all artists out there, like, just make sure you're available on TikTok? Yeah. What's your kind of experience on that? Is it just be on there and roll the dice? Or can you engineer it?
AB: Yeah, you can definitely have impact, you know, engineering.
NS: It is maybe too early days to really be able to make a call on that.
AB: Yeah, I think I think a little bit I mean, you know, we always employ influencer strategies on our bigger records, right? You have to whether it's Instagram or Tik Tok or whatever, right? So you're being very purposeful about the targeting.
NS: That's really interesting, so just sticking on their influencer campaign, so you... What would you define a bigger record?
AB: Oh, well, at Empire, it's kind of defined by whether or not we're probably spending money on it. And that's, that's a bit of a sort of a definition. You know, that the company is almost split split into we have our almost like legacy distribution business that and we still do that for both companies and individuals themselves. But certainly empires is evolving as it goes along and Gazi owns, it has always wanted to be more on the sort of being a record label than he was a distribution company. This story as to how he ended up there, but won't go into it now. I've covered my podcast, I go and listen to there.
NS: I was asking about what what defines a big record. So you're saying, Yeah, you're going to spend money on it. So you've got you've got, you're going to spend money. So let's say you got your what 50 grand budget, we're like, okay, cool. We're going to push this record, we've got 50 grand, and you saying influencer is really important. So how are you going? What are the actual steps to go through the adoos particular platforms, I think there's one called whale to reach out to influencers, you just kind of talk through that process…
AB: So there's, there's lots of these companies, and we're and we're always trying new ones all the time. And sometimes they have exclusive relationships with certain influencers. So they are literally the only way of getting to them. There's a there's a great company called Tiger media, that is, it's kind of like a social target tag us ta GG er, than media dog. And they have this great service where they social listening, so they they're constantly listening to what's going on out there on the internet. And they distill all of that down into acquirable metrics. So you as a, say, your brand and you want to get into a particular tribe, on the internet, you can use then music influences or other influencers to take your brand into it. And then this like really like simple stuff where they can they, they, they put on a screen all of the most popular posts in one go. And you can see what type of posts do particularly well for that particular influencer. And then you can actually make your content fit for that. I mean, it's, it's quite simple, really. But what they will then do is help connect you with that influencer. So right, so that you can dial into what's going to be the most effective type of person to support you. Now, in, in, in what Empire does a lot of the time, we already know these people or their particular channels, we also use them as well, secret sauce there, but they but they were built up organically, we just brought them on under our wing that thing I suppose. But it means that we can continually talk to you know, an audience in a way that's not sell, sell, sell. Really, really I think the the secret there is to just be part of the culture, it's it's more important to understand what's important to the audience, and try, you know, the amount of money the company spends on just making documentaries of stuff that we think people will be interested in. Yeah, it's gonna probably promote the artist or a particular genre or, you know, particular neighborhood or something. But it's all it's all part of them. Right. And so, you know, guys, he's always been brilliant at seeing past the kind of straight ROI on you know, putting a record out, like, you know, if we do that, then how much we're gonna get back. He says pastoral is much more about being fully integrated as an individual as a company into the different scenes that we inhabit as a business. And I mean that in That's an advert Empire at this point, I suppose but sometimes gets lost, shall we say so many other companies?
NS: Yeah. What What was some, when you talk about so that was really almost sort of answering what I was going to ask with the tag of media is, you know, how, if you are using one of these influencer platforms, you know, what kind of content? I like, is it up for them to make the content? Or do you make the content for them, or you direct them in or like, so, for someone who's like, I want to get into this, right? And I go to the whales, one of them or one of these companies, and I'm going through and I'm trying to figure out which influence so I should be connecting to and yet, how does that work? Like and what, what what sort of do create the content for them,
AB: Typically, that the the influence of we'll create the content, it might be that we've created gift boxes, you know, goodie bag type of things that we send to them, so they can do unboxings of like, you know, a new release, some got some kind of interesting, you know, bits that were made just for them, you know, in in the box. There's all sorts of ideas that you can do.
NS: Alright, so you can vote you got to if you've got a album coming out, you've got like the vinyl and CD, a t shirt, some stickers. Put it in a box, get them to unbox it. That's right.
AB: Yeah. It and it's it's so it's quite visual at that, obviously, because we're talking about we're very visual media. Yeah. But you know, things like dances that you ask them to choreograph a dance, that's why they get paid so that they can choreograph the dance, and put that out into the world. And then obviously, the hope is that their particular dance is the one that then gets, you know, picked up. People replicate, right? Because that's the that's the change in what's happening. On TikTok, tick. Right. That's the two
NS: So you can engineer the opportunities, whether or not they take off as another thing?
AB: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
NS: And what are some, like, you know, just for the matrix for the listeners, like what are what are some numbers and budgets that you're, you know, you're looking at if I've got a, a this, this influencer on Tik Tok is going to get 10,000 views on this on, on average on videos, if you do his song, like, how much is that costing these days?
AB: Yeah, you're definitely straying into an area of the business that I'm not as ofay with, you know, the Empire, for example, as a dedicated team, does this this type of stuff, but yeah, we we typically would run an entire campaign. Yeah, maybe like 10 grand, right, as a sort of baseline. Right. That's a sort of like entry level type of campaign. But that would include some some mixing, mastering is as much the production side of things as much as the ad spend. But yeah, I mean, I've I've been involved with campaigns that are as little as a couple of grand
NS: Is that for just one influencer?
AB: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
NS: I was actually just very specific, I yeah, if you don't, if you
AB: I couldn't tell you both, I can tell you, it will be different for and you will always be able to find somebody to fit your budget, whether or not they're going to have the right impact is neither here nor there. And actually, a lot of the time, these influences, they're, they can be connected to members of your team in some way. And so you end up getting favors done, you know, something? Or maybe they do, you know, buy for the price of three. Right? Right? So there is actually no hard and fast rule to this, you do just negotiate it's you negotiate. And that's one of the things that tiger media helps with. Mm hmm. So it's, you know, it's a
NS: People are talking a lot about this input, and it's something I've, like, looked into a little bit, but, you know, I'm not sure at the moment, I feel like it's in the domain of like Nike and Coca Cola with big budgets going to these big influencers that have got millions of data. No, no, AI is, you know, the independent musician out there that's got, you know, what, I've got 200 pounds or $200? Can I use an influencer? And we're gonna get some results? Yeah,
AB: $200 you probably only going to get like one influencer to do something for you.
NS: Which is why you say it's on the bigger records.
AB: Yeah, it just, you know, it's like any paid advertising, right? You need to have more than that one moment. But you just do you need to have that sort of repetition of message now. So because it might be that you get the influencer, but then you boost the post that, yes, these things are good. They all work in tandem. But no, it's unfortunate. It's it's a business, it's become a little commoditized. I mean, look, you might find in your in your network or extended network, that there are people that might just get behind it. So therefore, you've got free influences, and they're just people doing stuff. It's just that it's quite commoditized. Now, so you, if you want to buy it, you can buy it, you know, just contact their agent or the or the agency, that's, that's going to run the campaign for you. They will have all the relationships already, they can tell you immediately how much something's going to cost. What will fit. If your budget doesn't cope, they'll, you know, they'll suggest something else. Or if you've got more than they they think you can spend right now then you break Okay, cool. You spend it on that I can do something else.
"don't be dismissive of new ideas."
NS: Yeah, no, it's interesting. Blogs, are they still relevant?
AB: Yeah, good question. I think I, I think the less, I think less so. Right. There's other ways of discovering music or maths. I think, though, that if you are a, you know, a real music fan, yeah, you're still reading them? You know, you're still of that ilk. You know, I want a magazine, it's just print doesn't exist as much as they used to. Yeah, and look, you know, SoundCloud, you know, has helped keep the blogosphere alive for a music point of view. Because you can embed that audio and see Yeah, at blogs. Yeah, now that they still have a place for sure, they still have a place.
NS: Moving on to social media, we've talked about TikTok as a growing thing in for your most recent experience in the last six to nine months. Where do you find which which channels do find out flying at the moment music for the artist to work with?
AB: Instagram? Yeah, you know, that, that, in particular is where a lot of people will focus their their time and energy in Instagram, it just, I think he's just got the right balance of that audio visual format in the in the snippet, you know, sort of function, I suppose the worst we were, and then TikTok that they're, they're the two that company like Empire will spend probably the most amount of time to social networks on targeting focusing on spending money on etc. And then I know that our head of digital marketing favors YouTube for digital ads. Yeah, he just thinks he really rates it is really good.
NS: Um, you know, we've we were talking earlier about paid advertising. On your podcast. Yeah. But you know, now with the focus on you, what, you know, what, we've touched that using the paid advertising the influencer? Where else? Do you guys spend your money? And where do you? Where do you find paid advertising works best and get the best results?
AB: So we will, we will try and do COVID Not made this easy. We will try and do some in real life things. So whether that's and then and then and then we shoot content at it, right? And then that content forms part of the output that then boosted as a paid ad later on. So we're, we try to get past just the kind of the basics of having the artwork up in an interesting visualizer. You know, we do try and just communicate, I suppose more about who the artist is that they are, and try and show other sides to them. That's why the Empire again, sorry, there's so much about empire. But what? Empire empire? Yeah, yeah, artists, like, you know, Snoop Dogg and he azalea and Robin Thicke and you know, it's one of the biggest music companies in the world. It's a Ghazi, who owns it is done a fantastic job of building a literal empire. Wow. Why can't I remember we're talking about…
NS: The question was, we're talking about what works with paid advertising you're saying? So filming stuff. So I guess an extension on that question, then, is that just sort of filming a music video and then filming the behind the scenes? Or what are some sort of…
AB: There’ll be like listening parties, like get togethers for artists, with bands, you know, anything that we can kind of film where the artists, you know, shows who they are. So again, the documentary side of things, I think, is has been a grow of growing interest at the company. I mean, an empire does sort of sort of, kind of funny skits, like, as one where they, they take, you know, artists back to the, the local corner shop, and they give them a small amount of money. It's like, what would you buy? Right? And it's just, it's, and they and these artists and tell stories about, you know, I remember this week from when I was a kid, and this is what I would always, you know, get this bag of crisps or whatever. And these ones, these were the cheap ones. I could afford these when I was you know, before I was famous. So those sorts of things are really, really engaging. Storytelling. Yeah. Storytelling. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And it just, it fills out more about the artists than just the music that you hear. Because the music normally has lyrics. That means something, right. Normally, not always. But normally, and, and so that, you know, it's like, where does that come from like that. that's of interest to me as, as the audience, I'm engaged with that, because I relate to that, but I would then be as a music fan wants to know more. And so that's, you know, that's why it's more important to have more than just the album covers the visual that's out there, you know, we need the artists, you know, in, in the world, being a human being, and being, you know, that stage persona in real life.
NS: And so what would you, you know, because you mentioned something to Snoop Dogg, and you're doing these documentaries, obviously, bigger budgets, but what about further, you know, the the smaller independent record label solo artists that they're signing in the smaller budgets, if they wanted to then create these, you know, these visual video type things, you know, if you've got any ideas on how they could do how you could do it on a smaller scale?
AB: Yeah, as an artist, younger one that we work with, that has built this incredible, you know, career out of making interesting short videos himself, you know, he does these kind of like dead, like little stumps, really. So they can, they're short, and they've got his music on. And it's him doing something funny, or, you know, whatever. And, and it just travels in, it helps the music travel. So you know, if you've got an iPhone or other phones are also available. But these days, you know, that technologies is much cheaper than it ever used to be. Right? I mean, it just is. And so you, nothing's really stopping you. And I realize I say is a slightly privileged individual, but nothing's really stopping you from creating that content on a low budget. And, and then just being smart apps work with the day war machine to understand how to be smart about how you take that content and make it travel.
NS: I think what I think what I where a lot of assets struggle, and what I've seen is, how do you create something that isn't awkward? And genuine? Because, you know, they'll go, oh, well, I feel myself, you know, like, in the kitchen, maybe like, right, and, you know, you say, Well, what are your interests? And that's, I think that's a major stumbling block at the beginning, if someone's a natural entertainer, too, they're going to get past it. But you know, that's a third of people. What about the other two thirds? You know, they know they're going to create this visual content? How can they be non awkward,
AB: I mean, I can tell you that, with the work that I did, with Rotor, we saw a lot of, you know, during COVID, lockdown videos, because people were trapped at home, so they had to be more inventive. And what we, we think Rotors as a platform, and a very natural fit, where they could take bits of video of them in their, in their garden, or on their driveway, or just in their local neighborhood, you know, against a brick wall, little bits of video of them, you know, looking away from the camera, or maybe a performance piece or, you know, on their bike just riding through the neighborhood or whatever, whatever it might be, that is something that is there. But then they interpolate that with a lot of the stock library imagery from Rotor that fits with that, right. And so, so that was, that's what that's where Rhoda does very well, because of course, then it auto syncs to the music, you don't need to be a video editor to create a cool asset, right, you can just use these tools that are out there and wrote is very clever, because it will listen to the audio, the music, and it will then make sure that the transitions happen, you know, on the beat, if you like, is a very simple way of describing what it does. And also there are all these different sort of stylistic themes that you run into a video by clicking a button and using it and, and so you can get these incredible video assets that don't look awkward because they are just a second of the artist here and here and here. In amongst some professionally shot drone footage your streets in New York or whatever it might be that you think tells the story of who you are, you can get a very professional looking visual accompaniment to using and you can do it in 10 minutes.
NS: I see what you mean. So you've like even if you're out in the country or something you could say you just even if a person synced camera or not even they're walking through a field and then you just cut there with all the other field and outdoor cannabis and with your music.
AB: Well maybe it's like you know, a bit of space and you know, technology and you know, audio equipment and live gigs. You know, you couldn't film an audience at a big festival. Because how are you gonna be good if you went to one but you don't really like but all that is available on Rotors. You just put that in amongst it right and, you know, depends on what the songs about. No, that's
NS: interesting. I mean, even just some Yeah, like you said, just standing there looking at the camera or even looking away from the camera of the artist and then interspersed with stuff. Yes, that is a great right tip. Rotor Music dot-
AB: Rotor videos.com Oh, head to www.abcmusic.co Yes, click the Rotor logo on the home. paste to access a 10% of discount for the service.
NS: I do have one as well Ford slash Rotor, The Label Machine.com forward slash Rotor. I think I'm let's just look at time. I think we're gonna break that thing. I think there's so many things we're gonna have to do another another one of these next year. Sure. Yeah, amazing, Alex, thank you so much, you know, super insightful. And yeah. To go and check out your podcast to hear more, especially all these great stories. And he's, you know, he knows all these basically the people who are running the industry these days, he interviews them, and it's incredibly insightful. So you want to go to ABC Music Talk Podcast, subscribe, and yeah, likewise, subscribe to The Label Machine Podcast. And if you'd like it, do the rate at five star and give it a nice little positive review. Thanks again, Alex.
AB: Thank you very much.