We thought musicians and industry professionals who have never seen this before will be interested in seeing exactly how the industry is using collective efforts and advanced software to identify new songs and talents. Essentially, it’s a “behind-the-scenes” at Music Xray. See how the site works from the perspective of industry professionals when they receive music that is submitted to them.
“There has been no genuine A&R filter in the industry… We are building that now.”- Guest Post by Jack Ponti
This article was originally posted by Jack Ponti as a response to this pov piece written by Music Xray Co-founder & CEO, Mike McCready.
There’s a vast misconception concerning the way new music and talent is discovered in the new paradigm of the Internet.
Where are all the DIY success stories?
While it’s true that anyone can now simply create a web page, populate every social media site there is, and virtually self-promote and distribute music, the reality is that 99.99% of that music will only be heard by family and friends. If the rallying cry of “we can do it ourselves” were true, then why are there not thousands of success stories? Because the ability to market and promote inside a clogged bandwidth is virtually impossible. You can’t build critical mass. This also creates a big problem for the industry. There is no filter.
Now, one may say the lack of a filter, gate keeper, standard, etc. has allowed music that would have never been heard a chance to be heard. But by who? Surely not the masses. It’s most likely to be heard by only a few. Sure, now anyone with a song can go full-bore Internet crazy and do all the wonderful things that people claim will help build their career, but it’s just not true. Again, where are all the success stories?
The industry’s pre-Internet filter:
Pre-Internet, the music industry had a filter. Perhaps it didn’t work all of the time and I am certain some great music was lost along the way due to that filter. The filter involved the artist knowing someone with genuine access who could get their music to someone who could actually do something about it. The filter also involved a policy of “no unsolicited material”. Meaning it would not be listened to unless someone vouched for it.
There was a dual role in the no unsolicited material policy.
One, was it avoided deep pocketed and pointless lawsuits. If unsolicited submissions were allowed, someone could randomly send in a demo and then months later find some ambulance chasing attorney to file suit claiming infringement, hoping the label/artist would settle. But the primary reason for the policy was that if you allowed unsolicited material you opened the door to everyone on Earth who believes they have talent. And most don’t. The mountain of material that would have been sent in would have taken thousands of people to sift through. So yes, we more than likely lost some genius talent due to the restriction of that filter but we also found plenty as well.
The industry believed that if a known manager, lawyer, publisher, producer, etc. was presenting music, it must be somewhat good. Now granted, it sometimes wasn’t. But for the most part, it met a standard and certain level of professionalism. It also spoke of the artist’s, writer’s, or producers’s, own ability to hustle and get to someone with genuine access. It worked well, as evidenced by decades of music.
But I have always said, the next Beatles were in a basement somewhere and will never be discovered due to lack of industry access. I’m sure we missed out on plenty.
In my 35 plus years in this business, wearing every possible hat that you can, 99.99% of my success was directly due to a filter. I was hammered by one of my clients to listen to India Arie. My manager introduced me to Jon Bon Jovi. A&R men brought me countless projects in development. Lawyers made introductions. The list is endless.
So here we are in the Internet age. No filter, no gate keeper, it’s a free for all!
But what do you do to genuinely find exceptional talent? Google search “good music”? Good luck with that. YouTube? If you have a decade of time on your hands. Reverbnation, Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter, sure there are a multitude of possible places, but none of this has been filtered.
Unfortunately without a filter, you have to sift through hours of horrendous music to find even a remote possibility. Why? Because just like in pre-Internet days, anyone who can play any instrument or remotely sing is now convinced they “have what it takes” and they just clog the bandwidth with music.
Even from a psychological point of view, pre-Internet, people somewhat filtered themselves, thinking (or knowing) they were just OK, and why bother. But with the proliferation of TV shows like American Idol, we are now in the “yes I can” stage. Though that is wonderful, it can also be painfully unrealistic. Then with the advent of sites like CD Baby, people assume stardom is around the corner. For some it is. For many it’s not. But the illusion is real and by having a web site and distribution, suddenly you are there, or so you think.
I am not condemning that nor making fun of it. It’s wonderful to share your music with people and even if that means sharing it with only one other person that is a success and should be applauded.
However the heartbeat of the music business is new talent and there is a tremendous amount of undiscovered new and brilliant talent lurking out there caught in the miasma of a clogged Internet. Like I said, we missed some great talent along the way and truth be told, we are missing way more now.
A true and accurate filter will bring that talent to the forefront in rapid time. I salute and respect those who chose to go it alone, DIY, indie, whatever you chose to call it. But this business needs new talent and for those who want to be within that framework, they need to be discovered. Be it an artist, writer, producer; they need to have access and we, as an industry, need to access them or we’re all in trouble.
There has been a method of A&R research in place for over a decade now. It works very well, however it relies on spotting blips on the radar screen of something already in motion, something that has traction. Be it local or regional sales or radio airplay, it is already moving.
The same can be said for the recently announced deals with Twitter and Shazam moving into the label space. That is not discovery of talent, rather that is identifying moving targets after they start moving. The very essence of how Shazam works is you have to be searching for something you have already been exposed to. The same can be said for the concept of using Twitter as an identifier. Both are post, not pre.
There has been no genuine, and accurate, A&R filter in the entire industry to sift through the clogged space that we are currently subjected to. In order to do that properly you need to create the proper mechanism that is human based and software synergistic.
As you know, Mike [McCready of Music Xray] and I began in a highly acrimonious relationship, one of war. We have been speaking and meeting for months now, coming from opposite ends of the spectrum to find a genuine solution for the lack of a true A&R filter. We had opposing views but have come to agree. Chances are this is something monumental. I am convinced we are building that now.
The benefits to both the artists and the industry are enormous and I truly believe we can make a difference.
Musicians can submit music to Jack Ponti’s Merovee records by clicking here.
Better late than never. But they won’t work.
I’m fond of saying that in the race to adopt new technology the music industry finishes just ahead of the Amish. And while I wholeheartedly applaud the late embrace of technology and data in the context of the recent deals with Twitter and Shazam, in my opinion, these particular deals won’t generate the hoped-for results.
The deals I’m referring to are the recent partnerships between Twitter and former Warner boss Lyor Cohen’s new 300 label and the partnership announced yesterday between Shazam and Warner Music Group. Both deals seek to leverage the data generated by the two tech companies to help identify emerging songs and talent.
Both Shazam and Twitter have had for several years the vast amounts of data that 300 and Warner want to tap. And both tech companies operate primary businesses that have nothing to do with helping the industry achieve the goal of “early discovery”. Rather, they generate an enormous amount of potentially relevant consumer behavior data and these music companies are going to apply their resources to try to make sense of it. Presumably, the goal is not only early discovery, but also the reduction of risk when Warner and 300 invest in promoting the music, since they will likely have a lot of clues about where they should spend their resources both demographically and geographically. It follows that since Shazam users are already performing an act that has them engaged with the music, Warner sees the deal as providing a channel into a receptive market.
1. Social signals are highly unreliable when it comes to emerging music.
I am certain that these deals will generate occasional successes. But I’m also certain they will not constitute an efficient and consistent method of finding the needles in the haystack. Social signals already constitute an arms race between those trying to make sense of the data and those trying to spoof it. The spoofers only have to continue to lead that race for the data to be too noisy to be consistently useful. Regardless of the number of data scientists thrown at the problem, if the signal to noise ratio is too high, there’s no useful data of which to make sense.
With 11 hours of audio content uploaded to SoundCloud every minute (leaving aside YouTube, BandCamp etc), it’s not even always about the false positives spoofers can cause. It’s also about the amazing songs and artists that don’t bother to spoof (or aren’t good at it) or even bother to try to cut through the noise. I’m talking about the 4m+ tracks on Spotify that have never been heard, not even once – or the 32% of songs on iTunes that sold one copy or less. Much of that music probably sucks – but not all of it and the great stuff will never be detected by the data Twitter and Shazam can provide.
2. Social signals are a lagging indicator and do not highlight what will gain traction, only what’s already gaining traction.
Furthermore, both Twitter & Shazam are, at best, only able to assist in early discovery, as opposed to first discovery. There’s a big difference between the two when you look at the potential return on investment for the music companies as well as the size of the opportunity itself. If Warner had been first on Macklemore & Lewis instead of just early the opportunity would have been bigger and the returns on that opportunity would have been higher.
The data provided by Shazam and Twitter will always be a lagging indicator, meaning that by the time songs and bands get meaningful traction on Twitter or Shazam, Warner and 300 will probably be second to arrive and will find early investors already there. Even if the traction were 100% organic and not generated by a financed push, the gained traction would be at least as observable to the artists and their camps as it is to Twitter & Shazam. That means worse deal terms for the music companies and a burden of finding early-stage backers most artists can’t (or don’t want to) bear.
3. Social signals leave too much behind.
Additionally, Twitter and Shazam are rarely ever going to detect the killer songs written by the non-performing songwriters, top drawer material that comes from unknown songwriters who aren’t plugged in to the industry, and bands and acts who aren’t breaking through the initial noise barriers that prevent them from getting any serious traction.
What will work.
What the industry needs is a true A&R filter. One that provides a leading indicator of success potential. One that offers true first discovery rather than early discovery. One that enables the industry to lead, taste-make, and influence rather than follow. Those who know me know I’ve been pursuing this holy grail for the industry since 2001.
The number of songs and acts that have been offered deals after having been discovered by the industry on Twitter and Shazam is unknowable, but in 2013 alone over 4750 songs and acts were selected by the industry for opportunities at Music Xray. That’s over 90 a week or about 1 every 2 hours.
I spent a good part of last year arguing in online public forums and then privately with Jack Ponti, a well-known industry veteran who opposed Music Xray’s approach to solving these A&R filtering challenges. But after months of back-and-forths and eventually a few afternoons spent with a whiteboard hashing out the current product and incorporating elements of Jack’s views on market segmentation, we were able to come together to construct a product road-map for 2014-15 that will perform even beyond my previous expectations, which of course were already high.
Music Xray seeks to be the industry standard for A&R filtering and music supervision tools. It’s a collaborative effort of 1200 early-adopting industry professionals who all make their living with their ears. They enact an open door policy to unsolicited submissions via Music Xray but Music Xray’s toll-booth business model puts the artists themselves in charge of the first level of filtering. Sure, some junk gets through but it’s filtered out quickly leaving only the top material to be heard by most professional users. Many of the submissions that come through Music Xray are songs that have never been released in any way, shape, or form. Shazam and Twitter are never going to shine a light on them.
Music Xray is currently used by 17 major labels but it’s still largely the forward thinkers who are benefitting the most. In fact, not all professional users of Music Xray even take advantage of the site’s most advanced and useful features. But over time, as we continue to insist on product excellence, Music Xray’s results will scream high above the din of the 11 hours of content uploaded to SoundCloud each minute. And if only 0.01% of that music has any commercial value at all, that’s over 90 minutes per day of commercially worthwhile music that ought to be discovered by the industry.
Co-founder & CEO
Music Xray offers a revenue share that automatically accumulates in your account when those you invite make submissions on Music Xray. We will pay your balance out to you via Paypal or you can use it toward your own purchases on Music Xray.
Here’s how to do it. To invite other artists.
1. Log in to your account.
2. Go to “account settings”
3. Click the “invite artists” button and follow the instructions.
4. Track the number of affiliates you have.
Don’t forget to also check out the instructions for using your affiliate code (on the same page) to create links to the site you can use in social media and other places to drive traffic that will result in artists being invited to Music Xray on your behalf.
As Music Xray has evolved, we’ve learned a lot of lessons. We’ve always had guidelines and rules for industry professional accounts but as our profile has grown and higher profile companies have joined the site, Music Xray has become a target for some bad behavior. The site must be a place where legitimate industry professionals and companies feel they are represented alongside other legitimate professionals. Shysters, hustlers, and professionals pitching their services to musicians are not welcome.
While we have always monitored for this kind of thing, we have begun cracking down on this behavior with some new zero-tolerance policies and we’re asking our community of users to help us police the site even more strictly than in the past.
How to open a professional account on Music Xray:
Professional accounts on Music Xray are offered via invitation. Professionals may also apply for an account by simply signing up and filling out a profile. However, at the end of the process, professionals must click the button to request approval for their account.
All accounts are reviewed by our team. Identities are verified and the authenticity of the listed opportunities are confirmed to the best of our ability. We have an increasingly strict screening process. For example, in October 2013 there were 160 applications for professional accounts but we only approved 24.
Professionals must keep in mind however that musicians are able to rate professionals and leave comments on their profile page and they can alert us by sending an email to email@example.com if an opportunity is suspected of not being authentic. Such emails automatically will trigger a new investigation by our team of the industry professional and the account.
Our team will look at the communication and other behavior patterns of the professional during this investigation. If we detect issues with the professional account we will contact the professional to try to rectify the situation as a first step. However, if we deem the opportunity was posted in bad faith, the professional account will be immediately removed. Professionals may appeal this decision with us and appeals will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Music Xray must stand on its reputation of hosting only authentic opportunities. If an artist is selected for an opportunity it must result in a commercial or exposure event for the artist.
Alternatively, it can result in a pre-selection whereby the selected song or act is further pitched for a final decision by another party. However, Music Xray will require the professional to disclose to Music Xray to whom the selected songs or acts will be pitched. In general, we will take this on face value unless we have reasons to be skeptical. For instance, if a professional who does not work directly with an major act is seeking songs to pitch to that act and we learn via other channels that the major act is not in fact seeking new material, we will open an investigation and will verify these pitches any time in the future the professional in question posts a similar opportunity.
Industry professionals must disclose in the opportunity descriptions if they (or the company they represent) is not the final decision maker for the opportunity. In other words, they will be required to state that selected songs and acts will be pitched to a final decision-maker for consideration.
Additionally, we will not allow opportunities to be posted in which selected artists are asked to pay for further interaction with the professional on the receiving end. Period. Professionals may pitch other services but none that are related to the submission itself. For instance, if a producer is offering an opportunity to for an artist to get their song produced, the selected artists should not be expected to pay for the production services. The producer may offer to produce additional songs for a fee but the initial selection must provide the artist with the service offered in the opportunity free of charge.
We want Music Xray to be a place where only real and authentic opportunities are offered and provided to artists and one where legitimate industry professionals feel confortable listing their opportunities and are not listed along side shady companies and professionals who attempt to use Music Xray as a place to troll for business and as a place to pitch their services for which they wish to be paid.
These are certainly not the only rules and regulations for industry professional accounts. We are in the process of updating all the terms of service for the site and will will post a link to them here on the blog once they’ve been officially issued.
Everyone knows that Music Xray helps you get your music to the decision makers and influencers of the music industry, but Music Xray does so much more. It turns your songs into opportunity magnets. It targets and acquires new fans for you while also estimating the number of submissions it is statistically likely to take to have your song or band selected for an opportunity.Learn how to use some of the advanced features of Music Xray by watching this video tutorial:
In a few days, Music Xray will release a new feature for industry professionals enabling them to see what’s trending on the site in each genre.
You will also be able to set a search alert enabling the site to notify you via email whenever the community of industry professionals identifies a new song that meets your search criteria. But be aware that other industry professionals may set the same alert. So, once you receive an alert it’s first come first serve or perhaps it will just come down to who makes the song owner a better offer.