Sunday March 05, 2017

Streaming helps the radio star

Listen 10:23

If Netflix is using user-generated data to confidently launch successful programs like House of Cards, then it's fair to say it's been borrowing a page from the digital music industry's playbook.

Music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer have long been collating data from users to create everything from curated playlists to algorithms that can predict when a song is about to become a hit.

"There are literally billions and billions of data points," says Paul Smernicki, who was the head of digital music for the UK division of Universal Music for the last 17 years.

Data like how long someone listens to a song, where they are, what else they're doing and other statistics are all recorded for every single listen on every single track, he says.

This amounts to a staggering amount of data, Paul says, adding that it's fair to say the big streaming services are "as much data platforms as they are music platforms."

Over the years, artists have generally come to terms with the way they are paid through streaming services, he says, noting that they also still receive royalties from the record companies that hold the rights to their music.

And as record company executives become younger and more used to the idea of streaming, the friction between the recording labels and streaming services has become less and less. "They're digital natives," he says.

Moreover, artists can use the data to get instant feedback on how well their audiences are reacting to their music.

But despite all this, he feels streaming is still in its infancy. "We're on line one, page one, chapter one in all of this," he says.

Even now, "If I wanted to find a Sunday morning, deep house, Cajun, death metal playlist, there will be one," Paul says.

And it won't be long before a service like Spotify will be able to display personal playlists based on an a single-use scenario.

"My music service of choice will know where I am, that I'm going to be in the car for an hour, and that the weather's not very nice and that it's a Monday, and that on Mondays I listen to acoustic tracks. It will deliver a playlist that's uniquely contextual for me and laser focused on that moment for me."