In this episode of Out of the Box, our host Jess Overton, Director of Demand at ironSource Aura, sits down with Dave Edwards, SVP Revenue at Audiomack, an artist-first music streaming platform that allows creators to share unlimited music and podcast content for free - also, a FastCo Most Innovative Company in 2021.
Jess and Dave discuss Audiomack’s role in the global music industry and how they bridge the gap between the tech and music industry.
Educating creators about technology and the industry
“It's a major priority for us. First off, we spend a lot of time and energy on our social channels trying to educate artists, in addition to promoting new releases and the standard stuff you would see there.
Especially during COVID, we had to transition a lot of our IRL events to virtual events. We started doing virtual panels with artists, managers, ANRs, label heads - people who can really educate others in the industry, credible people. Unfortunately, a constant theme you see in the music industry is less credible people trying to build a business around educating artists.
Aligning with what we do (offering artists a free platform), we want to make sure we're not only providing education to the head of a major label or a huge manager who's been successful with multiple artists, but that anyone can get the information for free and we aren’t putting it behind a paywall.”
What comes first - the creator or the listener?
“We've always been focused on driving value for the artists, and monetizing the listeners, which is the larger audience.
After all, if you're thinking about building a business, who would you rather be your customer base? The seven or eight million creators or 400, 500, 600 million listeners? The latter has always been our focus, whether that's advertising our premium tier, letting listeners donate directly to artists with our new supporters feature, things like that.
Whether it's on the revenue or growth front, we've always looked to serve our creators, first. Artists are the best UA tools in existence, at least within the music business, because one artist may bring in five or 10 million fans if they start using your platform.
That type of asymmetric relationship doesn't exist in many other verticals and with other types of creators. You may see it, perhaps, in the influencer space and with big video creators on YouTube. But, within music, we have always looked at artists as the key to UA and growing and scaling the platform.
We serve listeners, as well, and we put a lot of time into the product to make sure they're happy, but our primary focus is always going to be the creator and the artist.”
Picking your niche, knowing what your USP is, and understanding your target audience
“We focus, I'd say, 95% of our energy on helping the next generation of superstars. When I say that, what I mean is people who are just starting to gain some traction. They’re likely still recording in their bedroom or just getting their first distribution deal, getting their first press coverage and helping them scale to the point where in six months, 12 months, 18 months, two years, they're number one on Spotify. They're number one on the billboard charts.
And that's a huge part of our value prop on the listener side as well. We have a very young audience where 93% are under 34. And when you talk about Gen Z, especially about what they're into, they want to be the first to find something new. That is a major motivator of Gen Z behavior. They want to be the first person in their group chat to find the next Drake, the next Roddy Rich, the next Weeknd, the next superstar artist. I think the main value prop that we offer listeners is exactly that.”
“It would be very hard for us to compete, back in 2013, against those big platforms (Spotify, Pandora, etc.) on their turf. So, it was always very important to us to carve out our own lane and a unique way to offer value to artists.”
The knowledge gap between how much music creators know about apps and technology
“When I talk to artists, there's an enormous knowledge gap around where tech is going, where the massive platforms (Apple's App Store, Amazon, Spotify) are going, and the meta trends that are shaping not just consumer tech, but the industry artists are competing in. The industry where artists are trying to make a living in 2022 is night and day different than it was in 2018, much less 2015, much less 2010. There is so much rapid change, which is accelerating, like you're seeing everywhere else in technology, and the rate of change is becoming more rapid.
"If you’re an artist or any kind of content creator, and you are solely focused on your art and you don't have a broader understanding of the ways in which music is changing, technology is changing, consumer consumption is changing, you’re at a major disadvantage."
- Dave Edwards, SVP Revenue at Audiomack
“A great example of this is the rise of TikTok. TikTok has reached 1 billion monthly active users faster than any other app in history and in about half the time that Instagram did.
That is a meta technology trend and there are so many things we could dive into there, like short form content, video content, the layering of music, etc. I don't think there's been a single industry or vertical more impacted by TikTok than the music business. If you look at where a lot of new viral songs come from, they come from TikTok.
… point being, whether it's TikTok or a hundred other trends that you're seeing across tech, if you don't see those coming, you’re going to be disadvantaged as a creator.”
Keeping creators up to speed on changes in the industry
“Part of what I try to offer to people who follow me on Twitter or follow my newsletter is not just insights on music, but insights on those very broad trends that are really impacting you whether you’re a music creator, a podcaster, someone who does cooking on YouTube, or someone who is not in the creator economy at all - a lawyer, investment banker, etc.
One of the really interesting things that I've seen as I've moved into the tech business is when I start discussing some of these things when I'm out with friends who are not working in tech, there's a very large disconnect. Outside of maybe the main headlines that people hear around, such as the Facebook whistleblower, there's very little understanding of a lot of the changes that are happening.
"There's a saying that every company is a tech company now, some just don't know it yet."
- Dave Edwards, SVP Revenue at Audiomack
And to extend that, we are all working in the tech business now, a lot of us just don’t know it yet. Whatever you do for a living, whether you’re a marketer, a lawyer, a taxi driver, the next 10 to 20 years of your life are going to be so impacted by various technological advancements and changes. If you don't understand those things, you're always going to be one step behind.
That is what I try to speak to, whether it's on a podcast or whether it's in my writing - to bridge that knowledge gap and do it in a way that’s very accessible… I talk about a lot of the more advanced stuff that you might get in a tech only newsletter, but I'm explaining it or trying to explain it in a way that is totally approachable, even if you've never used an app in your life and have no idea how to code or don't know anything about what's going on in tech.”
Growth learnings from Audiomack
“UA is definitely a job unto itself and we’re only just now starting to staff up in that area. It's mostly been organic. We've advertised on the app stores for a while, but we can't match the marketing budgets of a Spotify or an Apple Music. We've always had to figure out how to compete and drive growth with asymmetric means.
The main vehicle to do that which we talked about previously is artists. A single artist may not just bring their five million fans, they tend to also (especially if it’s a larger audience or an artist who’s just now blowing up) be watched by all of the other artists in their same lane… they can also bring in a ton of creators who are in their space because they want to be like them.
The other main organic growth driver has been content. We have a really strong in-house content team. I mostly mean video content. We are starting podcasts and other things like that now, and we of course have Audiomack World, which is editorial. But, when we look at what has historically made the most impact for us, it's been video content, which is hosted on YouTube. We are going to bring it more into our app this year and beyond, but we've never looked at YouTube as a competitor and we’ve grown our audience there. It’s a top of funnel channel for people who love artists and music, and they will come into our app eventually.
…we know how to take our data directly and we have our finger on the pulse of who fans are really engaging with and we make content with them. That has been a huge driver of our growth.
"One particular series I would mention is called Trap Symphony. We pair a major artist with a classical orchestra. So, you get this interesting, unexpected mashup of hip-hop with an orchestra. The way I like to phrase it when I describe it to people is that it's just weird enough to be thumb stopping."
- Dave Edwards, SVP Revenue at Audiomack
When we think about someone just scrolling through Twitter and Instagram or their YouTube feed, and there's massive content hitting them every day, how do you stand out in that crowd? If you pair Chief Keef, a very famous hip-hop artist, with a classical orchestra, it's just strange enough that someone's like, what? They press play and then the content is great, so they keep watching and they watch more. That's always been a huge part of our strategy. Trap Symphony alone has racked up over 200 million views on YouTube and more on social.
…We are investing heavily in UA now, but historically, what's really powered growth in general has actually been a lot of word of mouth.”
Out of the box marketing
“The more recent one would be Coinbase’s Superbowl ad. I know that people in marketing had different takes on that. The website crashed. I actually kind of suspect that was intentional - what a great way to earn even more free press that says “whoa, this app is so popular they can't even handle all the demand.”
I don't know that for a fact, but I kind of suspect that they weren’t mad their servers went down. Just such a great ad. I recall an ad, and I want to say it was this company called buy.com who were an Amazon competitor in the late nineties before the.com bust. I'm pretty sure that they had a Superbowl ad that was actually quite similar. Obviously, QR codes were not a thing then, but I just remember them having an ad that was 30 seconds of silence and just their logo. And then a guy came on as a voiceover at the very end and said something along the lines of “we know you're getting too much in your commercial breaks, we just thought we'd give you 30 seconds of relaxing vibes.” I still remember that ad 20 some odd years later. Coinbase’s ad, even though it was a little bit different, was quite similar. It was very understated, literally just a QR code bouncing around. It's taking a different approach than everyone else. Everyone else's Superbowl ads are paying some massive celebrity, $10 million and they're riding around on a horse or doing something crazy. It's just this overproduced spectacle, and of course that's fun, but when you're thinking about how to break through that noise and not just be one of a hundred of those same ads, you do something like Coinbase
On a larger level, we recently brought on McDonald's as a client through our direct sales team. As a brand, the stuff that they've been doing in music over the past maybe 18 months, first with Travis Scott and later with other artists, has just been incredible. They, more than any other brand, have their finger on the pulse of what artists are driving and coming up with pretty unique ad campaigns. There's been multiple stories with multiple artists that they've worked with where they will build a custom menu item or a meal and it breaks the supply chain and sells so well - they run out of fries or they run out of burgers.
"That's a pretty good problem to have if you're a marketer - if you're breaking your supply chain, you did your job."
- Dave Edwards, SVP Revenue at Audiomack
We have not advised McDonalds, but when we work with other brands on a direct basis, a big part of what we try to do is help them understand the music space, understand which artists to work with, who has real engagement versus just a large social following, etc. That's always something you have to really watch out for. Something that we see in music, is that it’s not the artist who has 50 million followers who is the best partnership. Very often, especially if you're trying to reach that Gen Z demo, it's actually someone who might have 50,000 or 150,000 and their fan base, even though it technically looks smaller, is so rabidly engaged with everything they do that you will get much more value out of it and you're typically backing a creator who needs that support.
That’s something that I think a lot of brands could learn from - really trying to understand the market they're operating in and not getting too caught up on those high level, social numbers, like followers, and trying to understand who is going to drive the most engagement.