Do music release A&Rs miss obvious hitmaking signatures because they lack the same digital tools that record labels have access to?
Travis Rosenblatt, founder and inventor of the data-driven talent scouting app Meddling, is convinced of this.
Since its inception in 2015, Meddling has been used by a number of large music companies (and mini music companies) to weed out emerging artists – including Republic Records, Kobalt, Columbia Records, and Atlantic Records.
Now, Rosenblatt has developed a special version of Meddling just for publishers that uses the platform’s core detection and tracking capabilities to eradicate unreleased songwriters with potential (and established) hits on their hands.
“There are more than 20 unreleased songwriters in the [US] Top 100 right now, ”claims Rosenblatt in the MBW interview below, suggesting that most publishers are still relying on the same talent spotting method that labels preferred 10 years ago to“ get a highlighter on the charts apply “.
Meddling For Publishers is currently being tested by leading companies like Concord, APG, Kobalt, and Nettwerk – and even the most sensible and experienced A&R are being won over.
“Travis and Meddling are always innovating the way music and data are connected,” said Mike Caren, CEO of APG. “Meddling for Publishers encourages this and opens the door for publishers to quickly and easily make the available songwriters visible.”
The most exciting prospect for Rosenblatt, however, isn’t that publishers are using sophisticated A&R tools like Meddling. It’s what he expects for the music business after these publishers learn to use such a weapon.
If publishers start using data tools to increasingly get record labels to sign up for emerging talent, Rosenblatt said, they will offer the same “checkbook plus endorsement” appeal that modern record labels rely on. “As a result,” he predicts, “[artist] Lawyers will be going to the editors more often to do these crucial initial reviews – and as a result, will be more comfortable sticking to label deals. “
Rosenblatt shouldn’t be a technical inventor. At least that wasn’t the plan. In his early career, he held A&R roles at Warner Bros Records, 300 Entertainment, and Mom + Pop – but eventually got fired from all three. (“I only worked 48 hours at Mom + Pop,” explains Rosenblatt.
“Travis and Meddling are always innovating the way music and data connect.”
Mike Caren, APG
Rosenblatt, a digital native who relied heavily on blogs and download charts during his A&R days, didn’t let his rejection of the triple A&R career beat him. Instead, he embodied the Kara Swisher line: “Consensual people don’t invent things.”
Inspired by Stephen Phillips of ex-Twitter Music / We Are Hunted to learn how to code, Rosenblatt began putting together a data-driven tool that emerged from his frustration as an A&R manager and was to become Meddling. He showed the prototype to a number of companies in 2015 (“after six years on A&R and zero hits”) in the hope that they would want to hire it on their A&R teams.
Instead, two of them – Atlantic Records and Universal Music Group – offered to pay Rosenblatt to simply use the service. (UMG is now using Meddling for the sixth time in a row, says Rosenblatt – with the understandable pride of someone who continues to run a lean business without external investments.)
Since that early prototype, Meddling has made leaps and bounds in the amount of data it processes and the calibration of the secret sauce it uses to make recommendations to its customers to sign.
Here, Rosenblatt MBW explains why he believes data-driven A&R will revolutionize music publishing, and offers his – sometimes empty, sometimes excited – view of the artist development industry in 2021 and beyond …
Interference for publishers is an interesting addition. What are the options for pubcos looking for unsigned writers?
There are more than 20 unreleased songwriters in the [US] Top 100 at the moment.
Publishers haven’t had access to the same tools for discovering songwriters that labels have been using for years to find new artists. You’re still in the “Apply Highlighter To The Charts” mode that Labels used 10 years ago.
There’s a great opportunity here to put A&R on the front line. Publishers and labels can now also view trending published writers to set up co-writes, sessions and camps.
How might publishing businesses with access to this type of data develop in the future?
Private equity, thirsty for uncorrelated assets, and a few key players – you know who they are! – will continue to promote the publication of catalog multipliers.
Everyone else in the publishing industry will decide that it’s cheaper to overpay for a few important deals that have the power to make their corporate brands “cool” for new artist / songwriters – and so they can be both a checkbook and endorsement for them act hot new talent.
As a result, attorneys will be going to the editors more frequently to do these crucial initial reviews and, as a result, will be more comfortable doing label deals.
How have your last 12 months as a company with the world label A & Rs developed, which has mostly stayed at home?
Meddling ended in 2020 with a little less than four times the number of customers it had started the year with.
“Over the past year, digital artist discovery has become the norm due to the sudden and utter lack of alternatives.”
When I started this company in 2015, almost every A&R told me that they had ears of gold and could hear hits while they slept, so they just had no use for data. I still think most of this derision is due to a misunderstanding of “A&R Research” as a no-talent, pure numbers bet, rather than just another helpful path of discovery for artists.
Over the past year, the discovery of digital artists has become the norm due to the sudden and utter lack of alternatives. Now that the A&Rs got into it, I believe they have seen an explosion in the numbers of undiscovered artists out there – and computers can be used to make their lives easier and make sure they have them all under control .
How did the TikTok explosion affect Meddling – and how does the industry find and sign talent in your opinion?
On the plus side, absolutely everyone is aware that a record they’ve never heard of can break at some point and that they need to figure out how to pay attention to what’s going on on the virtual streets.
Unfortunately, I think everyone has jumped into that fact, and we are now overdue for a correction on what the industry should do with a “viral hit” from TikTok – and how much money to throw on it.
“We are now overdue for a fix on what the industry should do with a hit TikTok virus – and how much money to spend on it.”
The data flow rises. The presidents of the label have learned to stop asking which records “research” and have a more nuanced understanding of how to read trends. It is also crucial that they have a more nuanced understanding of what to ignore.
Everyone slows down on the freeway to investigate the car accident. The internet, an attention economy, interpreted this to mean that we want to be constantly fed with car accidents. It doesn’t. And that definitely doesn’t mean you should sign the car accident.
What do you expect for some of the key developments / changes in the world of A&R in the months and years to come?
Now that everyone – and not just the shaky children’s labels that used to be in the corner – are involved in “A&R Research”, this division will look more like “digital A&R reporting” … similar to what everyone traditionally had here senior A&R attorney designated attorneys he had to take out to dinner once a month to make sure his department was up to speed.
“I think we’ll see a company finally figure out how to bridge the widening gap between DIY sales and the full traditional label deal on a large scale soon.”
I think we’ll see a company finally figure out how to bridge the widening gap between DIY sales and the full traditional label deal on a large scale soon. The combination of Orchard and AWAL from Sony and the new Downtown service focus led by DashGo are both on the right track. I hope this creates enough cracks in the ecosystem to re-oxygenate the indie labels.
Speaking of how A&R might play out, what developments do you expect / want to see in the streaming platforms that will be used as a source of artist discovery in the future?
I would love if the platforms saw themselves as sources of artist discovery rather than just song discovery. Spotify pays lip service to the concept of artist / songwriter discovery every few years (Rise, Radar, Secret Genius, Noteable), but its core platform – and that of everyone else apart from Bandcamp – is based more on song consumption than consumption of albums or the engagement of artists.
“Spotify pays lip service to the concept of artist / songwriter discovery every few years, but its core platform – and that of everyone else apart from Bandcamp – is based on song consumption rather than artist engagement.”
I suspect that misaligned incentives will keep us from getting to the point where deeper artist engagement with the major streaming platforms becomes a priority as they ultimately only care about the time you are in the app spend.
But that doesn’t mean that a vertical label community can’t step in to fill the void with their own solution – um, Vevo!
Or just let me have Oinks Pink Palace back. In any case.
How do you react to those who suggest that tools like Meddling promote an A&R culture of tracks that are more at the heart of the industry than artist development?
I can guarantee that everyone is frustrated with the lack of artistic development, including the labels. I think Daniel Ek is telling the artists to change the way they release music to better match Spotify’s recommendation algorithms.
“As a big label, A&R, recently told me, 12-year-olds break records overnight. Why the hell can’t we? ‘”
The traditional industry is no longer in control of the consumer experience and is catching up as much as the artists. A big label, A&R, recently told me, “12 year olds break records overnight. Why the hell can’t we? “
Do you think we can get anything from the recent explosion in NFT interest in the music business?
I think it clearly shows us that people are desperately looking for better ways to connect with the artists they love.
Since NFT is a useful infrastructure tool, we as an industry need to solve much more fundamental copyright issues before Where The Information Gets Kept can become a useful innovation.Music business worldwide