Q. You’ve been working behind the scenes with ReverbNation for a few years now, but your recent efforts are paying off in a pretty public way. Before we talk more about that, tell us a little about your background.
A. I started out as an Artist in the UK, where I’m from. I got signed, but I didn’t become famous (insert self-deprecating British smile and shrug here), so I gave up my dream and went to law school. Then I went straight back to music, but this time I was writing and producing for other Artists. I was lucky enough to have a lot of success, but eventually I realized that I wanted to develop my own acts instead of writing for other people.
I co-founded a company called Archangel Media, and that’s what I was doing when I first heard about ReverbNation and met Mike (Doernberg, ReverbNation CEO and co-founder).
A mutual friend introduced us hoping that I could help ReverbNation explore a licensing initiative. The conversation we started, honestly, is still going on today. It’s a conversation about the relationship between art and business, music and technology. It’s not only fascinating — it’s the future.
Q. Between streaming services and YouTube, DIY recording software and social media music integrations, it’s easy to see that tech and music are related. So what makes the tech+music conversations at ReverbNation unique?
A. Until recently, tech companies have existed in tandem to the music industry. That’s because both sides intuitively saw the world in different ways.
As a result, the world’s seen a lot of tech companies with failed music initiatives. And a lot of music companies with failed tech initiatives.
What’s different now at ReverbNation is that Mike and I have forged a level of trust that acts as a strong bridge between our two worlds. He’s learned to trust my music perspective, even though it’s not intuitive for him. And I’ve learned to trust his tech perspective, even though that’s not intuitive for me. The important point is trust.
Q. So what’s the tangible result of that trust? What problem can ReverbNation solve now, that others haven’t?
A. Tech innovation has helped Artists record and distribute music; it’s helped them post and share as well. But it didn’t necessarily help them gain opportunities or bankable exposure. That’s because the economics of the music industry struggled with the sheer scale of content available online, across thousands of sources globally. This sea of new music created a burden on traditional scouting networks that were already stretched to the breaking point.
This sea of new music created a burden on traditional scouting networks that were already stretched to the breaking point.
Look at it this way: technology democratized access, but it didn’t democratize talent. There’s still, presumably, the same number of hyper-talented Artists out there. But with so much music, so much “noise,” how can a brand, a label, a booking agent, or anyone, find the very best?
A couple of years ago, Mike and I started looking closely at this problem. We looked at the ReverbNation universe. With 50,000 new Artists joining ReverbNation every month, on top of the millions already here, we realized that we were uniquely positioned to solve the problem of Artist discovery in the digital age. But we had to solve the curation challenge — that is, whether we could devise a method to identify the most promising Artists early in their careers, despite our scale. After a long process of research and development, we arrived at the system we now employ.
Q. We know that there are millions of songs on ReverbNation right now and another 150,000 are added each month. Describe that “curation” process. How do you find the best?
A. That’s the big question we worked on in the research phase. As a tech company, quite naturally, we began by looking for a purely tech solution. Not least because we probably have more proprietary data about more Artists than any other music company. But pretty quickly it became evident that complex algorithms could never completely replace an experienced human ear. But again, we knew that a traditional A&R method — scouts in 50 markets going to shows each night — was impractical.
We realized that we needed passionate people listening with passion to find music that had passion as its main component. But we had to create a manageable amount of music. We worked out a way to layer the human component on top of our data analysis and ultimately, that balanced hybrid approach is what worked.
Q. ReverbNation has always been — and remains — a platform open to all Artists, not just the best or most promising. How does this process of discovery affect those Artists that aren’t identified by your process?
A. That’s true. As a company, we’ve always been agnostic and let Artists speak for themselves. What Mike and I realized, however, was that for us to offer Artists value in today’s music economy, we had to come down off the fence and identify those with real potential.
We recognize that music is art, and like most art forms, it takes time and dedication to get to where you’re going. The fact that an Artist might not be ready for exposure to a wider audience today does not mean that they won’t be ready in the future. Bottom line: As long as an Artist keeps creating, keeps working, we’ll keep listening.
Bottom line: As long as an Artist keeps creating, keeps working, we’ll keep listening.
Q. At the beginning of this interview, I mentioned that your efforts are themselves getting more exposure. Can you tell us more about that?
A. I don’t want to say too much yet, but I can tell you that we’ve had many discussions with labels, publishers, radio personnel, and other industry players and that they’re very interested and impressed with the results of our efforts. Now they’re contacting us with specific requests — an electronic Artist with this type of style, a country singer in this mold, jam bands for a festival lineup. Using our curation-at-scale methodology, we’re able to hand a label or a promoter not thousands of Artists to sift through…but dozens of great Artists to choose from. And that’s only the beginning.
Have a question Simon? Let us know in the comments below.