Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

What are we going to do about the data skyscrapers?

The music industry has more data than it can handle – and therein lies the problem

Fri, May 9, 2014, 09:53


You don’t hear much about the European Union wine lakes or butter mountains anymore. Once upon a time, such colourful expressions were used to describe just how much surplus food and drink was around Europe as a result of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The music industry too has always had its lakes and mountains – those one-off releases from acts who subsequently disappeared without a trace, for example – and its current surplus of choice is probably data. And like those European civil servants when it comes to excesses of food and drink, most music industry people don’t have a clue what to do with it.

The problem is that there is no clear, defineable way to turn spreadsheets of tweets, plays, views, fans, followers, friends, subscibers and likes into sales. You’ve just got data – lots and lots of it – and people who are still a little unsure what it all means.

We know that you can’t quite equate thousands of followers on Twitter to a long-term, sustainable career. It will help, but it’s just a sign and not the solution. The spark still has to be there – and that spark means amazing songs which will resonate with an audience and charm them to come your way.

While data will help to kick things on, it can’t and won’t start that process and get the project off the ground. You don’t become a fan of a band because you like their data mining skills. You become a fan because you dig the songs they’re creating and you can’t rely on data to do that.

There’s always going to be a question of oversupply in an age of plenty. The question for the music industry is how to keep a focus in a world where the amount of data is doubling every 18 months.