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Why Streaming Algorithms Keep Getting Better

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The music discovery pendulum is swinging further and further away from humans. We went from radio DJs and MTV VJs, to the blog era curators and streaming playlist editors. Now, Spotify editorial playlists like RapCaviar don’t have as much power as they once did to break new artists. Look at this 2018 article I wrote on RapCaviar that I got completely wrong. A lot has changed since then!

Now, those curators have seized ground to algorithms controlled by TikTok, Spotify, and all their competitors.

Every digital streaming provider has a treasure trove of data on their deep catalogs and how their users interact with each song. This same data, along with their relentless A/B testing, has upped the effectiveness of personalized algorithms to keep users on the platform.

Ari Herstand, founder of Ari’s Take, said the same thing in our podcast episode.

“The algorithm has gotten a lot better at learning people’s music tastes better than any singular playlist editor.”

Many artists are less concerned with playlist placement and more concerned with gaming the algorithm. The waterfall release strategy is an example of that. This tactic strings together album singles (sometimes over many months) until the whole album is released — without losing any stream counts. SZA did something similar with SOS, which led to the biggest streaming week ever for an R&B album.

Ari believes that algorithmic shift works in favor of independent artists who may not have the ear of the top playlist editors, but have a better chance to show up in one of your Spotify Mixes. There are a limited number of human-curated playlists, but an endless number of personalized algorithmic mixes that can match an artist’s needs. It’s a numbers game, and numbers games benefit indies who are less reliant on gatekeepers.

the Twitter Spaces growth hack

When I think about the pandemic bull run, I often think about the EtherRock NFT that sold for $1.7 million. That’s when we should have known that shit was about to hit the fan.

But there were less discussed signals too, like Latin country artist Sammy Arriaga, who made $250,000 by selling NFTs to complete strangers.

When Sammy was dropped by Sony, he leaned so heavily into NFTs that he made a song called “MetaGirls.” To promote the song, Sammy joined web3-focused Twitter Spaces to find users who were already bullish on NFTs. He raised his hands in each Space, told listeners that he is an artist who uses NFTs right now, then he played them the song in the Twitter Spaces, pinned his tweet to the top of the chat, and directed listeners to buy the NFTs. He sold the song to the web3 diehards on Twitter, most of whom weren’t true fans, didn’t know him before, but wanted to collect NFTs at the height of the frenzy.

Props to Sammy. It’s an impressive hustle that made perfect sense in a world with zero interest rates and crazy spending.

Those days are gone, but both Ari and I are still optimistic about the future for artists.

“I don’t see web3 slowing down anytime. I still see this is where we, as a digital society, is heading.”

the pyramid of investment

The “pyramid of investment” is Ari’s method for artists to think about fanbase segmentation:

Source: Ari’s Take

It’s similar to an inverted version of Trapital’s artist sales funnel.

The bottom tier of the pyramid has the largest number of fans. These fans don’t proactively spend direct money on the artist, but they stream their music or follow them on social media. The higher a fan is on the pyramid, the more invested that fan is in the artist’s success. The middle of the pyramid is for fans who bought tickets or merch, but the top is for the VIPs.

“You’re gonna have fans at every level and you want to make sure you cater to all, don’t exclude some.”

We talked about Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans theory, and how this adds context. What’s more realistic is a handful of VIP and fan club members, hundreds of crowd funders and buyers, thousands of concertgoers and tippers, and tens of thousands of streamers. The larger the artist is, the larger all those numbers get, but they all stay in proportion.

But the dollar amount spent at particular moments doesn’t always line up with each tier. A fan who supports a Kickstarter campaign could easily spend $1000 one time, but still be in the middle tier of investment. But a fan who subscribes to an artist’s Patreon, even if it’s just $10 or $20 per month, will sit higher up the pyramid given the nature of the purchase and the overall expected lifetime value of the fan.

Ari and I covered a bunch of topics that are in the new third edition of his book, How To Make It In The New Music Business. We talked about how artists structure their teams, how Ari runs his businesses and more.

Listen to the full episode here.

[3:10] Waterfall release method infiltrating Spotify

[8:15] Music discovery power shifting away from human, toward algorithms 

[11:40] DSP’s purposely pulling power away from playlist editors

[19:21] TikTok isn’t for every artist

[21:26] Evolving team structure of an indie artist 

[27:55] Role of music NFTs

[31:44] How Sammy Arriaga sold $250k of NFTs to non-fans

[40:02] The Pyramid of investment 

[49:10] Ari the musician vs. Ari the educator 

[50:05] Updated version of How To Make It In New Music Business book

 

 

TRANSCRIPTION:

[00:00:00] ARI HERSTAND

I’m not a good recording engineer and I’m not a producer. So that’s another team member that I’m going to hire when I make a record. Like I’m not Finneas. I’m not going to make a record in my bedroom. Like I can’t do that. And that’s not what I want to do. Like honestly, that doesn’t inspire me. What inspires me is to make music with other people.

[00:00:26] DAN RUNCIE INTRO

Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more who are taking hip-hop culture to the next level.

[00:01:36] DAN RUNCIE

Today’s episode is a playbook for all the indie artists out there. I had a great conversation with Ari Herstand, who is a musician himself, and he’s also the founder of Ari’s Take, which is his education business that focuses on how artists can make it today, especially indie artists. How indie artists can make it today in the new music business. And that’s actually the title of the third edition of this upcoming book. Ari and I talked a lot about some of the new and updated insights that he has in this edition of the book, specifically around streaming, and how artists are starting to favor and prefer focusing on algorithms and how that can get them more listeners and where playlists currently sit with artists prioritizing them. And we also talk about NFTs, TikTok, and Ari’s concept in the book called the Pyramid of Investment. This is a great conversation for anyone that wants to better understand the music industry, especially for the growing segment of independent artists that are carving their lanes out for themselves. Here’s the episode. Hope you enjoy it.

[00:01:48] DAN RUNCIE

All right, today we are joined by Ari Herstand, who is the author of his new book that’s coming out, how to make it in the new music business. He’s an artist himself, and I was lucky enough to be a guest on his podcast a couple months back. So Ari, it’s great to have you on. And congrats on the book coming up.

[00:02:06] ARI HERSTAND

Yeah, thanks, Dan. Thank you. Thank you. Very exciting. The third edition and get ramped up for that. But it’s great to be here with you today. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:17] DAN RUNCIE

Yeah, definitely. And I know for you, one of the big topics of the book is just how artists continue to evolve with how they’re releasing music, how they’re paying attention to what’s going on with streaming right now. I feel like you have a good vantage point for this because you’re doing so much of this yourself with your own releases. What are some of the big changes? Because I know that everything post-pandemic has been a little different, and now we’re heading into this new phase right now with the new year. What’s the big thing for you that you’re seeing with the evolution?

[00:09:07] ARI HERSTAND

Right. So every artist needs to ask themselves what their intentions are with their release. And so, you know, the beautiful thing about the new music business and the scary and daunting thing about the new music business is there really isn’t a right or a wrong way to do anything. There is the right and wrong way for you. And that could be the wrong way for me. So everyone, you know, it’s based on your intentions and what your goals are for the release. If we just go, you know, more in the mainstream realm or let’s just say your intention is to be successful on Spotify. Because that’s a metric that most artists these days are kind of using to gauge the success of their release. And they want to have the best chance of, you know, grabbing that Spotify, being being blessed by the Spotify God, I guess. So to do that, there is a very specific release strategy that has been studied and now tested and now used by everyone from Lizzo and Krungman to Maggie Rogers to Robert Glassberg. And that’s the waterfall release method. And Indie artists, you know, that are just releasing their first few singles are using this as well. I mean, this is the waterfall release method. And I’ll break this down a little bit on what this means. This has started to get used a few years ago, but it really picked up last year in 2022. And now 2023 is I think going to be the year of the waterfall. But basically what it is is that, you know, you release singles leading up to the album. That has been happening for years now. However, here’s what gets a little bit more where where it gets a nuance on how those singles are released. It’s you don’t just release a single song anymore as a single. You release your first single one song. That’s just the one song released one second now your second single is that the new song is track number one. And the previous single that you released is track number two. So it’s technically your second single, but it’s kind of like a two song album. If you really go that way, if you’re tuning it up, if you’re an artist is to the artist asking this all the time. Well, how do I do this in my district? back end or whatever, like doing it’s a two song album. And the way that the streams maintain for the previous single and that you don’t lose your playlist inclusion, all that stuff is you use the same highest or C number. And so it’s if you use the same highest or C number that used when you released that track, a month prior, it will be identical stream counts. And then a month later, you release your third single, but that’s now a three track album. You know track number one is the new single track number two is the single you release a month ago and track number three is the is the single you release two months ago. And as long again, use the same highest or C numbers, it’ll be included in the same playlist. They will be identical tracks, wherever they’re included on people’s algorithm, personal playlists, all that stuff. You can do this. People are doing five or six singles that way. And then the album and this release method, you know, this could take eight months, essentially, if you want to do one single every four to six weeks, and then the album. How you can kind of look at it, is you’re building the album. And so it doesn’t have to go on order, you can pick whatever order you want based on your singles. And then the final album is the album order, no correlation doesn’t have to be the single order, you can pick whatever order you want each time. The track art can be different each time. I’ve seen it, people do different single art for each release. I’ve seen people just use the album cover for every release. So you know, at the end, you might have like six singles released that each have a few different songs on them. And then the full album, some people pull those previous singles down. So if they want to get a clean discography going up there, you just have a final album at the end of the day. And the previous singles with like the two song album, a three-song album, the four-song album before they pull those down. But you’re not going to lose any playlists, you’re not going to lose any stream counts because you’re using same iris to scene numbers each time. So that is a release method, and the reason people are doing it this way is for the Spotify algorithm because Spotify likes to have regular releases. And if you send somebody say, hey, here’s my new song and you send them the link, they’re going to listen to that song. Now, if there’s nothing, no other songs following that song to listen to, after your song finishes, Spotify is going to recommend them something to listen to or they’re going to jump off and listen to something else. Now, if you give them the songs to listen to that after your previous releases, they’ll stick around and keep listening to it. So the reason people are doing this is for the Spotify algorithm, but also to keep their fans engaged. So like say, here’s your single number four and they listen to it and like, oh, cool. What now? I’m going to go back to listening to my favorite artist. Unless you have singles three, two, and one also there. And like, oh, I’ll just keep listening to the other songs on this essential playlist. You think of it, whatever you want, a four-song album, a four-song single, a playlist of your new singles. However, you want to think of it, the user is just thinking, oh, I’m clicking on this link or new music Friday, or I’m in my release radar. I see this new single come out by this new artist I like. And then Spotify is going to start to recommend those songs through the algorithm. And the best thing about continuing to release the and the waterfall method is like those previous singles stay included in release radar. So this is like what has been figured out by labels and managers and artists over the last few years. And based on what Spotify wants to see and basically what they’re being rewarded for with the algorithm from Spotify. And you know, I think a few years ago, everybody was chasing the playlist editors and like, oh my gosh, if I can just get included in the rap caviar, then like I’m set forever. Whatever the playlist inclusion, the editorial playlists are not as powerful right now as the algorithmic playlists are. That is a big change. Is like three, four years ago, people were like, oh, it’s all about the official editorial. Now you want to trigger that algorithm because that is now personalizing every single user’s playlist based on what Spotify thinks that user likes to hear. And you want to get your songs included in that. And people are just letting Spotify feed them now based on the algorithm versus seeking out playlist

[00:09:27] DAN RUNCIE

And why do you think that that shift happened from the playlist prioritization to the algorithm? Was it something internal with Spotify or is it just a natural decline in the power of playlist?

[00:11:40] ARI HERSTAND

Yeah, I mean, the main thing is is let’s think about what Spotify’s intentions and goals are. Their goals are to keep users on their platform as long as possible. And they’ve discovered that if you feed users songs that they want to hear and have a higher success rate of them continuing to listen and stay on Spotify, then they’re going to follow that. Then Spotify is going to do more of that. So they’ve been AB in this for years. They’re like, OK, do people stick on our platform on Spotify longer by listening to our editorial playlists that human beings employed by Spotify are creating? Or do they stick on our platform longer by the algorithmic playlists that are internal robots are curating for them, the algorithm is curating for them. And what they found is that people are sticking around longer with the algorithmic playlists. So they’re now doing more of that and realizing that this is what it is engaging users to stay on Spotify longer, because that’s what users prefer. The algorithm has gotten a lot better at learning people’s tastes, music tastes, than any singular playlist editor. And the other thing is, when we’re talking about indie artists, is that why indie artists need to refocus their efforts into more of the algorithmic lane versus the editor lane, is that playlist editors, I mean, it’s like playing the lottery to try to get an official Spotify editorial playlist. For one, with 100,000 songs being uploaded every day, you have a very, very hard chance of getting selected being one of those songs that is going to get included on. The very select few Spotify editorial playlist spots. But the algorithm, there’s billions, literally billions of playlists that theoretically that they can put you on, or the algorithm will insert you into various people’s radios or discover weekly or whatever. You have a much better chance of getting there. And then if users respond, well, do your song there. I mean, you pop up on someone’s discover weekly, and they click save. I like this song. I want to hear more of it, and they don’t skip it. That sends signals back to the Spotify algorithm, like, oh, this song is performing well. Let’s try it in more algorithmic labels. Let’s try it in more radio. Let’s try it in more of these. And then theoretically, you’ll just get included more and more, and then it’ll just kind of snowball onto itself.

[00:12:46] DAN RUNCIE

Yeah, I think the algorithm getting better, that what you mentioned, is likely one of the big drivers of this, because if I think back to the days of, let’s say, like the mid 2010s, the algorithm still felt a bit similar to those old Pandora algorithms where after the seventh song, you start hearing the same thing over and over. And if you’re comparing that to, let’s say, what Tuma Basa was doing at Rap Caviar at the time that, of course, yeah, I think Tuma is going to be the better curator of what you have. But if you’re shifting things to now, where these algorithms just get better and better and better, then, and I think as well, over time, a lot of the playlist also had that alert. There was a bit of the, oh, this is the new radio. This is this, but then, yeah, when the playlist is better and better, even as a Spotify user over time, you can see that, okay, they do have a better sense for where things are. So naturally, it did shift the behavior. And I think you kind of saw this more broadly with, you know, outside of music as well, with movies or TV shows and other things. I think the algorithms do get better over time.

[00:16:02] ARI HERSTAND

Oh, absolutely. Yes, we’re seeing that, you know, absolutely across the board with Netflix and Hulu and Prime and all that stuff. But, I mean, you bring up a good point about, you know, the human and the human playlist editors and what, you know, the power has shifted away from these playlist editors in part because Spotify is pulling the power from that. Because, you know, they’re not giving the playlist editors free reign. It’s kind of like if we can compare it to, you know, radio stations back on the day that the DJs had the power and they could play whatever they wanted. And that was like, you know, when the 70s and the 80s and maybe even a little bit into the 90s, you know, the DJs could play whatever they wanted. And they were all powerful because that’s how people discovered music. Then Clear Channel took over and bought up all the radio stations and was like, oh, guess what? These are the only songs that you’re allowed to play now. Here’s the list. And then every week Clear Channel would update that list and send the list to all the DJs and say, you can choose, but you have to play these songs. So then the DJs became less powerful because that power was removed away from them by the overlords, which was the owners of the station, which was Clear Channel. The same thing has started to happen on Spotify. The editors used to be the all powerful DJs. They used to be all powerful playlist editors. Now they’re overlords, they’re owners, Spotify has come to them and be like, well, guess what? Your playlist is not keeping people on this, on Spotify and on the playlist long enough anymore. So you’re only allowed to do three new songs a week. And in those three songs don’t really perform well, then you’re either gonna lose your job or you’re not going to have the liberty to choose the song anymore. And of those three songs, they actually have to be from this list, which is the song that have already been pre-tested on the algorithmic side. So it’s kind of like we see the same thing as it’s like, instead of clear channel dictating the list based on their private marketing rooms and studies with surveys of listeners like they used to do when they would test songs with radio with market groups, now Spotify’s testing songs with the algorithm and then they send those songs to the editors and be like, okay, these songs are proven. So when Tua was selecting the song for Rap Caviar, he was at the start of it. But as it got later on and on and what’s happening with today’s topics with Rap Caviar and all of them, he’s just not one person anymore that’s shooting. I mean, when Troy Carter was at Spotify and kind of in charge of all this, he said this and this was mind you four or five years ago, this was happening to them. It’s like with those big, big playlists, he’s like, it’s no one person that is deciding this. These songs are tested and then we decide that it was going to go into those big playlists. But now that’s happening on every playlist top to bottom.

[00:16:25] DAN RUNCIE

Right. And circling back to what you had said at the beginning that this, of course, is shifting artists to that focus on how they’re releasing music, the waterfall strategy, but tweaking that specifically for what they’re doing with singles leading up to the album. But I also have to assume that to a certain extent, some of this does become table stakes in that everyone, as you mentioned, is doing it that knows what they’re doing right, whether it’s you or it’s Lizzo or others. So once that’s kind of the lay of the land, are there additional things that, you know, artists that you’re at least suggesting that artists should or shouldn’t be doing or at that point does become more and more dependent on things that are independent of the release, whether it’s the artists fandom, the quality of the music and so on.

[00:19:21] ARI HERSTAND

Absolutely. And this goes back to the intentions. And so, you know, it’s no secret that in 2020, 2021, if even a bit last year in 2022, the Tiktok was, you know, a massive driver of streams. And so it’s like, for some artists, that was where they found success. But, you know, and this is where we get into what are your intentions and who is your fan base? If you’re making kind of straight ahead rock and roll, that’s going to appeal to like 35 year old plus or you’re making like throwback traditional R&B, that’s similarly going to appeal to a 35 – 40 year old audience and up. Your marketing methods should not be Tiktok. So like if somebody’s like, oh, you got to do a Tiktok, well, like, no, you don’t have to do it. You know, you have to understand who your audience is, if your audience is on Tiktok, then maybe. And if your music that you make could be tiktokified, it’s like, you know, it’s like it’s funny, you know, and all that and with Lizzo’s song About Damn Time. You know, the thing that went viral on Tiktok was like the seven seconds of the first line of the second verse. It’s like the most random shit that catches on Tiktok that you just like don’t even know and oftentimes it’s just like, you just never know what’s going to catch or not. And it’s like, so yes, Tiktok that can be a strategy. Absolutely. And it’s like buying lottery tickets. So like the more you post, the more, you know, tickets that you’re buying the higher profitability you have of something catching and then people using that bit, of course, there’s deeper strategies that you can implore if you really want to study this. If you’re like Tiktok is the method and the way that I want to go, totally like you can, you can work influencer marketing. That means, you know, get hundreds of influencers with varying audience sizes, micro influencers, macro, whatever kind of budget you have, pay them a little bit of money to use your song or your snippet of your song, your 15 seconds of your song in their video. Have everybody do it in the same week. And hopefully that gives you a chance that inspires more people to use that same 15 seconds in their videos. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s kind of like back in the day, you know, when labels would work a radio campaign and spend $300,000 on promoting a single at radio. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes you lost $300,000. And that’s what we’re seeing right now with influencer marketing campaigns because Tiktok is so fickle and random that you don’t know if it’s going to work. And if you spend $100,000 on an influencer market, so that is one way.

[00:19:38] DAN RUNCIE

Yeah, I think the Lizzo point is key with that because I know that she spent and her team spent a lot of time focused on trying to make that whole album special pop on Tiktok. So to your point, the fact that they probably thought it would have been the bad bitch of clock live but then ends up being a completely different line that ends up going completely viral because don’t know how exactly it’s gonna go but the fact that the team put in work means that something was able to pop there.

[00:21:26] ARI HERSTAND

The beauty of TikTok is that you can test and test and test and test and test for free, especially like indie artists are doing this all the time. So like yes, Lizzo has millions of dollars behind her and a full team of people that can do this. I’m seeing this with indie artists doing this all the time where they’re just testing on their own, you know, they’ll post a few videos a day or a week or whatever with different snippets of their line, of their songs rather, and seeing which ones respond best. And then like, oh, okay, it’s this part of the song. Like, you know, if they were Lizzo, they were like, oh, it’s the first line of the second verse responded better than the other previous 15 snippets that I posted over the last three weeks. So let me do 10 more videos of just that first line of the second verse and see if it was a fluke or if this is actually about a pattern that I’m on to something and they’re like, oh, that is what’s connecting. And like, oh my gosh, 20 people just posted videos using that the first line of the second verse and they’re like, all right, let’s keep doing that. And then you kind of, you know, this is how you discover what work is just trial and error, whether you have a label of, you know, 20 social media experts doing this and a million dollars behind it to like, throw gasoline on the fire by hiring influencers to do this. Or if you yourself and your best friend in your bedroom figuring this out, it’s the same strategy.

[00:21:46] DAN RUNCIE

Yeah, that makes sense. And especially with the fact that Indie artists can tweak it, it is free to essentially tweak on TikTok. But I’m curious to hear your opinion on just how the Indie artists specifically can have the ideal team structure. Cause like we said, on one end, you have Lizzo’s million dollars behind you on the other end, you have, yeah, it’s you and maybe your friend can help you do this. But somewhere in the middle is that successful Indie artists that doesn’t have the, you know, major record label resources, but it’s still tweaking things. So even if we think a bit more broader than social media, what does that team look like? Like maybe even for yourself, like what does that team structure look like to make sure you have all the pieces in place to run a successful Indie business?

[00:27:12] ARI HERSTAND

Totally. I mean, it’s a great question. And I talk about this in the book. I’ve updated the new team. I call it the new team. Because there’s been the traditional team that’s been around for decades. And that’s what everybody understands. Like your art manager, your personal manager, your record label, your booking agent, your publicist, your attorney, you know, a publisher like this. That’s the traditional team that, you know, you’ll read about in the other music business both written by lawyers that were written 30 years ago. Most in the industry on that level, they haven’t really updated that team. But when it really comes down to what we’re looking about in the new music business with Indie artists, especially before you get those big players on your team, you still have to run your own business yourself. And sometimes we’ve seen a lot of NDRs that don’t ever want a record label. And that’s totally fine. So, you don’t need that scene, remember necessarily. But what you do need is to be putting out regular content that’s representative of who you are as an artist. And so what does that require? Well, it requires video content. Okay, you need someone on your team that can make really good video content. If that’s you, cool. But sometimes it’s not the artist. And so having someone on the team that’s good at video, videographer, whatever, an editor, that is a key number of the new team that is extremely necessary. Say with a photographer, you know, it’s really important to kind of have regular, new high quality photos or any kind of photos, whether it’s your, you know, candid photos when you’re around, when you’re on tour, photos from the stage, from behind you with the audience there showing what you’re about, promo photos, press photos. So like a photographer. It doesn’t need to be a full time member on the team, but I think doing regular photoshoots and having people that are regularly pumping out photos. Again, it doesn’t need to be as formal as like a record label or a team member like that. It’s like, oh, you’re my best friend. You have a new iPhone and you’re really good at taking photos. Let’s like take a lot of photos all the time and continue to post them. And that counts too, you know, and same with like a designer, like a graphic designer, you know, there’s so many used cases where graphic design is gonna be necessary, whether it’s designing your album cover or it’s merch items or it’s show posters or, you know, any other cases where you need something design. Again, it doesn’t need to be a full time member of the team. It could be someone you enlist over Upwork that you hire to do that or it could be a friend of yours. That wants to help out. And then there’s this role that I call the digital specialist. And, you know, managers and labels of column, it’s like, are they calling digital? They’re a digital person and it’s like, oh, you know, we’re going to send it over to digital. Basically, what that is, is like they specialize in social media advertising. This is something that is is really crucial when it comes to the release strategy that we’re talking about previously. Virtually every single record label, it be label up to the majors down to individual artists that are releasing music on their own on that have a little bit of a budget are now running social media ads. It takes a lot of time to learn all this and it’s a specialty for sure whether you’re running ads on, you know, via the meta ads manager with Instagram and Facebook or Tiktok ads manager, YouTube, Google ads, all that stuff. That’s what a digital specialist can do and then they kind of monitor everything and then they gather all the assets and then they help kind of guide the strategy. And so all this being said is like these are team members that are important to every indie artists career right now. They don’t need to be individual people that handle these roles. I’ve seen indie artists that do all these roles themselves and they’re their own team right now and that’s cool. If they can figure that out for me personally like I know that I’m not a good recording engineer and I’m not a producer. So that’s another team member that I’m going to hire when I make a record like I’m not Finneas. I’m not going to make a record in my bedroom. Like I can’t do that. That’s not what I want to do. Like honestly that doesn’t inspire me. What inspires me is to make music with other people. So like I’m the type of artist that I’ll get into a studio with eight other musicians and we’ll track something live, you know, and like that’s what I like doing them inspires me. But I need a producer. I need an engineer. I need a mixing engineer. I need a mastering engineer. These are all team members that I might enlist for that one recording. You know, but other people like Finneas was Billie Eilish’s first team member. And he was her recording engineer and producer and like she had that built-in team where they could be pumping out music to Soundcloud regularly early on. Whereas like a lot of artists don’t have that but some do. It’s like again, what are your intentions? What inspires you? What kind of music do you want to make? But there are certain roles that can be filled by either your brother in down the hall, in the bedroom or by someone halfway around the world and Upwork. But these are the roles that can be filled and the jobs that need to get done.

[00:27:55] DAN RUNCIE

That makes sense. I know another thing for these teams is someone that is always keeping their eye on the new big thing or the new small thing to be able to test out just being able to figure out what’s there. And the past couple of years, Web 3 and NFT specifically have guy and even more traction and I think maybe in the most recent year got a little bit less traction to just a more overall transaction level. But as we’re heading into 2023 now, how do you look at NFTs as part of your strategy and how do you look at Web 3 more broadly for what artists are doing and any examples that you may have of like yes, this person that is an indie artist that wasn’t just a mature artist like did it and they’ve done it really well.

[00:31:44] ARI HERSTAND

Absolutely. I don’t see Web 3 slowing down anytime soon. I still see that this is as a digital society is heading. It’s evolving for sure. Bitcoin isn’t kind of what is all encompassing anymore like it was five – six years ago. It’s not even just the mouth crypto currencies and it’s not even just about NFTs like NFTs. The reason that it’s lost a lot of its initial luster and sheen is because when it first kind of caught on, you know, early 2021 or so. It was like that was the sexy new thing that nobody quite understood but once you got it you’re like well, this is crazy at the digital collectible.Cool I collected playing cards when I was growing up, I get it, sweet, that’s what this is the digital collectible one of one okay cool I understand it so that was like. And people are trying to find used cases like you know we initially heard about Kings of Leon was like one of the first that did like an NFT album and they tied you know physical experiences to their NFTs like you get front row tickets that you were one of the NFT holders for life and you could redeem the NFT for proper tickets. So that was like the first way by say now we’re seeing is more used cases and people that are creating them independently so like I had on the podcast on my podcast the name is Business Podcast. Sammy Arriaga, he’s a Latin country artist and he’s a really great, really cool crossover artist. He is a country musician but it’s kind of with Latin infused country music it’s really cool. He had a deal with Sony, he was signed to Sony as an artist and any of the publishing deal for a while they you got dropped up. It wasn’t up to the major label success standards that they were hoping for. I got dropped. Then he actually had a little bit of success on TikTok in like 2020 and then he pivoted to NFT’s in 2022 actually, I believe. And just cut to the headline, he made over $250,000 on his NFT of his album or actually of his song. Just one song to be honest. And how he did it, what was really interesting, it wasn’t because of his fan base because the vast majority of music fans right now still have not come around to NFTs. They’re not really in the metaverse. They’re not in the crypto web 3 community yet. But the web 3 community is still very, very strong. It is thriving and kicking. If you can tap into that, then you can actually have a lot of success there right now, currently today. Now in five years, I do believe that most music fans, there will be used cases and every artist will have something to do with NFTs and Web 3 and micro and bastine which I’ll get to in a second. But what Sammy did was he went to that Web 3 community and where do they primarily? Just at the time and still really is on Twitter and specifically Twitter spaces. What he did is he went into these Twitter spaces rooms. These are like the audio, Twitter spaces, the audio, new version of clubhouse and any space that was talking about NFTs and Web 3, he’d pop in, he’d listen for a little bit and then he’d raise his hand and I asked to come up and speak. They’d invite him to speak and he’s like, hey, guys, you’ve been talking about NFTs for the last hour. I play you a song that I wrote, actually about an NFTs and it’s called Metagirl and it’s a META Metaverse Metagirl and they’re like, oh, okay. So essentially, then he played the song. He’s like, you can actually get that song right now as an NFT, the links in my, you know, pin the link right here and they were like pin the link in the Twitter space and that’s how we did it. And he made $250,000 just from doing essentially by busking on Twitter spaces.

[00:32:18] DAN RUNCIE

How many Twitter spaces did he do to make that happen? 

[00:35:05] ARI HERSTAND

It was a lot, you know, because some of the 100 people, some of the 1000 people, but you did it for a while and like, that’s a way, you know, that’s not a scalable method necessarily that I’m encouraging people to like go busking on Twitter spaces and make an NFT. But he was able to do that and by finding that community, now, you know, Baratay is another indie artist. She was one of the first to kind of start experimenting on NFT platforms and selling NFTs. What she also did early on that we’re now starting to see more widely adopted was she not only would release NFTs tied to her songs, but she would tie royalties to the NFTs, meaning you don’t just buy an NFT as a digital collectible that you’re hoping to resell and make a little money on. You’re actually buying a percentage of ownership of the song or like a royalties as I should say of the song. So like she had one time, you know, auctioned off, I guess, you know, and it was through a blockchain platform. I believe she used royal at the time, which is NAS’s platform. She like gave away 40% or sold 40% of one of her songs to people. So you could buy whatever percentage you wanted and it was valued at a certain level. And then you can buy that. Now, those platforms are starting to pop up like I’m on the advisory board of label coin and they’re a new platform that, you know, started by a booking agent, Mark Miller, who I’ve known for years. And he approached me and he’s like, Hey, here’s what we’re doing. And it’s essentially it is the same concept. Using blockchain technology, but essentially being able to sell a percentage of royalties for your song. So you could theoretically like say, I’m going to sell 50% of the royalties of my song. And it’s like, I’m going to sell it to a thousand people. So you could buy like, you know, a half a percent or a quarter of a percent or a small percentage. It’s like buying stocks, essentially. It’s like, you know, like the Robin Hood from music. So we’re starting to see that and the blockchain technology that the whole infrastructure is built on because it’s just more streamlined that way. And so like, we’re moving to in the future when these platforms likely, book, coin and royal and the others like really start to break into mainstream is the fans are going to think, Oh, I have to learn cryptocurrency and I have to get a wallet and, you know, buy some of Ether, you know, from the Ethereum and buy some ether and like. You know, that is the heavy lift that why it prevented so many people from getting the NFTs. Like I want to learn how to do this and pay gas fees and blah, but like all the shit that it takes hours and hours and hours and hours just for one person to buy like one NFTs. It’s like we’re getting a little away from that and it’s gonna be like a fan is like, oh, I’m gonna get 10% of royalties of Ari’s new song and it’s done in 10 seconds. And like they don’t even know

[00:36:33] DAN RUNCIE

Yeah, it needs to be as easy as like buying something called the Amazon, right? Like it needs to be instant. And I think that I agree there. I think that was probably one of the biggest gaps for a while. There was all these things. And some of it I think is natural with any new technology. There is an adoption curve. It’s always gonna track the enthusiast which at least in this recent era congregated mostly on Web 3 corners of Twitter and we’re discussing things. So I think it’s really smart, you know, for artists to, you know, jump in on Twitter spaces the way that they did. It was really interesting to hear that in a lot of ways yeah, they weren’t even reaching, they’re like die hard fans. They were just reaching people that were interested. But that said, I think so much of this rings true with something else that’s a concept in your book, the purement of investment. And I think I look at this a lot of ways, almost like a inverted sales fund if you will, address in terms of building awareness, the decision intended and actually getting people to act on it and knowing that you can obviously generate revenue at each level of those streams. But NFTs, especially if they’re used the way that they could is something that does sit at the tip of that pyramid. It’s not gonna be everyone, but it is something to monetize the die hard fans that you have. But even there you could adjust where it sits based on what you price it, how many drops you have and so many other things.

[00:40:02] ARI HERSTAND

Absolutely, yes, the pyramid of investment on this concept that I have in the book, I’ll just kind of break it down a little bit so people understand. It’s like, you think about it, you know, this is financial investment. I also have a pyramid of engagement, which I’ll get into a second, but what just investment at the bottom of that pyramid, we have the people that don’t really spend any money on you directly, they might stream your song, they might stream your music, you might make a little bit of money from what their actions that they’re taking like the stream of your music, but they’re not like spending money on you directly. So that’s the bottom of the pyramid and that’s where the vast majority of the music of fans, audience, listenership lives just across the industry. But as we go up the pyramid, you know, then there’s like, those that might attend your live stream and like tip you over that or they might just like tip you here and there and you know, in the digital realm, sure, it’s a live stream, it’s on Twitch, or whatever, or like, you know, they can tip you in real life or something, they’re going to your shows and they’ll tip you. So it’s like the tippers essentially, then you go up a little bit higher, that people are actually buying tickets to your shows. Now they are actually directing money directly to you and they’re coming to your concerts, they’re your ticket buyers, your concert goers, then you look a level higher, they’re the merch buyers. They’re the ones that buy merch at those shows or buy merch online, but you know, your store or from your Spotify profile or whenever they’re buying merch directly from you, they’re like, I’m a real fan, I want to buy merch. Then we go higher and then we’re into that category of fan clubs, crowdfunding campaigns, you know, investment, NFT, three point, you know, with that whole realm of like, I’m like such a big fan that if they’re on Patreon, I’m going to be their patron. If they’re running a Kickstarter, I’m going to back their Kickstarter. If they’re selling a percentage of their royalties of the new song, I want to buy that. And then at the very tippy tippy top of that, it’s kind of a little bit of out too, but it’s like those that are buying the VIP packages. So it’s kind of like a combination of it all. It’s like that, am I going to, you know, go to the show and I spend the $250, you know, do a 10 sound check and get the merch package and do that whole thing. So it’s like that’s all at the top. And so you think about this as the pyramid of investment, you’re going to have fans at every level of that and you want to make sure that you cater to all of them and that you don’t exclude some. So it’s like, you know, I think people can kind of have understood this concept when, like, I first got this like six, seven years ago when Patreon kind started to hit after Kickstarter. And I saw some of my friends that were running Patreon campaigns and Kickstarter campaigns, I know simultaneously. And to me, that seemed counterintuitive. I was like, wait a minute, your fans are only going to do one or the other. It’s like, they’re going to either back your crowd and bring you an album or they’re going to be your patrons, right? No, I was wrong. What it was, was really like Kickstarter was below on that pyramid. There were more people that are willing to drop a hundred bucks this one time, this one year to back your Kickstarter, but then there’s fewer people a little bit higher up on that pyramid that are going to pay you $10 a month on Patreon or Substack or whatever it’s going to be, Band Camp, any subscriber service that are a level higher that will be your subscribers and then it just kind of keeps going up from there.

[00:40:28] DAN RUNCIE

Yeah, I think that makes sense. And the thing that I’ve often thought about the model too is that of course the revenue that you get per fan does increase as you go further up that period. But if you were to multiply that by the number of fans in each of those tiers, do you think that the tiers do start to equal out roughly or what does that look like for you?

[00:41:39] ARI HERSTAND

That’s a really great question. I don’t really need data to back that up, but that’s a really great experiment and something that should be studied, I think like an artist that kind of, yeah, I’m going to work on putting those numbers together. That’s a great idea. It’s kind of like along the lines of the Thousand True Fans Concept, where this concept is, you know, they say that if you can get a thousand people to pay you $100 a year every year for the rest of your life, rest of your career, now you have a career and that’s all you really need is a thousand people to pay you $100. However, if you break that down a little bit differently on the government of investment, you don’t need the thousand people to pay you $100. You could get a hundred people to pay you $400, you could get 200 people to pay you $200. You could get, you know, 400 people to pay $50, you could get 700 people to pay you $20 a year, you know, and you could really break that down a little bit differently. And so it’s like, how are you going to get to that $100,000 a year mark if that’s your goal or a million dollars a year, if that’s your goal. And it all these fans are going to fall somewhere. All this money is going to fall somewhere on that pyramid of investment.

[00:43:12] DAN RUNCIE

Yeah. I think about it this way too, maybe from like an example perspective. Let’s look at someone at the top. Look at someone like Beyonce. I could see her. I would need to do the math. But let’s just say ballpark speaking, she gets $30 million a year revenue from her music, right? Purely from streaming. I could also see her getting $30 million a year from, let’s say she does a few concerts that year or a few special one offs. She could also get $30 million a year from doing two private shows of performing at a wedding or something like that or performing at an Uber private event. So each of those things can equal that amount. But yeah, I think that way to break down the thousand true fans, I think is important too. Because I think when that theory came out, Kevin Kelly’s, I think it’s back in 2018, but it made a bunch of sense. But I think for most people putting things out, yeah, even that requires a bit of segmentation there. So it’s fascinating. And I’m sure so much of this is fascinating for you as well. Because I feel like you kind of have two examples of this with the businesses that you’re running. You have Ari Herstand, the artist and you have your own, pure, mid of investment. You also have your visit of this podcast, the courses and the book as well. And for you, I’m sure I know you have a team that helps with each of these things, but do you look at it any differently between the two, you know, yourself as an educator that is sharing this information combined with yourself as the musician?

[00:49:10] ARI HERSTAND

Yeah, I mean, absolutely. Like, I think, you know, why people have responded to the artist take business and my book and the artist take account of me and the music, the podcast and all the stuff that like, I do on the music business education front is because I am a musician. I have that musician’s empathy. I’ve, you know, lived it and living it and it’s like, I understand how hard everything is. It’s like, you know, I’m not just saying it to say it like NN because I read it somewhere. Like, I’m living it. I’m interviewing people that are living it. You know, I put on two different hats like I look at myself almost now as like part journalists and like kind of, you know, in the lane that you’re in where by interviewing more people, we learn more and that’s great. Like, I know my perspective and everyone’s perspective can be limited to their own experiences. So I try to widen my experiences by widening my information base by talking to more people. So the whole point of the podcast honestly was just to talk to more people, smarter people than me that are doing bigger things and more successfully than I was doing. So I could learn from them and then share that information. Like I’ve always interviewed people from like artist take and writing for other publications and I then made the podcast basically public. With my own music career, you know, the intentions have shifted. But when I started Ari’s take as a blog 10 years ago, I made 100% of my money from my music. I was like a full-time artist, touring artist releasing music, all that stuff like touring most of my year, going on plenty of national tours. The intentions have shifted when I realized where I can be most useful and necessary. So like I don’t tour anymore. You know, I’ll do one-offs here in there. Like when I’m with my new funk project, Rasmentisdrake, it’s like I do in a kind of an immersive funk experience. And I want to keep that in one place like we did in L.A. in like last summer, we did, you know, a 16-show run in L.A.. That’s like my creative outlet. Like I do in the intentions of that, I want to top the Spotify charts and like go on tour. So like why I keep going back to like what are the intentions for every artist is like they’re different. So my intention for that was like I wanted to sell out all those 16 shows and like that was my own function for the off thing. Or I wanted to at least, you know, get people a good experience and have a good time doing these things. Like I released a solo album last year under my own name. And the intention of that was honestly not I want to go on tour or I want to, you know, and get millions of streams. It was just like I went through a break out and I needed to write these songs and release them for my own mental health and just like honestly just for my own well-being and like get these songs out there. And people connected with them. And that was wonderful. And like I heard from tons of people that really resonated with the songs. Like that was something that you know gave me some perspective to is like, my focus right now is not making a living just for my soul of singer songwriter project like it used to be. That being said, there’s a place for everything. And so, you know, I covered this concept of like the multi-hyphenate. Everyone’s a multi-hyphenate. Everyone from Beyonce down to me and any other indie artist that is working at a day job or whatever, everyone’s a multi-hyphenate. Like, your job title can start with musician and then it can be, you know, what else? Like, some people are musician, lift drivers. Some people are, you know, musician, entrepreneur, CEOs like, you know, Dre as Beaks, headphones is like, oh, he’s an entrepreneur and a business person. And so it’s like, I don’t think the artists need to feel like shameful or insecure about their other hyphenates, their other job titles. You know, at the end of the day, you want to do what inspires you. And so for me, you know, my idea of success is making a living, supporting the kind of lifestyle that I’d like to live doing what I love and offering value and meanings to people. And so I’ve kind of structured my own life in a way where I go to where I feel like I’m needed and then where I can bring value to people. And that I’ve found, you know, most useful in kind of the artist take blame and the music business lane of everything I’m doing. But at the same time, like, I’m an artist. Like, I’m never not going to be an artist. Like, that’s just like who I am. That’s like what my soul is. And so it’s like, I can’t ever stop doing that. Like if I don’t want to force myself to ring out as much money from that, there’s no shame in that. Like that’s, you know, sure, you know, I always say it was all the time to be, it was like, if you’re happy making music from home and putting it online and you’re making like 50 grand a year by doing that.  And that’s like what you figured out how to do. You’ve got some same theory, you’re on some ads, you got some streaming, whatever. And like you’re doing that and you’re happy. Wonderful. Could you make a hundred, 200, 300,000 dollars more if you like one on tour or up your merch operation or like, you know, started a Patreon or launch an NFT or something like that? Maybe. But do you have to? But no, of course not. Like do what makes you happy. Like if that’s going to make you unhappy because you’re chasing more money and like why? Like you don’t need to do that. Like do what makes you happy. And that’s the big thing. And so it’s like, you know, I’m constantly figuring that out for myself and I encourage other artists that figure it out for themselves.

[00:49:30] DAN RUNCIE

Yeah. And I think that’s a good way to put it, right? There’s so much action now. You know, there’s so many opportunities in everywhere. It isn’t multi-high fit. It is really up to you how many hyphens you have behind that name and how heavily you want to push all of them. And I think the other one for you is author. And of course you have this book coming out in a couple of weeks. So yeah, before we let you go, let me just do one more close to let people know the updates with the book and when to expect.

[00:50:05] ARI HERSTAND

Yeah. So It is out January 17th, 2023. You can get it wherever you find books with its Amazon or Barnes and Noble or your local bookstore. And I don’t know when this is airing or gonna go live, but if you’re in L.A. on January 17th, join me at Barnes and Noble up at Grove and we’re doing a book signing and a live podcast recording there. But yeah, I’ve added a hundred new pages to it. I’ve updated stuff in every section. I’ve rewritten chapters, but scratch, of course. A lot of stuff we talked about today is in the book like NFTs and Web 3 and TikTok and live streaming. A lot of stuff that didn’t exist three years ago. So I’ve completely rewritten the majority of the book. So you know, if you have the first or second edition of the book, I encourage you to check out this third edition. It’s very, very different and updated.

[00:50:46] DAN RUNCIE

Good stuff, man. Excited for you. Thanks for coming on. This is great. 

{00:50:50] ARI HERSTAND

Thank you. 

{00:50:54] DAN RUNCIE OUTRO

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Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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