What is the role of data in music?

Asia's Tech News Daily

What is the role of data in music?
© Provided by Mid-Day

It’s all about the numbers, or is it? That’s a question that has plagued the music industry ever since streaming platforms became the primary vehicle for artistes to disseminate their songs. There are some people who feel that chasing after numbers detracts from the art form, turning tracks into the equivalent of soulless fast-food burgers instead of a gourmet meal prepared with love and care. Others, though, argue that the amount of hits a musician gets on streaming apps and social media amplifies their reach and influence in the modern age, helping them stay ahead in the rat race.

Then there are some people who earlier didn’t give two hoots about numbers but have now changed their tune, pun intended. Take Ankur Tewari for example. The singer-songwriter tells us that he never bothered about numbers earlier — “It’s not my game.” But around six months ago, people from an international music and tech firm called Snafu approached his management. It’s a company that uses AI-generated data based on over 1.5 lakh songs per week to pinpoint artistes who they feel have requisite proficiency, but don’t garner enough numbers to reflect that talent. Snafu then signs these people on to give them a leg-up using a combination of technology, marketing, and artistes and repertoire (A&R) management, with the AI-generated data acting as the catalyst for this whole process.

Jay Punjabi, Anirudh Voleti and Rohan Ganguli

Tewari tells us, “Snafu wanted to work with me based on my Spotify listens, which was quite astonishing to me because it was the first time that someone had reached out to me based on my numbers. I was apprehensive initially because my approach has always been organic. But after my management spoke to them, they turned out to be all about the music. They do have a strong base that is AI-led. But they were also interested in how I am going to write my single and what I am going to do with it. And I also understood that it’s always good to be friends with technology.”

Tech a stand

That single which resulted from this collaboration is called Shehzaada shehzaadi, launched last week. Tewari says that the fact that Snafu studies and understands data to reach more people has reflected in the numbers that this track has already garnered (it’s got around 14,000 hits on YouTube in just two days). This goes to show the changing face of the music industry, which is now relying more and more on a purely technological and mathematical model to manipulate the market. Jay Punjabi, director of Snafu’s Indian operations, explains how they have an in-house tech team based in Sweden that analyses all the AI-generated data from streaming platforms and passes that information on to their A&R team, who then pinpoint emerging global artistes they would like to work with. “The AI helps us understand which aspects of a musician should be marketed more, and how a song should be pushed out. The data helps us understand you as a fan better, letting us reach your playlist in a more efficient way,” Punjabi shares.

It’s a process that Anirudh Voleti, senior talent manager at artiste management firm Big Bad Wolf, sees merit in. “I see data in a positive light because it helps people make more informed decisions. You can figure out questions like which artiste has a growing fan base in what place, and how that can be accelerated. You can also study the marketing campaign of a major artiste and then pick out information from there that can help smaller names,” he says, clarifying that ultimately, it is the honesty of the musician that will eventually shine through. Voleti adds, “Many artistes are looking at writing songs with 15-second hooks that will get them noticed on Instagram or TikTok. But everything is not 100 per cent about an Excel sheet. There needs to be a balance of emotions, and that’s not something data can provide.”

The other side of the coin

It’s that last point which has kept someone like guitarist Rohan Ganguli from tying up with a label to launch King of Summer, his debut album from earlier this year. He’s someone who feels that chasing after numbers turns songs into something akin to soulless burgers. “I am not in that race because I don’t want to make any money from my released music — I have students and studio work to take care of my finances. That’s why I am not in that race. I release music only because I like doing it. Everyone knows that you can’t make serious money from Spotify and the like unless you’re Maroon 5 or similarly popular. But numbers don’t matter for the path I have chosen. They take away from the art form because your game becomes different. It’s not a bad game. It’s just different because you are now chasing numbers, and not music,” Ganguli says, showing how every coin has two sides and how, in the years to come, the question of whether it is all about the numbers or not is one that will continue to plague the music business.

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