Last week we put Joel Jordan, founder of Synchtank, his brother Jason Jordan, Senior Vice President A&R, Republic Records, and Mike Falis, Account Executive at Synchtank, in a room together to review the music industry in 2016. Here's what they came up with:
Mike: You’ve been in the A&R game for going on 23 years Jason, what are your thoughts on the current state of the industry?
Jason: I think this is the year it all goes over the cliff, and that couldn’t be more validated than by the streaming business, which really is the health of the record business in my opinion. People talk about the death of the recorded music business, but the truth is that the consumer base is healthy and there is much more music consumption. Our artist Drake is about to cross a streaming benchmark, and that’s a real achievement for him and a proud moment for the label as well.
It’s funny because 20 years ago, I was digging through my record collection and I thought, “Someday no one’s going to want to own anything - they’ll just want to pay $10 for all-you-can-eat videos, music, whatever.” And here we are. I do believe that streaming is the only future for this business going forward. And as a former music publisher, I feel very strongly that songwriters should get a big chunk of that pie as well. I think that 2017 is going to reveal a lot. We might be on the precipice of Blade Runner, I have no idea!
"I do believe that streaming is the only future for this business going forward."
Putting my DIY punk rock hat on for a moment – in this disruptive environment anyone can put a record out, but there’s a lot of noise. So how do you cut through that noise? First you make a great record, and secondly there’s got to be a methodical marketing plan. But all that said, things don’t always go to plan. There really is no formula. And it’s not just about major labels – they don’t necessarily have a crystal ball. There are incredible independents that do really well in the digital space. The majors are not the only players.
Joel: It’s more about the label itself and having a great label staff.
Jason: Yeah, and that goes back to promotion, marketing, tour support, the music and the artist being great, and so on.
Joel: There’s a lot of moving parts.
Jason: For sure. In my opinion, the things that are successful aren’t gimmicky. The things that are successful are just incredibly real and well done. The Post Malone album that just came out is unbelievable. It’s so good, it’s all I’m listening to at the moment. Yes, it’s a Republic record, and you should check it out. It’s a real achievement for him and I’m super proud of the A&R guy who helped him to make it. He’s going to have a huge record - it’s going to blow up. And it's going to show the power of both quality music intersecting with a meaningful marketing campaign and online strategy.
Mike: The Weeknd just did that with ‘Starboy’ - it’s the number one hit in 80 countries.
Jason: Yeah, and these are really achievements. And they’re shifting the paradigm of where we’re going with the recorded music business.
Mike: Do you think it’s going to be easy for smaller shops and artists themselves to follow suit?
Jason: I think streaming levels the playing field as far as marketplace is concerned. However, there’s still a lot of noise out there because anyone can release a record. So an independent still has to have resources.
Joel: You can’t just throw something out into the internet and hope for the best – that’s not a plan. It takes resources and planning and marketing.
Jason: If it’s just you and your mum waiting for the record then you’re really in trouble.
Mike: And it’s helpful that you can get an immediate reaction from this stuff - you can see who’s trending or whatever.
Jason: Yeah, and in that respect you can have an instant online hit. But the strategy will be different for every artist. You can’t do the same thing for The Weeknd as you would do with Ariana Grande or Marian Hill. They’re totally different genres and different artists and they have different fan bases.
Mike: And another interest aspect is the visual representation of the music nowadays. Before you would have album artwork, and then that got lost with mp3s. But now we have Instagram and social media and virtual reality videos. You almost get a daily visual representation of an artist.
Jason: Yeah, the artwork around a release has now become immersive, which is incredible. The visual records, like Beyoncé and Frank Ocean released this year – those are all incredible and stunning achievements
Mike: How has that changed your job in A&R?
Jason: I don’t know yet because honestly I haven’t dealt with the visual part of that prong yet. I look forward to it. I think it’s going to be really exciting. The truth is as an A&R person I don’t really feel like an A&R person - it’s actually a more evolved job. The job title should be ‘content creator’ or ‘original content’ or something because it isn’t just records anymore, it is everything. It’s t-shirts, fashion, all sorts of new verticals. We’re not only involved in those things; we’re helping brainstorm those things.
Mike: Do you see all of this bringing the industry back to the glory days of the 90s?
Jason: No, not at all, because it’s actually transparent now. The business is certainly healthy, but I don’t see anything crazy like us taking limousines everywhere. But yeah, that’s not the day and age anymore - the companies are smart, the artists are even smarter.
Joel: Companies are also leaner.
Jason: Yeah, this is a much leaner business as well, it’s certainly quality over quantity. I think great art always wins, whether it’s on a major or an independent. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day.
"I think great art always wins, whether it’s on a major or an independent. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day."
Joel: What would you say to an independent artist that doesn't have a label?
Jason: It’s hard, but believe me, I’ve seen some really creative people put records out, build fan bases, use social media in really meaningful ways, play shows, and actually have very successful careers.
Mike: Yeah, we have a lot of articles on our blog about the DIY side of the industry.
Jason: Keep in mind as an artist you’re the CEO of your own business, so you’ve got to get out there. It’s really idealistic to think you can just make songs and let the world hear them. Even if you want to work with a label, always do it yourself first just because you have to know how to run your own business. You have to understand how money is made these days.
Joel: Do you think it’s an advantage to try and release your own music?
Jason: Absolutely. Do you need a label? I don’t know. Only an artist will know that.
Mike: One of the interesting things about 2016 was seeing a shift in what a label actually means and is anymore. You’ve got Apple and Spotify following the Netflix and Amazons of the world creating their own content and becoming their own labels. That seems to be the next thing – and the model has been tested so well with TV.
"One of the interesting things about 2016 was seeing a shift in what a label actually means and is anymore."
Joel: I wonder what kind of relationship that’s going to create with the labels, when those services are controlling the pipes.
Jason: We’re still going to have these artists. I mean a label is only as good as the music that it puts out, so if you’re a content provider, what is the vetting point? The truth is if it’s great it’s great. The marketplace will decide and ultimately I don’t feel fearful, I don’t necessarily think it’s going to create any issues in the marketplace - we’re all reliant on each other in a lot of ways. We want this business to work, and we want it for the artists as well.
Mike: How do you think sync has progressed this year?
Joel: From a business perspective, sync licensing continues to give catalogue owners and representivies huge opportunities to monetize their music, which is what we enable here at Synchtank. Creatively I think there have been some huge music moments in media this year, especially on shows like Halt and Catch Fire, Stranger Things, Atlanta…
Mike: What was your favourite sync placement of this year?
Joel: I think the Stranger Things soundtrack was the most interesting thing of the year in terms of sync.
Jason: I agree.
Mike: My favourite sync is definitely Radiohead’s ‘Exit Music (For a Film)’ used at the end of that Black Mirror. It was also used in Westworld. It’s been a really awesome year for Radiohead.
Mike: What about your favourite album?
Joel: I like the new John Brown's Body album. I got my Spotify end of 2016 wrap up stats and no surprise the top genre was reggae, and number two was roots reggae.
Mike: I think it was definitely the A Tribe Called Quest album for me.
Jason: Yeah, it’s the record that I didn’t think I needed, but it’s incredible. I didn’t think I needed another A Tribe Called Quest record! The other day I was on that skateboard over there and I was riding around in my office and another A&R guy came in and he’s like, “Bro, you’re on a skateboard, you’re listening to A Tribe Called Quest. Is this a dorm room?”
Mike: Is this 1992?
Jason: It’s an incredible record. It’s probably my record of the year, other than the ones that I mentioned earlier of course.
"I didn't think I needed another A Tribe Called Quest album, but it's an incredible record."
Mike: Now that 2016 is almost over, what do you think will happen in 2017?
Jason: I don’t make resolutions, but I definitely would like 2017 to be a much better year for art, artists, and the business overall.
Mike: Joel, what’s your prediction for 2017?
Joel: You know, I read things just like everybody else, and I’m like an armchair pontificator. I think the market is finally maturing to the point where the pie is large enough for artists to actually succeed.
I think 2017 is going to be a great year for Synchtank. We are doing even more for our clients than ever before. We've made some serious progress on the platform, extending functionality to benefit every department at a publisher or label or any media company for that matter including A&R, marketing, sales and promotions. If you haven't seen Synchtank in action in a while or ever give us a shout. We love to show what we can do.
Mike: Yeah, get in touch with us. I’d like to see technologies clean up some of the issues in the industry in 2017. We’ve got to clean out the pipes! Hopefully technology will help us all get paid faster and make more money and continue to make good art.
I also have to thank Jason for one of the biggest highlights of my year because he gave my brother-in-law and I tickets to see Damien Marley, his favourite artist ever.
Jason: It was a total surprise, right?
Mike: It was perfect. That was my favourite concert of the year, so thanks very much!
Jason: That’s fantastic.
Mike: Anyway thanks for tuning in and see you guys in 2017, bye!
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