plug-in conference 1999: strauss zelnick & spotify

One of the first digital music conferences (webnoize getting THE first kudos) was Plug-In. It was held in NYC. In 1999 we were in the basement of the Marriott Marquis. There weren’t that many people. maybe 500? maybe? I had to convince my boss that it was useful for me to go. I was still a part time product manager and that “website stuff” was still not my full time gig although it was only a month later that I became the VP of New Media for Universal Records. I was recently told that I am credited with being the first in music to use that title. I was shocked. But hey – ok. I’ll take it.

So at Plug-In — Strauss Zelnick was the keynote. Universal had a close relationship with BMG due to Get Music but I had not had alot of interaction with that team. So Strauss spoke and delivered an edict about the future. About direct marketing and one to one advertising. About each person being able to choose exactly what they want to hear online and on demand. He actually tells of the end of the album and the rise of singles. And that selling CDs will diminish…. (Now at this point I am also running around with a top teen band 98 Degrees and we are actually trying to deliver a single to radio digitally for the first time — to prevent any one station from playing it earlier than any other station. HA! Those were the days – a “leak” was more like a drip compared to the rushing tidal wave it would later become.)

So as I am sitting there – I think – hmmm. How would my job change if the end goal wasn’t to sell a CD? That is the marker of success. CD sales. Sure airplay was important but it was really just to sell CDs. Soundscan always more important than BDS. But what if….what if Strauss is right and my job ends up having to persuade people to “click on an individual song” more often than another song? Hmmm. How would that work? That essentially turns each person into a programmer. (Does this mean I have to become a radio promotion person? Please god NO!) So what do I do? How does that work?

“Sharing” was not yet the word that it is now. It had just entered the marketing vernacular. It was just starting to become a dirty word as it really meant “piracy”. But i knew then that somehow it was about the one to one relationship, and all the work we were doing collecting emails and building databases.

When did I really and truly come up with the answer to what would I do in regards to what what Strauss was talking about? Last month when Spotify integrated with Facebook. Strauss – you were right.  If you work for a recorded music company or a publisher and you are in marketing – your job is to make someone click on your song more than anyone else’s. In this month’s Rolling Stone there is a great article about payments from streaming services by Steve Knopper “The New Economics of the  Music Industry” . He says that 60 streams of a song generate 38 cents to the artist & label (9.1 to publisher). 60 streams.

That’s damn hard. 60 streams.  I mean – once someone bought a CD who cared how many times they listened to it? Who cared if it ended up cracked on the floor of the car?  But now – now it’s about engaging people. Engaging fans. You can’t just sell to them once. Click Click Click. Its about programmers and trusting someone else – at least for most of us. We need curators. People depend on me to curate food and travel for them. Here is my admission: I depend on others to curate my music.

Yep. I am soooo lazy when it comes to making playlists – there – it’s out in the open. I always was surrounded by the best radio programmers, DJs, music supervisors, boyfriends that owned 5000 pieces of vinyl – I never had to!  I have let my itunes trn into a mess of duplicates, singles, just an abomination. Me – who worked in a record store and spent hours delineating the difference between ambient and trance. This is my secret problem and guess what SPOTIFY IS THE SOLUTION! I can’t stop using it. I wish more of my music gurus would get their butts on their and make playlists (yes I mean you Bob DOuglas).

Dear Blue Note – thank Brian Larson for putting the 100 Best of Blue Note together. I’ve clicked way more than 60 times. Dear Sly Stone – thank Jon Vanhala for including 5 of your songs in his “you got to funkify playlist”. Dear War on Drugs: Thank Josh Nicotra for sending me the link inside SPOTIFY to your older records before we went to your show last Saturday. Dear Ryan Adams – yes that was me that had Ashes on repeat for an entire 2 days when it FINALLY got loaded into SPOTIFY after the release date. That’s gotta be about 60 times right? That’s……60 x .38 x 10 = 228.00 is that right? if i had ryan adams streaming for 48 hours straight and the record isn’t quite an album…right? $228.00? Someone confirm with me please. I’m reallllly bad at math. Really bad. Even WITH a calculator.

My mind is a whirl with all sorts of ways to get people to make lists in Spotify and get them spread around. Click. Click. Click. Ching. Ching. Ching.  It might not be as much as a CD made – but I gotta tell you – I leave the SPOTIFY open all day and even leave it on for the dogs. I must be supporting someone’s livelihood from music even just a little bit right?


Click. Click. Click.