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THE FUTURE OF MUSIC A&R?

Taylor Jones, music executive and CEO of The Hello Group joins the LabelRadar board.

Taylor Jones is widely regarded as a fast-rising, hands-on music industry executive and CEO of The Hello Group, a music and digital talent focused company with offices in London, Los Angeles and Brussels. Taylor and Hello’s clients include some of the world’s most-followed social media influencers, Grammy Award-winning songwriters and producers (who have written hits for Justin Bieber, BTS, Flo Rida, Snoop Dogg, David Guetta, Jay Sean), major label and independent acts, top tier sports stars, comedians, and more. The agency serves clients under its three core divisions, namely Hello Digital, Hello Music and Hello Management.

2018 was a very productive year for Taylor, with his clients under the Hello Management division achieving plenty of milestones. They have been Grammy Nominated, achieved a Billboard #1 record, been RIAA Platinum and Gold certified on new releases, closed multiple record deals with Universal and Sony, appeared on numerous prime-time TV & digital shows and have totalled an impressive 400M streams.

ThriveGlobal talk with Taylor about what made him want to join LabelRadar and how he sees it impacting the music industry.

Q. What made you want to get involved with LabelRadar?

Having worked for many years as an A&R and an artist manager at all ends of the music spectrum, I have seen how broken the music industry can be for both sides when it comes to submitting music to a decision-maker. Often, A&Rs are swamped with demos and it becomes really difficult to get ROI from the time invested in reviewing them due to the sheer volume of music being submitted. Half the time you’re clicking on broken Soundcloud links or having to download big WAV files, which is really inconvenient and makes the whole process much slower than it needs to be. All of this in turn makes it harder for us A&Rs to do our job and discover that next hit.

Meanwhile, the artists are left not knowing if their music has been listened to, what the feedback is on the tracks and are unsure if they need to chase harder and risk permanently damaging that relationship, or to sit back and patiently wait in the hope of a response that will in most cases, unfortunately never come. Then, once you factor in the risk of their music becoming less relevant and missing its optimum release slot whilst they wait, it’s clear that there’s a problem here.

When the CEO of LabelRadar, Ed Brew, who is also my fellow co-founder at The Hello Group, showed me how his platform eliminates all of the problems I’ve just referenced, I knew how important it would be for the music industry and wanted to get involved to start adding value immediately. There are a lot of projects I consult for, but having seen how polished the platform is first-hand, and knowing that my music industry peers would be as excited about it as I was, I knew I wanted to be more than a consultant – I wanted to be part of the development process and a no-holds-barred champion of LabelRadar. It was one of those moments where you have countless lightbulbs going off in your head all at once.

Q. So how does LabelRadar address the problems you mentioned?

The game-changing feature at the core of the platform is the trimming tool, which prompts artists to reduce their submission to a 20-second clip that they think best represents their song. This is really important for 2 reasons. Firstly, it puts artists back in the driving seat and gives them control over that all-important first impression by dictating which part of their track the decision-maker will hear. It’s no secret that A&Rs are ruthless when it comes to listening to tracks and the majority will know in the first few seconds if a track is worth their time or not, so nothing is being lost by clipping a song down, you’re simply taking control. Secondly, it takes the A&R straight to the key part of the track as dictated by the artist themselves. Naturally some tracks are progressive or won’t have a chorus/drop so there may not be an obvious section to use for the clip, but the point is that the decision-maker isn’t clicking around on a waveform to get a feel for the track, they are instead taken to the artist’s favourite part and can make a decision from there, greatly accelerating the process. If they like what they hear, they simply swipe right (on the mobile app) or click ‘Shortlist’ (on the web app) and from there they can listen to the full track, contact the artist, check the artist’s socials and more.

Meanwhile, when the decision-maker takes action on the track by either skipping or shortlisting it, a real-time notification will be sent to the artist, keeping them updated every step of the way. No more guess work or mind games. The notifications are set up automatically by default, but there are options to give more detailed feedback which can be enabled to allow decision-makers to provide customisable reasons when rejecting a track.

The killer moment for me was whilst testing it when I reviewed a chunk of songs via the mobile app and found myself actually enjoying it. That’s not something I expected – I knew it would feel efficient, but I definitely didn’t anticipate it being as enjoyable.

Q. A lot of the early adopters of LabelRadar seem to be electronic music brands, is that intentional?

Absolutely. It was part of the strategy set by myself, Ed and the rest of the LabelRadar team, as we sought to conquer a specific vertical within the music industry before expanding to the wider landscape of all genres. Electronic music is an area in which we all had lots of existing relationships, so it seemed the most logical place to build our momentum. Before launching, we targeted Monstercat (9.3m fans) as our “dream” partner, so it was a very proud moment when the platform went live this summer with Monstercat as the launch partner. We have gone from strength to strength ever since, attracting more of the top brands in the electronic music world such as NoCopyrightSounds (23.1m fans), Magic Records (2.1m fans), Tasty (1.3m fans), Anjunabeats (700k fans) and many more.

A nice testament to the hard work we’ve all put into growing LabelRadar so far is evidenced by the fact that a recent Billboard article highlighting the top 5 independent dance labels of 2018 included 2 LabelRadar partners. We are also an award-winning platform having received the ‘Best Demo Submission Service of 2018’ award from EDMsauce, which was voted for by artists.

The platform has already begun catering to genres beyond electronic music, with Pop already present, and Urban due to launch soon, so it is by no means restricted to electronic music and there will be more genres added continuously throughout 2019. The reason we have been cautious with expanding the genres side of LabelRadar so far, is that we see it as a living, breathing ecosystem, and so are very careful that when we introduce something new it is not going to be disruptive. To elaborate, we are currently able to provide labels, promoters, music supervisors and other decision-makers, as well as artists and fans, a meaningful experience within the realm of electronic music. If we were to suddenly add loads of Urban music labels, they would have a bad experience on the platform as we don’t have the artists, fans or promoters to help round out that side of the ecosystem, but that will of course change soon.

Q. You mention that LabelRadar is an ecosystem, how do fans fit into the platform?

Despite being the lifeblood of the music industry, fans are often overlooked or undervalued in the music process. I’ve seen attempts to bring fans into the A&R process for more community-centric labels go wrong in the past, as it’s a very fine line between giving them a sense of ownership over the music being released, and finding yourself a slave to their demands, which will only end up souring the relationship there.

LabelRadar treads that line with exceptional ease, by welcoming fans to engage with the music being submitted to the platform, allowing them to scout tracks that have been submitted and give their stamp of approval to them by swiping right on the track. The actions of the fans on the tracks will affect the ranking of the tracks in the inbox they have been sent to – either boosting them up the queue or dropping them down the queue, depending on the way fans engage. If a fan swipes right on a track for example, it will be boosted up in the inbox of that decision-maker, meaning it will be reviewed sooner, giving the fans’ actions significance to both the label and the artist. The fans are not able to see who the song is by or who it was sent to – simply the title of the song, so whilst they develop a sense of ownership over the song they have endorsed, they can’t chase the artist or harass the label.

Taking it a step further, if the track then goes on to be shortlisted or signed by a decision-maker, then the fan can earn points and develop a reputation as a scout and tastemaker. Their successes are balanced against the amount of tracks they give their stamp of approval to, resulting in an accuracy statistic which helps avoid mass-liking of tracks, and the fans will soon be able to compete via leaderboards to earn their reputation or simply to establish bragging rights over their friends. When they endorse a track they are also told for example ‘You are the 5th person to hear this track’ which is an addictive piece of information in itself, giving them context to the music they are discovering and the potential to prove future claims if the track ends up doing well and they ‘heard it first’. I’ve experienced how addictive this can be and am looking forward to developing this element of the platform to encourage gamification amongst friendship groups and more.

It’s important to note however that this is an entirely optional segment of the platform, and if a label wants to receive private submissions or an artist doesn’t want any fans hearing their work before it’s released, that is 100% possible too.

Q. Very smart, but is it possible for fans to engage with music for a specific purpose?

Sure. That is what the Opportunities feature was built for. In my role at The Hello Group, I’ve often been involved in creating activation plans for brands and marketing strategies for artists, and there is always a desire to create something meaningful and engaging for the communities around the brand or artist in question.

As much as LabelRadar is a tool to help artists and decision-makers streamline their workflow, it is also an extremely powerful way to crowd-source music or activate a community. At present, there are over 9,700 artists using the platform, and we are able to bring them endless ways to help accelerate or benefit their career through our Opportunities feature. This can be anything such as a brief from a music supervisor looking for an adrenaline-pumping track to place in a car chase scene in an upcoming movie, or a label sourcing remixes for one of their hit tracks of the year, or even an influencer seeking a track they can use in their content in return for a small fee or credit in the description.

We are currently working with various brands ranging from sample pack curators to top tier game publishers and even liquor brands, to arrange activations around their upcoming releases whereby we provide our community of artists with an exciting opportunity and they create music that can act as a marketing boost to, or as an intrinsic part of, that brand’s product, with lots of valuable prizes up for grabs too. The brands can bring their respective communities onto the platform easily and involve them in the process, as the music for that activation will be self-contained within a distinct Opportunity on the app, allowing fans to engage with specific intent and play a role in determining the eventual outcome of the project, and giving them a sense of ownership over the resulting music content.

For example, EA Games could create an Opportunity on LabelRadar, seeking a track for the new FIFA in-game soundtrack. Artists could then submit their work for contention, and FIFA could invite their fans to get involved and listen through, ranking music up and down accordingly, and receiving points for tracks they endorse which EA go on to shortlist, but most importantly becoming part of the journey of the winning track, building their relationship with the FIFA brand which I think is extremely valuable. Not only do EA Games get a great track for their game, but they also benefit from any PR they arrange around the activation, the inevitable word of mouth discussions about the Opportunity amongst artists and fans (building hype ahead of the product launch), and of course the stronger relationships with the fans who take part.

Q. What do you hope to achieve for LabelRadar personally?

For me, it’s simply about sharing an amazing piece of tech with people that I know will benefit from it. There’s no cost for labels to use the platform, so there’s no barrier for them to test it out, and once they try it I’m confident they’ll love it as much as I do. I’m just as excited about taking LabelRadar to my contacts at Warner, Sony and Universal, as I am about showcasing it to various artist friends, YouTubers, promotion channels and smaller independent labels. My expertise lies in commercial strategy and so I tend to steer away from product development, though strategic partnerships and marketing are areas where I’ll be able to add lots of knowledge and value.

I think with the way RnB, trap and hip-hop music has exploded to a new level recently, a tool like this is going to be incredibly necessary to help shape that demand and ensure the urban artist, label, promoter and fan communities are able to really flourish rather than be overwhelmed with too much noise. Therefore one of my goals for next year will be to oversee the successful expansion of LabelRadar into that market.

In terms of next steps, Ed, Derek Clark (the COO of LabelRadar) and I have a very big vision for where we would like to take LabelRadar from both a commercial standpoint but also a value to users standpoint. If you look at other consumer industries, most have begun adapting to reduced user attention spans (or rather, increased demands on a user’s attention), but I would say the music industry is yet to meaningfully adapt. I can’t say too much just yet, but let’s just say the platform is still very much in its infancy and I can’t wait to see it develop over 2019 and beyond.

“Taylor is an ideal addition to the LabelRadar board given his extensive relationships and expertise in all areas of the music industry. He shares our vision and I am very grateful to have him join us!” – Ed Brew, LabelRadar CEO

Follow The Hello Group online:

www.thehellogroup.com

www.labelradar.com

Follow Taylor Jones online:

http://www.instagram.com/taylorjones
http://www.facebook.com/taylorjonestj
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