Blasting from the speakers beside a cluttered, but organized desk are steady beats and lyrics off of Curren$y’s latest album – The Stoned Immaculate. Tim Dunmore, Director of Marketing, Research and Analysis with Universal Republic, presses pause and sends his summer intern out for lunch, then takes a seat on his couch and spends the next hour explaining in detail how he uses Next Big Sound to do his job.
Dunmore is a veteran of the industry, having been with Universal for close to a decade. He started at The Verve Music Group, working with financial analysis, then moved over to Island Def Jam and sales analysis. Recently he was brought over to Republic, to fill a newly created position, where he says the Next Big Sound platform is an essential part of his “toolkit.”
He explains his role at Republic as looking into “how the marketing plans and campaigns we are working on are affecting two things – the sales that we have on the records or singles, and also whether we are engaging the audience in the way that we had hoped to engage them, making them either fans, or even more loyal fans.”
In order to do this efficiently, Dunmore says, “You have to think of all artists as their own entity.” Some artists will do better in digital format; others sell more physical records. Some will sell only singles; others sell more albums. Depending on this, the strategies can vary greatly, from search engine marketing campaigns, to banner ads, to promoting with retailers. “There are different types of calculations that we do, or different types of reports, so you see what type of plan would work best for an artist,” he says.
Dunmore typically uses the Next Big Sound platform in three different ways. He will often have to put together ad hoc reports when business questions come across his desk such as “‘what would be the best next single,’ or ‘what is the streaming of such and such single versus airplay.’” In this instance, Dunmore will employ the graphs tool. “It’s much easier to show a pattern. You can just put together a graph, have a few notes below to explain it, and shoot it off to somebody.”
The frequency of these reports depends on the cycle a record is in. Republic currently has about 20 ongoing projects, and Dunmore will field the standard business questions about twice a week, but certain artists can be more intensive. For instance he explains, “One of the things we are doing with an artist right now – Owl City – is conducting weekly interviews via Twitter.” This requires more constant follow up.
“Every week we are looking at: is there a correlation between the number of tweets that he sends out and the number of followers that he has,” Dunmore says, “How is that affecting the other aspects of his digital social networking persona?”
On a more consistent basis, Dunmore pulls what he calls “The Social Stats for Republic report.” Each Wednesday he will put together a community report using a standard set of metrics for the more than one hundred artists on the Republic roster, including all the major social networking metrics such as Facebook likes, Twitter followers, VEVO views, Soundcloud plays, YouTube plays etc. This information will be filled into so-called “onesheets” that all project managers work on, and they are able to see the lift from week to week and are able to tell a story, whether it be to the people in radio promo, press and publicity, which helps secure more editorials and features for artists.
“Lisa Marie Presley is a great example, she wasn’t active on Twitter until we started this album cycle for her Storm Embrace release,” says Dunmore. “We can see the lift of what happens with her Twitter followers on a week to week basis. Even if the inception date number isn’t huge, if we have an increase of 200-300 percent per week, that is something good to know - that she has potential to be someone that people want to follow on Twitter.”
Another report that Dunmore puts together on a regular basis, and describes as the most labor intensive because it is tailored to the cycle of each artist, is the “Fan Engagement Report.” The choice to distribute these on Mondays is a conscious one, as release weeks for artists generally begin on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and videos are dropped on Thursdays in order to capitalize on a full weekend of promotion. “The reason why we run it on Mondays is to capture all of those things in the same timeline,” says Dunmore, “We found that Sunday to Sunday is the best way to gauge momentum of something going on throughout the week.”
This report will consist of metrics such as Google analytics page views, mobile plays for Spotify, and several of the Facebook Insights metrics, such as consumption, stories generated, and reach. “Facebook Insights is one of the biggest metrics that we can track in terms of fan engagement,” says Dunmore, “Having it available in Next Big Sound makes it easier to see patterns – it is a deep hole of information.”
In addition he looks at a variety of comment metrics such as YouTube ratings, particularly the ratio of positive ratings to negative, which gives him and project managers an idea of who is engaging with the video, and whether or not it is successful. “Obviously, your expectation is that if someone is going to take the time to rate something, they are probably going to be doing it positively, but you look at it as sort of a balance,” says Dunmore.
After pulling together the report for all key artists, Dunmore will search for double digit-growth. In instances where the numbers are exceeding the expected limits, he sets about figuring out exactly why. “Is it easily explained just by what I know is going on?” he says, “Or is it something that I need to dive into?”
If he finds that the spike in numbers can be explained by an impromptu action from the artist that was effective, this will be communicated back to the project manager. “We know that in the future if we want to drive an action, drive a fan to do something,” says Dunmore, “we’ve put that in our back pocket and can say this worked in the past.”
But spikes in the data can occur for a variety of reasons. Dunmore explains that new YouTube videos always have an impact, or if an artist posts pictures from backstage, this will bring about a boost. But it is the long-term impact that matters most. “A lot of stuff we see in terms of Facebook or Twitter we like to do on a timeline, so we can see the impact that it has,” he says, “It comes down to – how long is it? Is it a sort of snippet, or a major push?”
There are certain phenomena that drive fan engagement and can be applied to the management of several artists – at least those that are in a similar genre, and are likely to have fans that engage in a similar manner. “It is a sort of a balance, based upon what type of artist they are,” says Dunmore, “If they are an engaging artist on Twitter, obviously you can do Twitter interviews. If there is somebody that is not really comfortable with Twitter, you don’t do those types of things for them.”
Going back to the Owl City Twitter interviews, Dunmore explains how mentioning an upcoming collaboration with Carly Rae Jepsen drove traffic, impressions and reach. “It drove the comments on Twitter to 26 million, versus other chats where the baseline was closer to 20 million.” This inspired them to have Jepsen herself participate in the interview the following week, and to take note of what impressions this action drove.
“That’s another example of how you can look at what has been done, create a deck about it, and then present that to other artists and say ‘this is what we did in the past for this artist, this is something that we can do for you, and this is what it did for them. So, are you interested in potentially reaching 20 million people each week?’”
Dunmore keeps track of all the information he gathers from Next Big Sound in a variety of ways. This can be through emails that include graphs that cover the full time span of an artist’s cycle, updated on a weekly basis, decks he creates and distributes when a cycle is winding down and they have an overview of what strategies were particularly effective for an artist, or bookmarks he saves in the platform itself, available for viewing whenever necessary.
Dunmore explains that before the days of Next Big Sound, if someone were to ask him to figure out which should be the next single of a record, the only option was to look at Soundscan information and see which songs were selling the best when a record first came out, versus which songs were selling the best at present, “and that would be the only way that I could look at it.” Now, he says he is constantly fielding new types of business questions that are helping them to improve how they manage artists in a changing music industry, and that he could spend days coming up with new questions to answer using the Next Big Sound platform. “To me, the more I use it, the more I think of ways to use it,” Dunmore says with a grin.
Liv Buli is the resident data journalist for music analytics company Next Big Sound. Buli is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and her work has appeared in Newsweek Daily Beast, The New York Times Local East Village, Westchester Magazine and more.