Part of Nov 2010 by
Next Big Sound CEO, Alex White

Interview with Next Big Sound CEO Alex White

Its pretty rare, even these days, when you can spot the imminent death of a common cliché.  Very soon the old adage, “Fake it until you make it” will be shown the door to the back 40 and set out to graze. “Fake it until you make it” has probably been around since the first band in history figured out they needed to lie their way onto the big stage, which was probably a tree stump at the time.  I have done it, and still continue to “Fake it”” because up until this point bullshitting your way through the music biz works at least some of the time.  And some of the time, if youre persistent enough, is all you need.  But this is no longer the case. Yes, someone has finally invented a bullshit detector for the world of music.  Our global obsession with social media, YouTube, and all things Internet has been compiled into a constantly updated music popularity tracking database by the website Next Big Sound for bands, labels, publicists, etc. to check exactly to the decimal how popular a band really is.  How many fans, plays, hits, and general chatter about a musician is there in one handy dandy tool.  This tool is very powerful and for better or worse is going to change the way the music industry does business. (NBS tracking metrics let your band be compared to others, as shown above.)

Recently Westword Magazine in Denver published an article on the top 24 Colorado bands most likely to launch nationally based on their overall Internet traffic, compiled by Boulders Next Big Sound.  Take a look at the article when you get a chance. Im not a statistician  but the list should have started at band #3 because 3OH!3 and Breathe Carolina have both completely achieved global success.  Recently I interviewed Alex White CEO and Co-Founder of Next Big Sound about the company, the music industry, and how this shiny new tool is supposed to be used.  (And yes, totally between you and me, I call NBS “No Bull Shit” quietly in my mind.)

A2:  So whats the lowdown on how the company got started?

Alex White: My background briefly is that I have been around music my whole life.  My dads a professional cellist, Ive played in bands and worked in a recording studio in high school and then got into the business side of things.  Interned at Universal records for 2 years in New York and Chicago, I booked all the shows at Northwestern where I went to school and lastly went out with a band on a nationwide tour and was paid by the label to build and maintain all their different profile pages and keep them up to date.  So I had built all these pages for the band and had no idea what was working and what wasnt working.  Thats where the impetus for the idea of Next Big Sound started.  Which was collecting all the data relevant to every artist and then being able to close the loop between the marketing, the touring, promotional things that the band, manager, and team were doing and what effect all those things had on awareness engagement and ultimately revenue.

A2: Social media numbers seem to be the driving factor here but what about tracking actual Internet traffic besides social media?

Alex White: We track Wikipedia page views for instance, and we let anyone sync up their Google analytics into the Premiere Platform so you can see the traffic to the .com along side of the social media numbers and also if you send us your iTunes data sales numbers you can have that displayed along with everything else. So you will be able to see if that spike in youtube videos translated into hits for the .com and increased digital downloads.

A2: How is this all being perceived by the industry?

Alex White: Theres a lot of inbound interest now.  If this was 5 years ago then Facebook would barely exist, Twitter wasnt even incorporated, and its really only been since the advent of those 2 and the other social networks that these numbers have gotten too real to ignore.  When Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber are fighting it out to be the first to have a billion views on youtube?  And those are real numbers.  Its not the same revenue as say a 20 dollar CD but it represents a sizeable interest in the art and career of those artists.

A2:  What sites out there are fading away and are there any on the rise?

Alex White: The exodus away from Myspace has been fairly well documented and we are tracking declining traffic levels there.  Particularly in terms of the “friending” activity which is almost non-existent but the play counts are still at staggering levels.  Facebook has really taken off as far as the amount of fans added per day including artists of all sizes.

A2:  Do you foresee any of the newer sites rising up and challenging Facebook or Twitter?

Alex White: Theres a lot of hype now around the geo-location services mainly Foursquare and Gowalla and those sorts of things but right now Facebook and Twitter seem to have a pretty dominant lead.  Youtube: actually the numbers keep getting just more and more insane.  In terms of sites going away we used to track and that was sold to Amazon and we used to track the old version of verb and then they sort of switched their business.  We still track iLike even after the Myspace acquisition and Bebo was a big one for a little while but its been spun off and sold I think.  So even in the last year and a half since we have been in business theres been a handful of sites who were relevant enough at the time to start tracking but have since disappeared.  So this area is constantly changing.

A2:   What advice would you give to bands to help their business?

Alex White: Well its basically the difference between flying blind and measuring the impact of your actions.  So you wouldnt set a goal of losing 25 pounds and then not weigh yourself every week and measure the impact of your actions. Now if you want to get to a thousand true fans or one of the paradigms you have to measure it and track it every day and see what actually works in moving that needle.  So if you hang posters around town does that work?  When people are at your show and you say, “Hey! Check out our website here!” do the people actually go to your site and what are they actually doing on there.  Are they connected with you on the social networks? And whats the best channel for you to promote new music?  Each promotional platform is different but you need to be tracking all of them before you can decide which is most effective for your band.  So for artists starting out I would focus on getting a presence on all the major social networks and then monitoring them to see which one is the most responsive when you get a piece of press here in the local paper or a blog write up or anything like that.  Which is most reactive for you?  Is it a video stream on mypace and youtube or is it more Facebook friends and Twitter followers that will create the spikes in activity for you?  Thats the broad advice and then from there it gets artist specific.

A2: Now what about the standard music industry PR machine.  Press releases, interviews, reviews, etc.  Is that all still relevant?

Alex White: We track all the blog press, news releases, live performances, and they all have an effect on the social media side of things.  People arent typing in random Twitter handles just to see what happens.  Its all driven by in an interest in building up a relationship with a band and opting in for communication from them.  All the press and publicity helps and drives that.  For an artist the question is where is the best place to get coverage like that?  So say youre paying a publicist a couple grand for a campaign are you seeing increases in the metrics that you want to see the increases in?  Is it just in social media, awareness, and the “people knowing that you exist arena” or are you over in the revenue phase of the band where you are trying to drive sales to the fan base you have already established?  Thats one piece.  The second piece would be that we want artists to be able to use the data that we collect and display to them to tell a story to others.  To help them get more press.  My favorite story is of a band comparing themselves to 3 other bands getting radio play and going to a program director at a radio station and saying, “Hey look, youre playing these 3 artists on your station and we have more online activity than all of them combined.  Heres our CD.”  Stuff like that really speaks to program directors.

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