Tech it for granted: Why the music biz still needs instinct as well as data to succeed in the digital age

Zane Lowe

It’s the Music Week Tech Summit Together With O2 this week. And, as hundreds of delegates from both music and technology companies descend on The O2 for a day of debate and information-sharing, the time seems right to have a look at the relationship between the two sectors.

It wasn’t so very long ago that music and tech felt more like adversaries than partners and, while that’s no longer the case (bar the odd streaming spat), the bond between the two still needs careful nurturing.

The beauty of tech from a music point of view is that it delivers information about an artist’s audience that was once out of reach to labels, managers and live execs. But the key question remains: what do you actually do with that information once you have it?

So not for nothing will Apple Music global creative director Zane Lowe’s closing keynote be on the subject of “Keeping the humanity in music”. Because the music business has to resist the temptation to let the data do all the work and make all the decisions – or, as Lowe says: “I don’t want to be influenced by an algorithm, I’d like to influence it myself”.

That’s good to hear, because while there are conflicting reports about whether the time consumers spend listening to music is up or down (the IFPI says up, Nielsen says down), you don’t need a survey to tell you it’s audience engagement levels that really matter. That's why the three-second social media rule revealed in Music Week by Facebook's Vanessa Bakewell (also a Tech Summit speaker) is so important. And why an elective stream is surely worth a hundred passive ones (even if the charts compilers don’t yet agree).

Labels now have all the information they could ever wish for. But they also have huge numbers of talented staff whose ears should trump any algorithm when it comes to finding new talent. And, while the music biz used to laugh at the movie industry for changing creative decisions in order to give the audience what they said they wanted, heading down a similar road risks removing the bold decision-making and innovation behind most of the greatest records ever made.

The best results always come from balancing the two concerns. Back in the early days of streaming, you could pretty much guarantee an explosive panel debate on the subject of ‘data vs gut instinct’ as old school methods clashed with new school theory. Don’t expect too much of that at this year’s Tech Summit, as the debate has moved on. Because these days, you need both to get the best for your artist.

* The Music Week Tech Summit takes place at the O2 in London on Tuesday, October 8. For everything you need to know about the event, click here. For last minute ticket availability, visit

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