Data informed, or data led? That is the question…

Hi there –

AI continues to be a hot topic in the world of tech, and today brings the news that InGrooves have secured a patent for technology that predicts TikTok trends that might translate into streaming success. More specifically if I’m understanding this right, it also suggests when to focus more on TikTok and the organic growth, and when to spend on promo to translate that trend into plays on DSPs.

At first glance, it all reads as being rather clever. In real terms, I am a little sceptical, but only because history is showing us that whilst the dream of AI seems amazing, the realities can often be somewhat flawed.

Whether it’s AI music that sounds like a hot mess, AI copies of art that look like a stoned sixth-former’s A Level project, even AI personalities that descend into racism and humanity’s worst aspects, we are already seeing that AI is most definitely flawed.

With that in mind, I cannot help but have some scepticism around just how well this new tech from InGrooves will work. Of course, there’s case studies to accompany the press hype, but at the same time, the errors and misfires never get mentioned.

All that said, it will certainly be interesting to see if this makes a material difference to InGrooves’ position in the market, and whether it proves a solid draw for artists who may, for example, be looking for someone to translate their unexpected TikTok virality into a hit.

In the broader context, I also worry about the degree to which labels are investing in this kind of tech. I would think it inevitable really – to *not* research this whole area if you have the means to would be foolhardy too of course – but at the same time it speaks to something a friend remarked some years back, and which has stuck with me ever since:

“Be data informed, not data led”

I think it’s safe to say that Motive Unknown has sight on a LOT of data. With clients ranging from the Spice Girls and Robbie Williams through to the releases of innumerable indie labels, through to music brands like Sonos and platforms like Beatport, we see more data than most.

What all that sight has taught us though, is that when applied to the marketing in particular, it always has to be tempered with what I used to call “Mad Men Nous”.

Pre-digital, ad men of the 60s – as fictionalised in shows like Mad Men – had to rely as much on their gut instinct as to whether something would work. They didn’t have these monstrous data sets to draw upon. That meant, however, that they had to stay sharp, keenly tuned into the ebb and flow of popular culture in order to know how to penetrate that with whatever message they were being asked to deliver.

Through the years, I’ve seen bands get turned down for signings because they didn’t have enough Facebook fans. I’ve seen all manner of data points used as weak excuses for something not happening.

At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of mavericks who took their gamble on new signings, confident that this music would connect, despite in some cases barely being able to operate a computer, much less study any data. They did incredibly well too, I might add, establishing arena-tier bands still active today.

My point here is only that I worry that too much reliance on data may lead to everyone pointing the same way, chasing the same things. Of course, AI isn’t going to replace all A&R people and one of the more sensible arguments around AI is that it will sit in balance with human input too. I am sure the music industry may wind up in that place, as will visual art and all other areas being challenged by this new development.

At the same time though, I just hope too much emphasis isn’t put on this all. It feels like everyone is now painfully fixated on TikTok, and potentially on quick wins. That, to me anyway, remains a concern. Quick wins more often than not prove flighty. Real, lasting careers are built with careful thought, strategy and investment.

Have a great weekend,


🎶 written whilst listening to Fred Again’s new album/comp “Actual Life 3 (January 1 – September 9 2022)“. Fred can do no wrong at the mo – he’s precisely what we all need right now: amazing music performed by a really joyous character. I can’t listen without smiling, heheh. Also, this Insta reel of him performing a track live – drumming and all – for Zane Lowe has to be seen to be believed. Incredible stuff.

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