If you are part of the Nashville music industry you already know something about Jay Frank who’s served as CMT Sr. VP of Music Strategy, Yahoo! Music VP Programming and more. He’s a disrupter who sets his own compass without waiting to see who will follow.
Frank currently heads a three-division company that includes a singles-based record label—DigSin, publishing company—DigPub and an internet marketing firm—DigMark. He’s also author of Futurehit.DNA and Hack Your Hit.
Frank’s innovative DigSin model allows subscribing fans to get free music. His artist development methods leverage new platforms, social networks and relies heavily on data-rich analytics and sifting the digital data for hits. After a feisty Nashville-style, Noshville lunch, I tossed out the recorder and asked DigSin’s man from behind the curtain, “What’s up in Digital Oz?”
RU interested in innovative ways to blend record label models with cutting edge technology? Then label this — “Must Read.”
NEKST: What’s it been like transitioning from a corporate environment to running your own company?
Jay Frank: I worked for a stream of great people who were mentors so the experience on my own isn’t trading a negative one for a positive one. However, it’s completely different with respect to money, resources, and especially the things companies do you don’t think about. But overall, taking on the risks and having the larger portion of the success when it occurs is very exciting.
NEKST: You started your label about 18 months ago with a model some would call radical. How is it evolving?
Jay Frank: A lot of the things I presumed in theory have proven true, but what I’ve learned most about is the emotional aspects of the business. I set up a new music business model predicated on the accurate execution of data analysis and being methodical about where revenues and profits are derived. All very clinical, but the emotional part is something that I didn’t factor in. Artists have emotions. Sometimes the data says one thing, but the artist’s emotions say something else. You then have to figure out how to bring them to a place where their emotions line up with the data. There is also the internal emotions when you recognize that revenue from iTunes, publishing, Spotify and other areas arrives at different times. As a new business you often want the money to arrive now, but need to wait a month, a quarter or even a year. For example, one of our first successes was singer/songwriter Jenn Bostic who got two Top Five singles in the UK with extensive radio play. That performance revenue however will take a long time to come through the system and we have to prepare for that.
NEKST: Data, data everywhere, but understanding it is key.
Jay Frank: [Laughs] Yes. There is so much data. Just reading it isn’t enough.
You have to take chances and believe in talent, but we are not always going to be right. Therefore the trick is to use the data to minimize losses. Ultimately that improves the profit margins of your successes. One of the most important ways we determine the effectiveness of a song is watching to see if it gets shared. I can get a person to like a song, but if a good percentage of fans are willing to tell their friends, then I know I have the power of a hit song.
NEKST: Is discipline the right word to describe your process?
Jay Frank: When you believe something is fantastic, but the data tells you “No,” it takes a lot of discipline to say, “Ok let’s not chase this.”
NEKST: What services does DigMark provide?
Jay Frank: Part of what our consulting business does is orchestrate internet advertising campaigns. Advertisers always say, “I know 50% of my ad money is not spent well, I just don’t know which 50%.” We slice and dice the ad campaigns in so many ways that we can quickly identify most of that wasted 50% and therefore spend 90-95% of the budget on the correct audience. By finding the efficiencies and the right audiences we’ve run campaigns that cost 40% less than expected or produced greater results for the same amount of money. For example, a rock client wanted to do a weekend sale for a limited-edition CD. The goal was ‘post on Friday’ and ‘sell out by Sunday’. The data told us 10 pm was the best time to post. I didn’t believe people would be in front of their Facebook page at 10 pm on a Friday night. But the analytical side of me said, “Trust the data.” So we put it up for sale at 10 pm and it sold out in 3.5 hours! Conventional wisdom is a great place to start, but data is the place to finish.
NEKST: Your artists are in a variety of formats, but not country?
Jay Frank: The artists we work with are all part of one genre—“great music.” When I find a fantastic artist that wants to work with us, it doesn’t matter whether they are pop, rock, jazz, world music or whatever. Country tends to be difficult for two reasons. Our model is predicated on capitalizing on all aspects of the song which means we generally need songs written solely by the artist which is unusual for Country. If I have a song shared by three publishers then to make a business decision I have to get agreement from two other people plus make less publishing money. That isn’t an equation that works. Secondly, radio is still extremely important to achieve a certain level of Country success, but it’s a very expensive, risky proposition. Our model is to develop the fan excitement through mining data and pushing online. I can do that affordably and if I’m able to create a significant online story, I can then elevate it with traditional media and create great success. With Country it’s difficult to get that traction solely online and I’m not willing to gamble on the radio game. Ultimately there is always some level of gamble and luck in the music business and I’m not going to achieve my overall business goals unless a little bit of luck comes my way. But at the same time I’m trying to develop a business whereby I’m able to reach our goals by minimizing the luck factor. After the first $10k is spent I want to have at least an 80% chance I’m going to make my money back. With some minor exceptions we’ve been able to achieve that.
NEKST: On which social media networks are you getting the best results?
Jay Frank: We pick networks by recognizing where consumers are today and where they are going. Instagram and Vine have recently caught on. Interestingly they’re both about visual communication and instant gratification within the message. They don’t direct people to go somewhere else. Across the board Facebook still delivers the most impact. People use it as email, a utility or a diversion. Twitter and the communities it engages are important, but our testing always shows FB delivering 5-10X the engagement we get from Twitter.
NEKST: What are your favorite data tools?
Jay Frank: Overall they’re the ones that everyone can access. We have a few proprietary algorithms, but 95% of the data you need is right in front of you when you set up your channels (Facebook analytics, YouTube analytics, etc.) Using these channels you can advertise and get back an amazing amount of information, more than you could spending thousands of dollars on focus groups. The problem most people face isn’t access, it’s knowing what questions to ask the data.
Jay Frank: Still important because everybody is so segmented and split in terms of getting their attention. Emails are one more connection point, a place to make stuff happen. People underutilize email testing, the ability to try certain things before sending them out to an audience. Will this photo work? Is that subject line a good call to action? Instead of simply hoping for the best we’ll do a tiny bit of advertising first to learn what generates the most clicks?