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PUB CRAWLING: THE NUMBERS CRUNCH

Researching Research and "False Positives"

How important is research to publishing? What is its role in A&R? It’s widely accepted that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” and we’ve certainly seen how numbers can be spun to make the case for almost anything. Increasingly, data-crunching has occupied a more prominent place in A&R, largely edging out the ear picks of yore.

Sony/ATV’s Jake Fain, who is both VP of A&R and head of U.S. research, is among those who’ve been exploring advanced methods to take data from key metrics (sales, streaming, spins, Shazams) a step further and avoid superficial evaluations—balanced, he underscores, with the creative intuition and ear for the magical that has always driven the pursuit of talent.

Some prominent execs, meanwhile, feel the net effect of research—at least of the most superficial variety—has actually been damaging to publishing. Big Shazam, Spotify, iTunes, Twitter or other numbers, these execs say, can give artists “false positives,” i.e. the sense that they already have a smash rather than the possibility of one.

These magic figures prompt some managers to believe their acts are thus entitled to seven-figure deals, even though in reality those artists are still, for the most part, untested. The resulting deal inflation hurts pubcos across the board, even the ones that have an easier time writing huge checks. Unlike a label, which can negotiate a 360 deal or otherwise dip into multiple revenue streams, a publisher naturally has a narrower path to recouping.

Ironically, since anyone can make a dashboard of leading indicators (and thus find potential breakouts quickly), some publishers say they’ve come to rely less on research in the last couple of years, and more on old-school bloodhound work to find stuff even earlier—that is, before the false positives start rolling in.

Fain and other A&R guys who use research argue that sufficiently rigorous analysis will counter overstated claims, enabling pubcos to spot circumstances where they’d be overpaying and get out of a derby. On the other hand, of course, you could always just write that big check.

How are you crunching the numbers? Write in and let us know, but please remember that we’re English majors.


UMPG relied on one pretty solid statistic—19 Country radio #1s—in deciding to re-up its deal with Nashville hit machine Luke Laird, who’s penned smashes for more stars than we have room to enumerate here. Big ups and a hearty yee-haw to Nashville EVP/GM Kent Earls and team. The pubco's London-based Creative Director, Darryl Watts, meanwhile, oversaw the hooking of a global admin deal with synth-pop heroes New Order.


Sony/ATV has re-upped their worldwide deal rockers Kasabian, who’ve had monster success in the U.K., and all projects by key songwriter Sergio Pizzorno. Managing Director and President of European Creative Guy Moot said Pizzorno "should be rightfully acknowledged as one of the best contemporary British songwriters around.”


SONGS CEO Matt Pincus testified before the U.S. Senate earlier this week on consent decrees for song licensing. His colleague Ron Perry sparked a fatty and watched the whole thing on CSPAN.

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