Business Interviews Digital

Q&A: Marisol Segal, OpenAura

By | Published on Friday 12 December 2014

Marisol Segal

This interview from the recent M For Montreal conference appeared in the December 2014 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium

Beyond the licensing squabbles, and the question as to whether or not YouTube really can turn its massive freemium audience into music subscribers, the other thing the video site’s new music set-up will do is make the streaming experience more visual. Something its sister service Google Play has been slowly evolving for sometime. And even if YouTube Music Key flunks, that’s a trend that is likely to be seen across the market.

“Look at social media, where best practice says always include an image, not just text and a link”, says OpenAura’s VP Industry Relations & Marketing Marisol Segal, whose previous roles have involved both sides of the digital music industry, having worked at both distributor IODA and digital service provider Rdio. “Look at the trends in advertising and social media and how important the visual content is. That is your indicator of how we can enhance the playback experience in the streaming music domain”.

The streaming music market is yet to fully embrace the visual side of the music experience, Segal reckons. “Listening online hasn’t evolved much. You get pack shots, and a static artist page, usually with one photo and a biog. I mean, who reads a biog on the artist page of their streaming service? But all the DSPs think they need it, mainly because its one of the few things they have easy access to”.

But it’s in everyone’s interest for streaming services to become more visual, Segal says. “Mainstream consumers are clearly engaged by visuals, we know that. And the DSPs need your attention on screen too, and need to find ways of encouraging that. And artists as well, artists need to be able to market themselves better via streaming platforms”.

She goes on: “Artists can promote themselves on social media, but increasingly they’ll be lucky to reach more than 10% of their audience without paying. They have their website at the top of the tree, but only a slice of fanbase will get that far. In the middle you have millions and millions of fans connecting to artists via streaming platforms, but the artists have no way of interacting with those fans, or pushing information to them, and trying to turn passive fans into active fans. It’s crazy that these services are giving fans a little bit of what they want, and then forcing them to go off elsewhere the find everything else”.

Of course, various DSPs have dabbled with offering artists the ability to tweak their profiles, or add buttons linking through to their merch stores. But, says Segal, “the challenge for the DSPs is that they need scalability. So they might be able to offer a little functionality direct, and for the most important artists and labels they can do something bespoke, but really they need one content source that can offer scale”.

Which is the thing that OpenAura – the new business from IODA founder Kevin Arnold which launched earlier this year – is hoping to provide. “Streaming services need better artist information and visual content, and artists need to be able to control that, and that is why OpenAura was launched. Essentially we are building a giant artist meta-data and visual content toolkit, which we think complements existing meta-data and recommendation engines, but which enables DSPs with this need to offer more of the artist experience”.

“We look at ourselves as first-to-market providing DSPs – who will be our clients – with artist identity resources. We are sourcing content from numerous places, Getty, Associated Press, professional photographers, labels, and artists direct. Anyone can contribute content, but artists control what goes out. 50% of revenue is shared back with the content owners, so we are creating a new revenue stream for the people creating this visual output”.

One of the challenges for DSPs in getting this kind of content direct is that visuals are created and controlled by multiple stakeholders – labels, artists, management, promoters, media – many of which a digital service doesn’t have direct contact with. OpenAura hopes to crack this problem. “We have artist tools”, Segal goes on, “allowing artists and their teams to manage content, contribute their own images, update their information, make sure their own photographers are in the system”.

But how does an artist get this control? “We have nearly a million artists in our database. These have been curated not just by scraping the entire internet, but by focusing on official artist profiles. We say each of these artists has an ‘aura’, and whoever is in control of an artist’s official Twitter or Facebook account can claim control of that aura. It’s a great way to authenticate”.

But even once the dots have been joined, do artists have enough visuals to satisfy the appetite of a picture-hungry consumer base? “I hear this a fair bit from digital marketing teams, they don’t have enough images to work with for social media. But on the flipside, the artist on Twitter and Instagram is often constantly creating and posting images. The music industry is being more visual than ever, we just need the hub to bring it altogether”.

From vinyl to CD to the tiny pack shots in the original iTunes, it seems like the music industry’s official imagery has been getting smaller and smaller over the decades, yet via other digital channels artists are – as Segal says – becoming more visual than ever before. So it seems certain that visual elements will be enhanced in the streaming domain in the near future, and it will be interesting to see the role OpenAura plays in that process.

This report from the recent M For Montreal conference appeared in the December 2014 edition of the CMU Trends Report. Buy our reports from the CMU Shop or get every edition by signing up for CMU Premium