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B.C. companies tuning music industry to listeners

Major labels team up with local tech firms to help deliver new music more effectively
Play MPE CEO Fred Vandenberg | Photo: Chung Chow

Marketers relying on personal data to connect companies with customers must prepare for the spigot of data to soon start slowing to a trickle, says Annabel Youens.

The co-founder of Victoria startup Appreciation Engine points to the emergence of legislation influenced by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the backlash against Facebook Inc.’s (Nasdaq:FB) privacy compromises as vivid signs attitudes to data are changing.

“In five years you’re not going to be able to scrape data,” said Youens, whose company develops tech tools allowing companies to track the interests of customers.

That prospect is putting pressure on businesses to come up with ways to develop a “digital handshake” with customers to transparently exchange data for more-convenient services, she said.

Appreciation Engine’s tech currently allows the music industry to tap into what music fans are listening to, while the company has designs on moving into the sports and gaming sectors in the coming year.

A record store may enlist the startup’s tech to send a newsletter to customers asking them to click through a link permitting them to analyze a Spotify Technology SA (NYSE:SPOT) account to better track tastes and then recommend albums the store is selling.

The platform makes it explicit to customers about what data it’s collecting and allows customers to turn off the supply of data at their choosing.

“They can now pinpoint each fan and deliver content that’s exactly the stuff they care about. It’s really having value on both sides of the equation,” Youens said.

Appreciation Engine has attracted partners including Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment – two of the world’s three major record labels.

Youens, meanwhile, acknowledged that privacy concerns will likely persist regarding how data is used.

“But you’re going to have to give your data to somebody, right? There are going to be certain businesses that you agree add value to your life,” she said. “All those services exist because there is this beneficial two-way relationship between the end consumer and their data and privacy in the business.”

B.C. has been gradually emerging as an intersection between music and technology.

In December 2018, Creative BC, a non-profit agency that promotes the province’s film, TV, music and publishing sectors, delivered grants to two music-tech firms.

Mosa Music in Victoria received $35,000 to help develop and market its Mubric music-learning software, and Courtenay-based Tickit Event Services received a $65,000 grant for its ticketing platform that helps promote live music events.

But challenges still remain for those trying to persuade the music industry to adopt new technologies, according to Play MPE CEO Fred Vandenberg.

“Changing the way they do their promotions is fraught with reluctance,” said Vandenberg, whose Vancouver-based music-technology company specializes in online music promotion and delivery.

Play MPE maintains a master list of industry contacts on behalf of promoters, while its platform can be used by radio program directors to access a library of new music to help push new songs on the airwaves.

Its technology substitutes the traditional delivery system of sending physical copies of new music for a digital delivery system.

Vandenberg describes it as the first and largest provider of such services in the world.

In 2005, when he first entertained the idea of digital deliveries, he was surprised to find out that it wasn’t already a common service.

“We thought there would be a stampede to buy the service from us, but that never occurred,” he said. “A promoter, their job is to get the song in front of their audience that they’re targeting, and they do not want to have any kind of hole or they don’t want to risk changing the way they do business because they don’t want to miss that opportunity to get that song on air.”

Like Appreciation Engine, Universal Music Group has also partnered with Play MPE to help promote music.

“People think we’re in the digital age of music right now, which is true to an extent,” Vandenberg said.

“But I think if you take a step back and look at it [from the macro level], we’re still changing into the digital age; it’s still evolving. And knowing how things are going to shake out is really a challenge for everybody in the music industry.”

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