We had the pleasure of talking with Andrew McCluskey, CEO of Musicto, to find out more about his music curation business and why he feels human curation is so important in today’s music scene.
Andrew: I went to LA to join a rock band at 29 – you know, follow the dream. And I’m still here.
I worked early on for Marks and Spencer – I did their management training, worked in stores for a few years and ended up as a chicken buyer, I then headed to LA to join my brother’s rock band. Later, I became the CEO of a national non-profit organization, joined an Indie country group as songwriter and musical director and finally ended up running a consulting business.
I’ve always had my own music gig, and in 2015 had the opportunity to purchase the domain Musicto. It had been registered as a record label in 2008 but they had let the registration lapse – I bought it and spent most of 2016 trying to find the right business model.
In 2017 we finally saw traction when we started bringing on volunteer curators to manage their own playlists – we developed that model and then really came to market in July 2017 and growth has been strong since then. We currently have over 100 applications to become a music to curator.
Andrew: I grew up listening to John Peel and I think we are going to go back to a model where we are looking for people to trust – this is a core human need – there’s so much choice and so many algorithms – for example, if I listen to too much Americana, that’s all the algorithm gives me next week – as we become more digital and digital fences break down – people will fall in love with a brand, an idea – globally branded playlists, driven by the personality of the curator.
Basically, people are going to fall in love with curators. But what’s driving your business? Curators, or listeners hearing about it?
The recent Neilsen 360 Review of Music in USA highlighted 6 big themes in music consumption – number one was the emergence of playlists and curation, and 48% of people surveyed enjoy creating their own playlists and listening to personalised playlists, rather than algorithms. They like listening to their own playlists and listening with friends.
So, we’ve created the place where they can do that. We’ve turned the phone into a broadcast device.
We think the social side of BlueJay is like Instagram – the key for us is providing the right experience for curators – and allowing people to listen to a curator they have a connection with.
Andrew: It’s built around three core principles:
Streaming is changing everything, we see the IPO’s, etc, and that’s going to change the industry because revenues are going to grow
If it’s about streaming, it’s about audiences – the number 1 challenge for a lot of apps out there is trying to get people in. That’s the challenge – and at Musicto we wanted to test human behaviour first, before building a big development.
If it’s about audiences, it’s all about the music recommender – is it algorithms and AI and machines, or humans, and it seems the answer is it’s all of that, but with a human feel, that’s critical.
Musicto is now in the top search results on the planet for “be a music curator”
We are building a platform for curators – we anticipate that 100k people will try it, 50k will give it a try and then drop off, 40k will do it for fun, and for the other 10k it’ll not only become a part of their life but they could start generating revenues, in fact we think a few of them could actually make a living from their playlist.
In a world of infinite content, the #1 challenge is growing an audience – whether you’re a playlist, an artist or an app – to get people to stick around – for an artist to get more than 1,000 listens – is really hard. The difference between Music to and other playlist communities is that we teach our curators how to market their list. What we know from the digital marketing world is that if you want something to reach a wider audience, most of the time it’s 10% content production and 90% sharing and outreach.
If you want to grow your audience you have to be prepared to do the work – to learn how to use the social platforms, how to set up a tweet, how to use automation, all those things. The reality is that the vast majority of people who make a playlist or who want to be a rock star – don’t have the time or real desire to do the work. They’re happy making the track or playlist but they’re not willing to spend the time in the week marketing and working the platforms.
We are very careful in who we take on board as we’re looking for people who are prepared to put the time in.
Our organic traffic grew 80% last quarter – we’ve received almost 4,000 track submissions since the beginning of the year and as I said we have a waiting list of over 100 people waiting to become curators.
We’re focused this quarter on driving the internal culture of the community – setting up systems that enable us to help each other better, to capture ideas and best practices and continually tweaking the site and track submission process. We are on target to hit 100 active curators by August this year at which time we should be generating over 300,000 page views a month at Musicto.
While that kind of traffic will generate what we call “eyeball” revenue – list sponsorships etc – the real revenue stream is in signing individual tracks to the playlist. When a playlist has several thousand subscribers – and these are real subs, not fake subs from the Philippines or elsewhere – it means that we can offer artists access to that audience.
Instead of signing a multi album deal with a label where they share streaming, licensing, publishing revenues, etc – we offer artists single track deals where we only take a percentage of the streaming revenues, with our audience we can ensure that the artist’s track gets listened to thousands of times – if it’s good – that is enough for the Spotify algorithm to notice and start moving the track onto their feeder lists. This is the new definition of how you break a track – the trick is to have real live humans in your audience and that takes a long time to build up – but that is what we are doing.
The cool thing about Music to is that we also give the curator a percentage of the streaming revenue – in fact the same amount that we pay the artist. this gives the curator an economic incentive to grow their list and market the track – it really is a win win.
If you consider a playlist curator after three years can typically have 35,000 followers across the social platforms and maybe two or thousand subscribers on Spotify – if not more – if they are signing a track a month and making a good percentage of the streaming revenue – then they are becoming their own mini label – all driven around single track streaming revenues based around the audience they have built. And because they do this in their spare time – they have no overhead and it allows them to grow in their own time.
The trick is finding the right people and we’re getting much better at that. Our current curator attrition rate is 22% and working to bring that down in the teens.
Andrew: Curators, playlisters, labels – anyone who wants to broaden and get more control over when and how they can play their music, and who to, and still get Spotify and other streaming services credit from this.
Currently if you put something on Spotify, you can’t really influence who listens when and you can’t listen together. Let’s say a music business has say 6 artists, and all up they have 300k followers. If you run a playlist of 12 songs, 2 each from 6 bands, and the business promotes this and when people listen they listen on Spotify and those listens count as plays – that’s interesting because they have more control over who listens, but you have to work to make it happen.
We have a platform – for the sheer enjoyment and engagement of friends – the same as Instagram – for curators and listeners –
for professional artists.
You’re a platform, should we be on it? Hell yeah. Our curators can operate on your platform – that’s part of them still building their brand independently across all platforms.
If you’d like to get your playlists in front of a new audience, why not host some sessions on the BlueJay app? Download it for free here: