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In tune. Informed. Indispensable.

Liz Stokes travels to IMS Ibiza to find the dance music world being underserved by the streaming services and fighting its battles on its own whilst it grows its global revenues

In last week’s RotD Great Escape recap we touched on the speed the industry is moving at. The pace at which ideas float and then come to fruition, or subsequently sink, appears to be at an all-time high. IMS Ibiza continued this theme, amongst others, with the mention of those three letters that have dominated the dance music press over the past six months: SFX.

In 2015, then-President and Chief Operating Officer of SFX, now President and CEO of Beatport, Greg Consiglio, stood on the IMS stage and stated the three pillars of the company would be: live, brand integration and Beatport - with the latter “a core to the vision of the future of what SFX wants to become”. He detailed a vision for a “central dance music hub”, encapsulating the download store, a social network, ticketing destination and streaming service. Fast forward 12 months and we’ve seen the downfall of the Robert Sillerman SFX empire and Beatport shake off its distractions to revert back to a standalone download store. However, whilst this huge change has no doubt bruised some, Beatport and one of its major clients, Spinnin’ Records, stood united this year with a cautious but optimistic new vision for its future. Eelko Van Kooten, CEO of Spinnin’, reaffirmed the label’s “100% support” for the site and stated that it was important it kept conversations going with Beatport, rather than holding company SFX. Senior VP of Marketing & Analytics for Beatport, Terry Weerasinghe, used the opportunity to explain that the reshuffle has given the site the opportunity to refocus on its clients and provide them with the service they need: downloads. Whilst the wider industry may be discussing the decline in downloads, it was a common view across the IMS panels that DJs will continue to need them and that a future where DJ sets are done via a streaming source is a long way off yet, if ever.

It was one of many times over the three days that highlighted just how autonomously the dance world operates. DJs and the companies working specifically within the dance music sector have defined needs, and the issues surrounding the genre are almost unique to it. Statistics presented in the annual opening business report showed that in the UK, streaming of dance music grew at a faster rate than any other genre in 2015 (Jan-Oct); in the US, it’s the fifth most popular genre; in terms of sales, dance remained in the top three genres across all formats in the UK last year; dance artists dominated Spotify end of year stats with the most streamed song being Lean On by Major Lazer, breakout artist being Kygo and most viral track being by Robin Schulz, plus electronic music related events in the US are the only ones showing a YoY increase in attendance. So, for such a dominant and perhaps over-performing genre, why are many of its needs not being met?

A panel titled ‘the great streaming debate’ touched on culture rather than royalties, which offered a nice break from the debate so often heard in the music industry. Rather than demonising Spotify, Deezer et al for their rates, the issues in the dance world centred on under-serving the needs of the labels and fans at a user interface level. Jamie Chalmers, Director of Anglo Digital Management, neatly underpinned the fundamental problem surrounding modern music consumption with the analogy of the vinyl store, where the person behind the till understood what buyers were looking for, an experience that was echoed when the Beatport download store launched. He explained that iTunes’ and Spotify’s focuses have not been on that knowledge and those expertise. Mark Lawrence, CEO of the Association For Electronic Music and panel moderator, backed up the point by asking why no major service yet allows for label searches. The tribal following of specific labels is a nuance in music that’s perhaps strongest in the dance world and can’t be ignored; it’s a backbone staple on services such as Beatport and Traxsource. Whilst Dubset’s announcement of its agreement with Spotify to expand the availability of longform DJ mixes, single mixes and other user generated content was very welcomed, how it took so long to come about was also brought in to question. We were left sceptical as to whether an entirely dance-specific streaming service was needed or whether it should simply be that existing services step up and create genre avenues outside of playlists. We believe that the race to for top dog streaming service could be given a swift boost by simply listening to and implementing the needs of specific genres, rather than just listing them.

Further to the above, it’s worth noting how artist-led the dance industry is. Keynotes over the 2016 IMS conference, from the likes of Seth Troxler, Erick Morillo and Pet Shop Boys, were all well-attended and added a human element that can so often be missing from music. Hero worship is nothing new, but sitting down with peers and the primary cogs of the machine opens up entire conversations that are vital to understanding what’s needed to pull a sector together. Morillo’s frank and honest discussion about his ketamine addiction served as a stark warning as to what can happen when the team around an artist fails to have their ears to the ground and eyes on the talent. We saw a similar humanising of the industry during Help Musicians UK’s TGE strand around the launch of its mental health campaign and we feel it’s a conversation we should all be having. Without the artists the industry stops and having them as part of a discussion about data or depression can only serve us well.

Elsewhere, [PIAS]’s Kenny Gates gave excellent candid dissection of the history of the company and the mistakes he had made along the way, laying bare the pitfalls of getting greedy and being money-driven. New for 2016, the introduction of the five minute company Introducing…. segments offered a bite size look into several companies that were new to us and worked well. We felt the women in music panel was a slightly weathered topic and, as Annie Mac put it two years ago on the same stage, we’re looking forward to the day when it’s not even a question. It’s worth noting for future panellists that in order to have a discussion about gender equality, it’s favourable to have some men on stage – a point that’s often missed by all conferences. The Young Guns Network took to the stage for a third consecutive year, this time pulling together four panellists to discuss the future of messaging as a way of marketing. Derren Sequeira, Entertainment Lead at Facebook, divulged the interesting stat that 70% of link referrals now come from Messenger – a powerful and woefully under-used tool, evidentially. Facebook is now working with brands and power artists to create a more engaging platform through Messenger but, as Sally Burtt-Jones, Content Marketing and Strategic Partnerships Head at Viber explained, using this platform is invading the customer’s personal space so treading carefully is a must.

In its ninth year in Ibiza, IMS has grown as a conference. It seems to understand its audience and its range of panel topics are engaging. Whilst its usefulness to those working within dance music is evident, for the wider community it’s an occasion to pick up new ideas and begin to fathom a side of the industry that appears to have its own rules and operates on an almost independent level, away from the mainstream.

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