Paul Pacifico has a long and varied history in the music industry. Since 2016, he's been the CEO of the Association of Independent Music (AIM) which represents over 800 independent music companies in the UK. Before that, he headed up the artist advocacy organisations the Featured Artist Coalition (FAC) and the International Artist Organisation (IAO) and he's also a visiting professor at Berklee College of Music’s campus in Valencia, Spain, a blues harmonica player and bandleader and has his own independent music company. We sat down with Paul who was kind enough to share some of his extensive industry insights with us about how the availability of radio and streaming data has become a game changer for independent musicians in just a few short years.
Well, I play the blues harmonica. And even though I’m not all that good, over the years, I’ve managed to get a lot of gigs. I’ve been very fortunate because I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate and play with a lot of amazing artists, so I’ve had the experience of working as an artist in my own bands, but also as a session musician, recording and performing live with different artists.
I still do the odd session but very few. I did a couple of sessions last year, among them a drum n bass session for High Contrast; which was funny because I’d never done electronic dance music before. And I just did one last week in Portugal with an artist from Porto called Holy Nothing.
Yes, I’d made an album a few years ago with my band and we were putting it out in partnership with an independent label. The music we make is pretty niche, so we had limited expectations about where it was going to go. It was a bit of a fun, a creative side project between friends really, but we took it quite seriously and wanted it to do as well as it could.
And in the UK it did exactly that. We had a few plays on Radio 6 Music and Radio 2 and some regional play, so we were very happy. It was a great outcome for that kind of project and sales were good, the socials were good and we got quite a few festival gigs off the back of it.Then the record label, which was a small label, came to me and said, ‘why don’t we do something in America?' But being a small label they didn’t have the money to do a proper campaign with the cost of doing promo, getting a radio plugger etc, so they asked us if we would go halves with them and keep the deal we already had.We had a split of net profits which was pretty generously in our favor and it was a very transparent deal. I thought it was a very grown-up way to approach the project.At the time I was very tempted and if I’d been richer I would have said yes. But I’d just had a baby and I wasn't really sure. At the time there was absolutely nowhere we could reach out to figure out the basis for that decision. We were making quite specialist blues music and we had no idea of knowing if we were starting from ground zero or if somebody was already listening.
Exactly. Because we’d had really good reviews in some specialist blues magazines, so we knew that we had some coverage, we just didn’t know more than that, so it was a big roll of the dice.
Yeah, a drop in the ocean, really. So in the end, I decided not to do it because it seemed like too much of a risk. But then a few years later, I suddenly got a disproportionately high payout from the British performance rights organisation PPL. And I thought, ‘well that’s weird’.We hadn’t released anything, so I called them up and asked them what the money was for. And they said it was money from public performance from the collecting society SoundExchange in the United States. And in a streaming economy characterised by micro-payments, it was quite a lot of money in terms of numbers of streams.
Exactly. And they said that it was a reconciliation for plays going back a number of years.I asked if they could tell me any more details, like which track it was, and they said no. Just that it was this particular album that we'd released. And I thought 'Holy cow'. Because if you look at the per stream rates for digital services in the US like Pandora or Sirius XM that SoundExchange is collecting, this was a lot of money. Probably like half a million plays.Now, if we'd had any idea back then, when the album was being reviewed and listened to that we had anywhere near that number of spins in the US, I would have made the opposite decision. I would have spent the money, and who knows whether we would have had more or less success, but it would have been an educated bet. It’s always a bet, but it would have been an educated one.So the idea that we now have a world where it’s possible to make educated bets like that, to look at real activity, real-world data, that tells you whether it makes sense to follow up on a campaign or invest more money and double down on what you’re doing, I think it’s a phenomenal opportunity particularly for independents.Whether it’s self-releasing artists or independent labels with fewer resources, you have to make more targeted decisions. And the more data you have to base that on, the stronger the outcome is going to be.
Well, it wasn’t on the same scale, but it's true. If Rodriguez or his record label had known what was going on in South Africa his story would have been very very different. And I think in a very small way that if we’d known that we actually had some traction in the US we would have definitely followed up and invested in promoting there. Obviously, if you compare it to Rodriguez, it's a smaller scale, but half a million streams is still quite a lot.
Yes, it is. If you’re going to try something in the US, you’re going to spend, at the very minimum, somewhere between $1,500 and $5,000 to have something that looks like a campaign across, say, college radio. And as an independent, that's significant. And if you can see that there’s activity then that gives you the confidence to think that you're not just burning money but that actually it’s a strategic play because you can see there's something to build on.So with us, for example, we didn’t do anything in The States, it's just that some people picked up on our album and that was enough to have a ripple. So the question is whether you can build on that ripple and take the momentum and grow. That's the key! But you need to know when it's happening. It's too late afterward. So the idea that you can now know in real-time means that you can capitalise on that momentum.
Put really simply, the world of collective management organisations is improving. But the reality is, that CMOs will still for some time, I imagine, continue to operate quarter by quarter, half year by half year or year by year and with varying levels of data in different markets. And when you’re looking at a campaign, that’s never going to be good enough.Right now you need to know immediately what’s happening, what happened yesterday, what happened last week, not six months ago. It's too late. So despite all of those improvements, the establishment of services like WARM create a landscape of phenomenal tools for people planning and building on campaigns to really see what's going on when it's going on.It's not necessarily a criticism of CMOs, because their architecture is built fundamentally on large organisations operating complex bi-lateral agreements and, as a result, it sometimes takes a lot of time to understand what money is attached to what activity.A service like WARM isn’t worried about the underlying transactional relationship. It's just looking at activity and it’s often the activity that drives the strategic decision- making more than calculating exactly what the value of the activity is.
Yes. I know my example isn’t necessarily reflective of everybody, but the only information we had was that we’d had plays of the album. We didn’t know which track or which radio station and we didn’t know when we were played. That's because the potential is there for different metadata to fall out of the system at different places, so you can’t even blame anybody. It could happen anywhere in the chain because it's a very complex chain.Therefore, the monitoring opportunities now are incredibly important. If we'd had WARM at the time we made the decision not to invest in the US, we probably would have made the opposite decision.
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