Our interview with Alex White, CEO of Next Big Sound

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Next Big Sound’s massive digital data collection system is simply a must-have for anyone in the music business. If you’ve ever wished you had a personal assistant to monitor all of your social media sites, this might be for you.

A few weeks ago, I was cruising around on Facebook, checking in on a few friends that are on the inside of the music business, when I noticed the name of a website Next Big Sound. I’m not exactly sure what made me go check them out; it was either boredom or my never ending quest to quench a thirst I have for musical knowledge. Lately, part of the social network equation seems to be missing for many unsigned bands. While I know that some of the old methods no longer work, the new methods can be difficult to implement and test for efficacy. The best way in my opinion is to not try to reinvent the wheel.

That is precisely where the Next Big Sound enters the picture and starts leveling the playing field. They can help any band, label or anyone else in the music business with their massive information collection system. Currently, they are tracking social media statistics on almost a half a million bands and the numbers are growing daily. In my opinion NBS is essential for anyone that wants to thrive or even just survive in the digital dimension that is called the music business these days.

The Next Big Sound is definitely one of the most innovative and exciting new tools that the music industry has ever seen.

I caught up with the CEO of Next Big Sound, Alex White and had a great conversation about his company:

ABS: Hi Alex, how long has NBS been around?

AW: We founded the company in August of 2008 but didn’t actually launch the company that is seen today until August of 2009.

So for the first year you were doing a lot of behind the scenes work to get ready for the launch.

Yeah pretty much, plus some of us were still seniors in college at the time, so we were only operating at about 1/8 of the speed we should have been.

When did you realize or think that you had stumbled on to something awesome?

It was the summer of 2009 and we had started collecting just Myspace data on about 70 artists. At that time we sent out our weekly report to a couple of band managers we were working with, to see how valuable this information would be, and had the idea it would be helpful. But hearing it from people in the industry really confirmed it. They told us they had been looking at the social media sites for all these bands and it literally takes them hours on end. So it was then that we realized that we could save people a lot of time. Within a few months we were working with a dozen band managers very closely and we would send them our product at the end of each week.

Prior to the interview I was Facebooking with a friend at a record label and I had mentioned that I was going to do an interview with you and he told me he gets your weekly metrics reports for all his artists. He called it a “fantastic platform.” How many industry insiders are using this?

We literally have thousands and thousands of people in the music industry subscribing to these reports and they get via email from us each week, telling them the latest stats on whatever artists they have chosen to follow stats on free of charge. We have a free account and a premier account available.

One feature I really enjoyed from a fan standpoint, was the ability to be able to select a band and see how they are doing with all of their social media. Is this product for any bands or is this just for bigger bands that are on labels?

Any band can be in there. We track literally hundreds of thousands of bands, everything from the biggest band in the world all the way down to one guy recording in a basement. Anyone that has an account with us can add any artists to be tracked. They can just add the URL of whatever social network sites they want added and the tracking begins. A band or anyone can do it themselves, it is a pretty simple process. All you need to do is go to the stats page and enter the name of the artist in the search box.

One of the other interesting features is the chart platform page. You can pick up to 4 bands and compare them all on one graph. You can see how they compare with each other. So, if I was in a band, I could compare my band to say, Godsmack or Linkin Park on that page?

Correct. But unless you are pretty popular, it might not be such a flattering comparison.

So, we have established that any band can do this with the basic package?

Yes, that is all free. There have been at least 10,000 bands that have submitted to be tracked and a request to be monitored. That is an important part of the process because bands are always breaking up and new bands are forming every day, so it’s important that we stay on top of that. We have a firm centralized process where we are manually entering names and opening it up Wikipedia style so that anyone can add info on the band.

Why is NBS important for music insiders and for bands?

I think (because of) the fact that we are visualizing numbers. The numbers have always been important in tracking CD sales and concert ticket sales but now there is more data available than ever before. I think it’s important for people in the music industry and the reason why it resonates so closely is that we are visualizing all of this data in a way they have never seen before. These are daily numbers that are coming in and they are much more responsive than concert tickets and sales data because these are small frictionless activities, like streaming on Myspace or watching videos on YouTube. It’s reactive to the things that bands are doing everyday. For instance, when a band runs a Facebook campaign, you see thousands of impressions and clicks and by having this data centralized, someone’s friend can go check out this page and see what’s up with this artist and whether or not they want to go. People hear about the band coming through town and they want to see what the fuss is all about that they have been seeing on the internet. We are comparing what they are doing everyday with what is actually working and it has become a great tool and it is a game changer.

So, it is totally conceivable that a band can see exactly what happens when they get mentioned in a blog, do a radio interview or they are playing live in a certain area. They can see how these things directly affect their social media and how much buzz they are creating?

Totally. Managers used to have to go around and check all these pages each day. They would see how many followers they had on on Twitter, Myspace…etc. NBS checks all the sites everyday at the same time. So, how it works is you can go back on the day you were mentioned in the blog and see that you added 85 fans. It has brought some clarity in the sense that in the past the bands and managers would look at something and say “I think that was a good thing we did.” Now we can actually quantify the value.

I noticed when I visited the NBS site that with the Premier Package there are recommendations available for bands, can you talk a little bit about how the recommendations work?

Sure, we are pretty much focused on the social media aspect and the low hanging fruit. We send out email alerts if a band’s social media seems to be spiking in the wrong direction. Like, if Paramore went from 80,000 to 8,000 followers on Twitter and it was out of the norm for them to do that within the last 30, 60 or 90 days, then we would alert them that Twitter needed some attention and that something happened on this day. These are spikes that could possibly go undetected if it weren’t for us. Also, there are all these new music profile sites starting up all the time. Bands, labels and managers want to know which sites they need to be on, which ones have value for them. So we also alert the bands if we see they don’t have a certain page like Last FM. There is a bit of a formula and we are quantifying what it can be costing you by not being on one of these certain sites, and then it tells you which one of your networks has been the most popular for the last week. Another feature is suggesting looking at other artists with similar online activity and seeing what they are up to. I believe we are just scratching the surface there.

So, it sounds to me like there is an actual formula?

Some of the most common questions we get is, what are other people doing, what should we be doing, what are we missing out on? Through this massive data set we have collected and continuing to tie together activity and the events stream, such as the press mentions and radio plays, we can recommend what events are actually moving the needle.

Can this be broken down by a particular region or geographic location?

On the Premier platform we plot the basic geographic data for Twitter , Myspace and Facebook on a map and you can break it down by country or by state. That was one of the big things people wanted to know. The way we built the Premier package was we took the suggestions from all the people that used our free site and we were able to turn it into a much more powerful platform.

So, a band can go play live in Denver, go back to the hotel room, get on the computer and see how the show affected their NBS buzz ranking in that particular area.

Exactly.

The NBS 25 lists the top 25 bands each week. How long has the NBS 25 been in place?

It was actually just launched this September.

Will the NBS 25 ever be genre specific?

We’ve explored it. Can’t really go much deeper than that but a lot of people would like to get their hands on the information we have assembled.
For right now we think it’s pretty exciting just to see who is accelerating the fastest and trying to be the next big sound. The list basically is a glimpse into the future, telling you who’s going to be popular next.
We are focused on the building the Premier platform right now. There are a lot of amazing things coming.

Let’s talk a little about ReverbNation. Their charts have always been a little bit of a mystery to the average person as to how things are calculated. How does yours compare? What makes yours so easy to follow?


It was based on a chart we ran during SXSW last year. It’s an easy concept to wrap your head around, with all the data sources we track, anyone can easily see who has the most online activity, the fastest rate, for the previous week. So it’s not an amalgamation of physical sales and ring tones its purely just online and social media activity.

One of the problems with other charts is they can be manipulated and it isn’t always a great barometer of what is really happening. A band can slap their widgets in a few spots and only have 100 fans on Facebook but look huge in the charts.

You are right. A band can do some things other places that can’t be done with ours. We are totally agnostic on the tools front. We are just monitoring what is happening. We will always be the unbiased third party monitoring all this data. There is a temptation I think to get into the promotion and marketing side of it but there is a definite need for an independent third party and that is the role we play.

Any thoughts about a Facebook app?

We’ve explored that and we also have explored iPhone and iPad apps. What we are working on right now is the ability to share the graphs in a different way. Right now you can share the graphs but we’d like the graphs to be embeddable, so that when people are talking about bands or artists, the data can be part of the conversation, wherever they are, instead of having to go to the NBS site. As a startup, we have been prioritizing the most impactful things that we can do, like focusing on our web application and knocking that out of the park. That’s what we are working on.

Do you track internet radio play?

Not yet but we recently signed a deal with Media Guide to provide celestial and Satellite radio stats. That is part of the premier package. We’ll probably do something at some point in regards to internet radio but only if there is a way to compare all bands instead of just the top 150. We want the apples to apples comparison across all sites.

What are the plans going forward?

We are in the final stages of creating a centralized dashboard that will help people make decisions about their business. Then the other thing that we are continuing to work on, is adding this intelligent layer on top of everything. We want to utilize this massive data set we have collected. No one else in the world has access to it and we want to be able provide concrete recommendations to bands, labels and industry professionals on how they can best navigate this digital world.

I’d like to thank Alex White and the Next Big Sound for taking the time to share some of their secrets with us. In the beginning of this story idea, I was trying to come up with a Blues angle. As it turns out, doing the interview itself was the angle. This is relevant to every single music genre. NBS is an invaluable new tool for the music industry professional and also provides an exciting method for the average fan to follow their favorite band.

Note: Next Big Sound was recently named as one of the 10 Best Music Startups of 2010 by Billboard Magazine and CEO Alex White was named to Billboard’s 30 Under 30 Executives to Watch list.

Click on the Next Big Sound logo to visit their website

By Glen Casebeer/Northwest Music Scene

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