Financial Times Magazine features Instrumental & CEO Conrad Withey

Jul 2018

In Music’s “Moneyball” moment: why data is the new talent scout, Michael Hanns explains that record labels have always relied on their A&R department (artists and repertoire) to scout upcoming talent. But the process hasn’t been the most efficient - despite a global spend of $2.8 billion on A&R, only a quarter of signings have become commercially successful. As the industry changes - from consumers buying records to streaming music online - so has the scouting process.

Whilst the age of CDs was incredibly profitable, the rise of the internet drastically changed things. People were no longer buying records; instead, file sharing and streaming services quickly slashed sales. A common theme at Blenheim Chalcot is to spot opportunities in markets undergoing discontinuities, and this was no exception – Withey states, “Youtube, Spotify, Instagram were born and changed the way talent begins its journey. All the barriers came down … I was fascinated by how the A&R process hadn’t changed”.

This was the music industry’s “Moneyball” moment. Named after the Michael Lewis book of the same name, it tells the story of the Oakland Athletics analysing seemingly obscure pieces of player data in their scouting process. They were able to attain players who had been previously ignored but could be valuable contributors to the team, thereby helping them compete with richer teams for a fraction of the cost. In the same way, Big Sound were the first to try and use data to predict album sales, and Blenheim Chalcot’s own Conrad Withey saw how it could be used to scout upcoming artists.

The A&R process has always stuck to the same way of discovering talent: looking at charts, reading articles, going to festivals, and constantly keeping ears to the ground. Talent AI was Withey’s new method of finding talent. By scouring data from Spotify playlists with over 10,000 followers, and by applying filters such as genre or nationality, this new form of scouting talent – ‘Talent AI’ – can give the music industry precisely what it’s looking for.

Instrumental doesn’t want to show artists who are already popular, as there’s little point in finding artists who’ve already peaked: instead, it finds those who are building momentum. Withey was recently able to show a major record label that three of their most recent signings had initially been spotted by Instrumental three months before they did, suggesting that the music industry’s latest talent scout has a good ear…

To read more see the article in the Financial Times