Last month, 150 global music industry figures gathered at FastForward Sydney to discuss critical issues and future solutions. On Day 2, a panel of delegates from differing industry sectors weighed in on streaming service playlist consumption, discovery, placements, pitching and strategies.

Julie Knibbe, VP Product at Paris-based music data platform Soundcharts, reminded us that behind the algorithms are people calling the shots:

“It’s human decisions that decide how the algorithm [should work]. These are actual decisions that I got to test to balance popular versus new releases.”

Knibbe was previously Head of Product at Deezer. When asked whether certain partnerships or alliances would affect the algorithm, she said:

“No, actually I’ve said no to all of them. That was an option. People ask of course. That was the main question people would ask, ‘How can we influence [the algorithm]’?”

“We would go out of business if we started doing that,” she added. “Take user experience; people are only willing to accept a recommendation if they know where it comes from […] For example, the best adoption is from a recommendation from a friend, someone you trust. And if you want to replicate that experience digitally, you have to build that trust by explaining where the recommendation comes from.”

Melody Forghani, Director, twenty three music and Co-Programmer, Bigsound, said the future of streaming will be around equal opportunity:

“Independent artists and people who aren’t connected to labels, who choose not to be, will have the same kind of opportunity,” she said. “[It’s about] understanding how to actually utilise streaming, and do that in a way that feels really transparent and open.

“I tend to gravitate towards artists who do not like working with within a legal system, which I really understand. I feel like there’s a lot of glass ceilings that they have to deal with.”

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When the topic of local streaming quotas came up, Forghani said we could take a few lessons from Sydney community station FBi Radio:

“FBi Radio is such an amazing example of how the use of quotas are seen differently. It’s serving Sydney in particular, but they have a 50% Australian music quota. Half of that has to be from Sydney. They have gender quota, they have the race quota.

“They have a really small quota for international but the [international tracks they play] are the ones that know the audience really also want to hear too.

“There can always be a balance of having a specific type of quota as a foundation,” she added. “But we also want to see what’s doing really well around the world. And as a manager, I of course want all platforms to focus on Australia. But then at the same time, I don’t want America to do that. There has to be some sort of balance.”

Simon Cahill, VP, Commercial Partnerships & Audience Management at Warner Music Australia said algorithmic playlists are becoming more important:

“The danger with that is when you get into filter bubbles that you don’t look outside the worlds in which you see. And you can stop doing what you came to do, which was to discover music.

“We don’t want to end up in a completely algorithmic world […] Spotify is making even bigger steps. They made some changes a few months ago to New Music Friday in several countries where they actually trialled making it algorithmic for certain selections within your playlist. So it was a personalised New Music Friday. They’ve reeled those back now, which is interesting.

“We’re now seeing algotorial being the new style, which is a mix of pre-programmed titles, but then they select certain ones that become algorithmic just to you.”

Vanessa Picken is the Founder & CEO at Comes With Fries, and Head of Digital (US, APAC) for [PIAS]. She said the playlist pitch process needs to start long before the submission:

“Before we even get to that pitching stage with the artists that we work with, we always make sure that we’ve got a very solid build into that,” she said. “No matter what we do, it doesn’t matter if it’s for streaming, for radio, whatever the story development that we do […] it’s a big part of the wider conversation that we will be having.

“[…] If you do have a chance to speak to some of these gatekeepers or the people that are in that editorial team, you want to be able to show them the powerful potential of that fan base. It allows you to develop the story points.

“[…] I think this is a big part of the conversation that I always made sure is heard before we get into the pitch process. The way that we could change the key partners. […] It’s not about constantly just looking at what’s happening at New Music Friday, Australia, New Zealand. Use those international connections to speak to people to build that connection.”

Picken said a lot of her company’s conversations are around letting industry gatekeepers know about the fans an artist has on a global scale.

“Streaming is a long tail. It’s not just about the new release that are coming out. It’s about catalogue, it’s about different versions. There’s so much more to the story when it comes to the pitching process,” she added. “I always like to make sure that we’ve got a really strong strategy about what else we can bring to the table to make sure that the artist in their true form is represented in that pitch process.”

FastForward returns to London on September 26. See here for more info and delegate passes.