EMI gains music taste insight with Microsoft SQL Server 2012

Record group EMI is joining up data sources through Microsoft SQL Server 2012, to view how artists’ songs sell in different countries.

Record group EMI is honing its marketing efforts by joining its data sources through Microsoft SQL Server 2012. It has reportedly gained insights into how individual artists’ albums, tracks, ringtones and merchandise sell in different countries.

David Boyle (pictured), senior vice-president of Insight, EMI Group said that hundreds of end-users in 25 countries now have access to data and data visualisations through Microsoft SharePoint technology and the supplier’s desktop business intelligence (BI) tools, in the form of Reporting Services

They started out with Microsoft Excel on his own computer in February 2009. And they are still using cuts of data in Excel.

The role of his data marketing analytics team is to “find opportunities for data to help people make decisions”, David Boyle said. 

But “everyone in the business is affected by the data now made available”, and it is shared with the artists themselves, as well as commercial partners, such as Spotify.

Before the SQL Server 2012 implementation, EMI held a lot of data, about countries and consumers but it was not joined up, said Boyle. There is now data from distributors like Spotify and iTunes to bring in too.

A&R [artists and repertoire] staff, who work directly with artists, marketing executives and others can now react more quickly to changing consumer behaviour, he said. They can also promote artists in new geographical areas, he added. 

“We can work out who connects with a song or an album around the world, and decide how we can market to that type of person”.  

In marketing one new artist, and before even releasing any music, they discovered an appeal to a different type of consumer than originally envisaged. EMI could then refocus the advertising budget. Boyle declined to identify the artist.

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He cited another artist – “a household name” – who uttered the very “language used on our dashboards” and cited EMI’s consumer research, in a television interview. The artist spoke about reaching new audiences surfaced in the data visualisations.

One data source EMI draws on is a database of hundreds of thousands of interviews with consumers – the EMI One Million Interview Dataset.

He confirmed that the company is looking at predictive analytics by joining up lots of sources. 

“We are also opening up some of that work to the wider data science community," he said. 

The Insight team organised a 24-hour Hackathon, hosted by Kaggle – a data science crowd sourcer – on 21-22 July this year. The Hackathon was trained on a subset of the EMI interviews data set, with a view to understanding how to predict how many consumers will like a particular track.

Boyle confirmed that he and his team looked a wide range of data visualisation software, but what clinched the Microsoft system was its simplicity and the ease with which it can be integrated with the way people work. EMI was already a SharePoint user.

He said the business is excited by the data work, and that the "public-facing piece” is to be developed further. 

“We would like to share our consumer research, which in and of itself is not about competitive advantage. That way, the whole [music] industry moves forward, and that benefits our artists," said Boyle.

He was unable to disclose costs, but stressed that his team’s approach was to deploy “relatively cheap pieces of technology” and prove the business value step by step, in small pieces of development.

He added that the consultancy provided by Microsoft BI specialist Adatis was invaluable in the project. 

“We couldn’t have done it without them. They brought along a real partnership mentality," he said.

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