The Evolution Of Fan Engagement In The Music Industry with Audio Network Chief Product Officer, Matthew Hawn

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Matthew Hawn | Interview

Matthew Hawn started his career in San Francisco, working as a technology journalist for Macworld Magazine — one of the first companies to turn a print magazine into an online, multimedia experience. He went on to work for Entertainment WeeklyID MagazineThe New York Times, and various other publications reporting on how the internet and digital media were changing games, movies, and music… So it’s not all that surprising that he ended up creating what he had been reporting on!

In the late 1990s, Matthew moved into digital product development for the music industry. As an early digital music pioneer, Matthew worked in a variety of senior product roles at some true industry big-hitters like Universal MusicSony MusicLast.fm, and Samsung

Today, Matthew is Chief Product Officer at London-based music publisher Audio Network, helping creative producers of all kinds find, audition, and license music for their film, television, and advertising projects. As of last year, Audio Network joined Entertainment One, a global media and entertainment company.

What is Audio Network? 

We’re a music company first and foremost and we’re incredibly proud to have some of the entertainment industry’s most talented people on board.

Simply put, we provide original, high-quality music for broadcasters, brands, creators, and music fans everywhere. Need music for your project? From Hollywood to YouTube and Coca-Cola to Vice, we’ve helped to tell some of the world’s most iconic stories — and we can help tell yours.

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We have a huge amount of choice: 1,000+ artists, composers, and producers, and 175,000+ wholly-owned tracks. Whether you’re searching for an orchestral score performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra or Scandi-pop and hip hop, we span every genre imaginable in our constantly expanding collection.

Why is Customer Experience so important in the music industry?

Almost all the companies I’ve worked for shared a common problem: how can we effectively leverage what we know about our customers’ needs and behaviour to enhance our relationship with them? The music industry in particular had this problem – they really didn’t have any idea about what music fans were doing or how they were behaving. They knew a lot about their retail sales and distribution relationships but hardly anything about music fans. 

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At Sony Music, it was really obvious that we needed to use fan and customer data to get our music to fans directly, trying to go around the gatekeepers of retail music buyers or radio programmers. We worked with artist managers and artists to collect data on fans, which then allowed us to email them directly: selling superfans merchandise, tickets, and fan club experiences. But it was still early days when it came to using data and not everyone at the company understood why we should be reaching out directly to fans and customers.

At Last.fm, one of the pioneers of using data in the music industry, we used customer listening and browsing data from more than 30 million visitors to develop personalised streams, creating one the most vibrant music communities on the internet. Each of those personal stations reflected a listener’s distinct taste in music, and their tastes were very fluid — they could change by mood, place, and even the season. It was vital to create a contextual and personalised customer experience that felt real and authentic. 

At Audio Network, everybody “owns” CX. It’s everyone’s responsibility to work out how to put the customer at the center of the products and services we provide. To do this well, you must ensure that your goals and strategy revolve around a north star that puts equal value on the company and the customers’ needs.

Needless to say, you need data to do this.

What’s your approach to Personalisation?

At Audio Network, we have a very wide range of customer segments. At one end, we have global media companies making high-end film and television programming. At the other end of the spectrum is a 14-year old fashion kid making influencer videos for Instagram — so it can be hard to service all these people on a single platform. 

The question is: how can you provide amazing experiences for every individual when you have such a broad and diverse customer base? To do this well, you need clear insights, user research, and behavioural data on your customers. This can get very expensive. 

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We are a creatively-lead company but we are data-informed. We ask our creative teams to use their instincts but to validate their hunches with proof. That proof or evidence needs to be real data, analysed by skilled people, and shared with the widest group possible.

Data — you need to instrument your business with the right data. You also need talented people who understand how to query that data and how to frame it. Too much data, unexamined, leads to sloppy conclusions and often teams can use raw data to reinforce their biases and opinions.

Analytics — nowadays there are some amazing tools to refine raw data and to turn it into something useful. We started, as many online companies do, with Google Analytics to understand site visitors.  Last year, we added a product analytics platform called Amplitude to our tech stack and it’s been great for helping us build user-level insights on our customer journeys. Amplitude helps understand which customers are discovering our latest music releases as well as how our users behave in terms of search, downloading, and customer service requests. 

What lessons have you learned throughout your career?

You often hear startup bros talking about “owning the customer.” I hate that phrase.  

You never truly “own” a customer. You have a relationship with them built on trust. And that means you never really “own” customer data either. You use only the personal data that a customer allows you to use to deliver better experiences and products. That’s it. You must always give them complete transparency and control over that personal data. When you don’t work with them anymore, the data shouldn’t exist for you anymore. 

Too many companies focus solely on acquiring user data without a clear picture of how they want to use it to make their customers’ experiences better. I believe that CRM has been flipped on its head — consumers increasingly have the power to manage the relationships they have with companies, not the other way around, as most marketers believe.

Tim O’Reilly once said truly successful companies are always creating more value than they take. So I always ask our team if we are creating as much value for our customers, artists, and composers as we’re taking from them for the company?

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