From Bands to Brands: Upstream 2017

— Andrew Lowe, WE 

WE attended the first annual Upstream Music Fest + Summit in Seattle, a half- festival/half-music industry event started by Paul Allen, and aimed at helping up-and-coming artists in the Northwest market and manage their careers in a more effective manner. The prominent theme for the first day’s summit was data, while Friday’s panels focused on globalization and industry collision. Similar to our  Stories in Motion initiative, the keynotes and panels looked at how insights from various social media and streaming channels can empower audience to really engage and reach their audiences.


Thursday Highlights

  • Making Hits For Every Decade: Legendary musician and composer, Quincy Jones, kicked off the summit discussing how modern streaming culture has changed the landscape. With the fiscal model still catching up, streaming has opened the door for many emerging artists. One thing that hasn’t changed is that no matter the genre music is always advancing with new tools and tech.
  • The New A&R: How A&R Uses Data to Predict Who’s Next: Music industry startup Indify has made waves in the A&R (artist & repertoire) community by using an algorithm that pulls from music streaming services and social media to highlight emerging artists months, and even years, in advance of the antiquated Billboard charts. Gone are the days when labels would create and manufacture music acts, now A&R can use data to find solid acts and understand how to help them best engage with their audience.
  • Another “Like” On The Wall: Using Data Successfully in the Internet Age: Dr. Portia Sabin, host of The Future of What podcast, led a panel discussion featuring Amaechi Uzoigwe who manages the group Run the Jewels. Amaechi talked about how artists can cultivate and build new audience bases by directly creating interactive engagements –even if that means rerecording your album exclusively with cat sounds. Capitalizing on direct engagements with your customers can lead to exciting new collaborations.
  • Finding Your Fan Base: Using Analytics to Understand Your Audience: Data collection tools like Tableau have the potential to not only help musicians easily pull data to see what their most popular streaming songs are, but over time with enough numbers you can predict trends in local markets and plan a trajectory to grow and better reach your audience.


Friday Highlights

  • People Over Playlist: The Lost Art of A&R in the Digital World Technology + Music: Ali Shaheed Muhammad, formerly of A Tribe Called Quest, VIBEHEAVY CvO Arif Gursel, and Microsoft’s LaSean Smith kicked off Friday’s panels with a discussion about the human element in a world dominated by technology. Much like in PR, the art of connecting through music will never be reduced to an algorithm.
  • How Local Brands Go Global and Global Brands Stay Local: Seattle native Macklemore and Tidal’s Elliot Wilson took to the mainstage Friday afternoon to discuss one of the battles that many brands face. Shoot for the stars? Absolutely. But along the way, don’t leave behind the community that helped you get there. Gratitude is always a good look.
  • Music IRL: The Future of Brands, Artists, & Audiences: Friday closed out with a panel led by Pete Pederson of Sonos and Susan Stone of CECILIA music consultancy. In it, they discussed the unique relationship that brands and artists are developing. Authentic brand partnerships allow both sides to truly excite and engage their audience. Great partnerships work when the output is genuinely valuable for the intended audience.

Insights from the summit can apply to business practices at both small and well-established companies. Connecting with your audience, creating authentic brands, and thinking BIG are universal principles that, when combined with data, spell success for businesses.


Input collected from Andrew Lowe and Reed Turner.