Women in MusicTech #1: Let’s talk with Julie Knibbe
As part of our dive into the music and tech world, we’re running a series of interviews with gifted women in the industry who each have a story to tell. Today, I’m speaking to Julie Knibbe, the founder of data analytics firm Music Tomorrow, and has history working at Deezer and Soundcharts. As she tells us as part of our interview below, the music business is only on the cusp of making the most of what data can offer and she has lots of exciting ideas for where this could go in future.
From your perspective, right now, is the music industry using data to its fullest potential?
No, it’s not. If I compare the music industry to the advertising industry, the finance industry or other industries that have been largely digitalised, the music industry has been slower in adopting tools. In some ways, that's an advantage, because the music industry gets to learn from the mistakes of others. Now, the music industry is adopting tools at a very fast pace, but it's not used to its fullest because it's very fragmented, so the amount of information that you need to process is huge and there's not that many actors that have access to all of it. There's still a lot of progress margin.
Are there any particular areas right now that you think could really benefit from more data usage?
Everywhere, basically! To name a few examples, I think there's more potential in A&R — everyone has a lot of bias, so when we hear about an artist, we already have a bias of what we know about successful artists and A&Rs have a natural tendency to like and look for what is similar. I think there is potential here to bring more diversity into the mix. So you could evaluate artists on more rational data that may bring you to discover something that you would not have listened to otherwise, like more niche music or female artists.
You could evaluate artists on more rational data that may bring you to discover something that you would not have listened to otherwise, like more niche music or female artists.
What impact has the COVID-19 had on the use of data in music and how do you see that evolving beyond the pandemic?
Obviously, COVID-19 has impacted the live events industry the most and that's where we’ve seen the most change in terms of data as well. In the live industry, you have many actors and many players — you have an agent, a promoter, a venue, and they all have their own data sets. So you have all this data available but it's hard to get everything centralised in order to make sense of it and to then plan CRM after the event, for example. What Covid has changed is that some events were brought online and the artists and their management are more at the centre of managing that, because they own their social networks and they own the relationship more directly with the live streaming platforms. So there was an opportunity to centralise data and now that they made that a habit, data will remain at the centre of discussions when physical events come back.
You're from two worlds — music and tech — where women are generally in the minority, especially at executive level. Have you encountered any challenges across your career that are a direct result of being a woman and being in the minority? If so, how have you overcome those challenges?
I think I’ve faced the same challenges as any woman in these industries. I didn't suffer too much from people telling me I didn't fit or anything like that, but I didn't have any role models. So from the beginning, I was not sure that I belonged, because at the time there were not many women in the tech world. Even now, I'm still creating the role and the job that I want but doesn't exist. It's still true today that the game is rigged and you play by men's rules, so at the beginning, I had trouble finding my place because I was learning to play a game that I didn't understand the rules of. It was a process to learn to do it my way and not to play various roles because I was doomed to lose if I was trying to replicate something that didn't suit me.
Featuring role models is important. That's not only on the business side, but it's also making sure that people sign as many women artists as men, that when they are looking for collaborations, songwriters, producers or engineers, that they look for women.
What do you think can be done now to further improve the gender gap in music and tech? Are there any specific changes you'd like to see that would accelerate change?
Featuring role models is important. That's not only on the business side, but it's also making sure that people sign as many women artists as men, that when they are looking for collaborations, songwriters, producers or engineers, that they look for women, and that at every level, when you're looking for somebody to collaborate with, you consider all your options.
Finally, do you have any advice for anyone who is looking to enter the music and tech industry today?
The thing about fitting in is that, initially, I think nobody fits, or everybody fits! So if you want to do it, just do it. And no matter what, if you do your job well, there will be a spot for you somewhere.