3 Nov 2018

The future of music according to Shelita Burke

From RNZ Music, 2:05 pm on 3 November 2018

Pop singer and data analyst Shelita Burke has some advice for unsigned musicians wondering how often to put out material – release a new song every 90 days.

The Seattle-born musician is in New Zealand to share some of her ideas with local artists at the You're The Future of Music forum.

Shelita Burke

Shelita Burke Photo: Supplied

Success in the music industry begins – of course – with "super awesome music", Shelita Burke tells RNZ Music's Alex Behan.

"After the music is super awesome and you've spent hours making it sound the best you can then you look at data to understand how to make decisions on how to be a global artist."

Shelita – who's a pop musician – started her music career with a plan: she began by finding small countries with untapped pop music markets.

"The first thing I started thinking about was where other pop stars don't go in the world. Because when you go to those markets, you're the only thing going on. I started looking at smaller markets and communities, places like Iceland.

"I love Iceland. There's not as many people in Iceland as there is in California. So when you go to countries that are amazing like that and have grown in their own ways with their population … you have a higher chance of getting to more people."

Shelita may have targeted smaller markets, but she's been extremely successful in her home country (the U.S.), too – her first single 'Belong' had over 2.7 million Spotify plays and her latest EP Special has had over 20 million streams and charted #10 on Billboard.

As album sales decline in favour of singles streamed or downloaded, musicians and record companies alike seem unsure about how often and how much music to release.

To figure out the best approach, Shelita spent a lot of time analysing how and where music is consumed online.

"It depends on what stage the artist is but in the beginning every ninety days is best for maximum efficiency. I look at a lot of data. I looked at different niche markets, I looked at music consumption in those marketplaces.

"Streaming, downloads and plays on every platform. I saw that there was a spike in activity among artists that weren't signed to a major record label when they released every 90 days."

Until becoming a full-time musician a couple of years ago, Shelita was a senior data engineer at Microsoft.

Now she uses data science not only to calculate how often to release music but also to circumvent a major issue facing artists, particularly independent ones – getting paid.

Shelita put the EP Special "on the blockchain" so it was available for purchase with cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

She says this ensures that she is paid royalty fees instantly and directly, rather than having to wait the usual nine months to a year.

"Blockchain technology is the future of the financial markets, the future of exchange. Everyone thinks of this money as a transaction, but there's an exchange happening between two human beings. And that exchange – if you use the blockchain – changes the entire landscape because it's the first time you can see everything transparent in real time always.

"In today's music industry when you create a piece of music and put it out to the world it takes around nine months to a year for any of your writers and anyone that worked on the project to get paid. When you use blockchain technology you get paid instantly when the consumer buys the product because direct to fan, direct to consumer.

"Now on top of the actual music file, in the metadata layer, there's a lot of beautiful things that you can do that will track the endless copying or sharing or playing of that song."

Shelita Burke may well be the template for a pop star of the future.

If she's sure of one thing, it's that independent is best.

"I am the label. It's 2018 at the end of the day every company is a tech company. So every artist has to be a tech company.

"You can build an audience before you release music. Before you have any content you can build an audience. By connecting each and every day with different people and just saying hi. Because we have the global world of the internet and social media you don't have to build an audience in just your home or your town. You can now go anywhere in the world from your mobile phone and connect to someone in another country whom you don't know – from your phone.

"Before the barriers of entry were so huge but now we have the global marketplace and music is global. You can reach everybody instantly from the palms of your hands, it's amazing."

Shelita Burke is performing at Auckland's Anthology Lounge on Wednesday, November 7th, from 7pm, as part of the You're The Future Of Music showcase. $5 on the door.