AWAL: how technology helps artists

alt AWAL was one of the companies that joined Paradiso Labs on september 9th 2016 in the NY Media Center alongside companies like We Are Public, Wonder.fm, Eventbrite and Jukely. Music innovators sharing knowledge and discussing opportunities. An interview with Margaret Jacobi about AWAL and mother company Kobalt.

What is AWAL and what do you do?

AWAL is a full-featured music services platform with it’s roots in distribution and marketing solutions for select independent artists. For 10+ years AWAL has offered distribution to 200+ digital services, placement opportunities with DSPs, industry expertise, transparent income reporting, video monetization, and anti-piracy. Our base deal is a 30-day rolling contract with an 85% to 15% revenue split in the artists’ favor. We maximize revenue streams while artists keep their creative freedom and master rights. The idea is to provide a true, mutually beneficial partnership that provides room for growth within, and outside of Kobalt Music Group.

Today, many successful artists don't have traditional labels backing them. Like YouTube creators, many operate independently. That's where AWAL comes in, that's how we see the future. We want to give artists a clear path to reaching their full potential by empowering them with the resources needed.

My role is Associate Director of Digital Marketing on the AWAL brand level. I’ve been in this department for 3 months now, having transitioned from working on individual artist campaigns for Kobalt Label Services (KLS.) My focus is on marketing the AWAL platform, as well as providing guidance for clients and staff alike with best practices, research, and development of professional grade marketing tools. This stretches from creating and curating content on the AWAL blog, socials, playlists, and mailing lists to improving the AWAL service by working to help lead the way for what we develop for delivery to clients.

How does AWAL relate to Kobalt and what does Kobalt do?

AWAL was integrated into Kobalt Music Group in 2012 and supports the KLS division, which offers additional services more akin to a traditional label (radio, physical distribution, etcera). AWAL is aligned with Kobalt’s wider values and benefits from the overall company’s tech innovations that can earn artists up to 30% more in digital royalties.

Kobalt at large, creates technology solutions for a more transparent, efficient, and empowering future for music rights owners, who can trust they will be paid fairly and accurately. The company is built upon three major divisions: Kobalt Music Publishing, Kobalt Label Services and Kobalt Neighbouring Rights. Each offers a modern alternative to the traditional music business model with flexible contracts, ownership, control, and total transparency. We represent over 8.000 artists and songwriters, 600.000 songs and 500 publishing companies, servicing our clients with global licensing management, works and rights distribution, royalty collection and processing, online data and royalty statements, creative services, synch & brand partnerships, record release management and marketing.

How does AWAL help artists? Why are they happy with you?

AWAL provides an alternative solution for creators that want to maintain their independence while intelligently releasing music. We seek progressive tools and partnerships that grant access to valuable information. Real-time updates, powerful reporting, and user-friendly analysis tools within each artist portal make it easy to review and understand income streams. We are currently working on an app version as well, which will provide all of the above information at your fingertips. We listen to and review every applicant seeking to join AWAL, and have client managers to guide the process in a hands-on way. Through our distribution and marketing services, we’ve helped support the careers of thousands of successful creators - from developing artists to esteemed ones such as Radiohead and Beck. The idea of success is relative - it could mean becoming a KLS artist with more services and funding, signing a major label deal, creating your own label, or simply making money from writing and playing music. We offer various solutions for the different needs of our clients. If the artist is unhappy with the service, they are free to leave, but most continue to grow within our ecosystem.

AWAL stands for Artists Without A Label. In your view, don't artists need a label anymore? Or do you just want to supply a service for artists that don't have one?

I believe the idea of the traditional record label is becoming somewhat antiquated as management companies and artists start to take on some of the conventional functions of a label (for instance Frank Ocean’s Blonde.) The internet has provided thousands of new channels for reaching an audience, and discovery has never been easier. Digital music services and social platforms offer direct-to-fan interaction, which cuts out some of the marketing an artist once needed from a label. More and more artists will develop their careers independently in the future. The real question is: why would you give up the rights? For some people there are very good reasons, for others there aren’t.

With AWAL, you take care of worldwide distribution. But of course distribution is only a part of the music chain. How should artists take care of their promotion?

There are many answers to this question and most of them are probably correct, but it all boils down to one point: if artists want to make money from their music, they should recognize that business is involved. It’s not sexy to think of your music as a career choice, but that’s the reality of any successful artist. As mentioned above, there are many ways to promote yourself on the internet - we have resources and client managers to guide the best ways to accomplish this. Strength in data is huge - knowing where your music is resonating and fueling that growth. Artists should understand how they want to be perceived and which sort of people they want to appeal to. Having a consistent digital strategy is important to develop a fanbase online, with engagement at the core. It’s smart to monitor different social platforms to see what type of content is favored in respective algorithms and tailor messaging to that. Original content takes a lot of time to produce – it’s important to think of different ways to share and re–purpose to make the most of it. Aside from that – tapping into all resources, building a network, and asking questions is always smart.

Is AWAL the A&R part of Kobalt? Do you monitor up and coming artists and sign the successful ones?

There are wonderfully dedicated people in all of the divisions of Kobalt that focus on creative talent acquisition. Within AWAL, our A&R people work to bring in and surface talent, monitoring streaming data to look for anomalies and developing stories. We aim for curative, scalable quality over quantity. However, that is only one part of the overall picture. AWAL, at it’s core, functions as a progressive service for various types of artists looking for creative freedom, transparency, expertise, flexibility, and opportunity.

What could clubs learn from AWAL?

As data becomes more widely available, finding the most transparent ways to book gigs and pay artists will only be to their benefit.