Fair Pay for Every Play, Ep 24: Florian Richling - The Value of Putting Creators Back in the Drivers Seat

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Kristian: Welcome to Fair Pay For Every Play by Utopia, a podcast about music technology for Music Industry professionals. My name is Kristian Luoma and on this episode I am joined by the Product Director at Utopia Music, Florian Richling. In this episode, I was keen to ask Florian about his role in Utopia, as well as his previous experience working in record labels in Vienna and co-founding the music data insight platform, ForTunes.

Why are music analytics important and how can Utopia help keep track of music data?

Welcome to the show, Florian, could you give us a short rundown of who are you and what do you do?

Florian: My name is Florian Richling. I'm based in Vienna and I've been in music for my whole professional life. I started as a musician, and then got into producing, founding labels and pretty much dabbled into all sorts of things within the value chain of music.

In 2015 the whole journey led into co-founding a startup called ForTunes, which had the mission to level the playing field for music creators in terms of music analytics. We wanted to solve the problem, that something that had been like a huge opportunity, being all the great services that popped up starting with MySpace and SoundCloud and YouTube, that became an obligation that you have to use them all, and you have to be on top of the game on all the services.

So we wanted to build a service that would help creators to stay in the loop with everything that is going on with the music online and spot opportunities on the digital landscape.

This journey ended, very nicely, last year, ‘21, joining the Utopia family, which, honestly, for me, when I learned about Utopia and the mission and how well this aligns with what we are trying to achieve, was just a lifetime opportunity. I'm part of the creative service unit, trying to build and modernize the ecosystem of tomorrow.

Kristian: Absolutely amazing. Amazing journey. I still want to double down on some of the key moments in the journey. What would you say inspired you to start working in music? What was that spark in the beginning?

Florian: I think, like for so many, music was always for me as a kid, sort of a place where you could go anytime, and feel cozy and, and kind of safe.

I used to listen to records and music for hours when I was just very small, and, at an early age I started to play instruments and it was just a huge hobby for me. And that was kind of my start with making music, was really to learn instruments. I started my professional life as a jazz drummer.

I made it to the Conservatorium in Vienna, which is a very highly reputed, Jazz and Classical place to learn. And, from there, got into … I mean, actually it was a pretty devastating event, I hurt my wrist at one point, it forced me out of drumming for a couple of months, and that's why I really got into producing music, and I founded a recording studio the same year, which actually is still active, 21 years later. And, yeah, so that was how I got started. Just the love of making music.

Kristian: And I remember when we met for the first time, around ForTunes, you mentioned that one of the key ways that you sourced your insights on the creator community was your time at owning and operating at Highhat Media and the production studio. What led you into building that?

Florian: HiHat was really like a school thing, that I got more focused on once I was not that focused on playing drums. I really, very cliche-like, founded it with a school friend of mine.

So it was a production studio and I became more and more of an engineer. I worked for all the major companies in the later years and did mastering and mix-downs. And this, kind of, led to the idea of forming ForTunes because I saw more and more artists becoming my clients, rather than just like big companies. We have more and more artists willing to spend money trying their luck to be successful in the industry.

Kristian: Absolutely. And you mentioned already in the introduction that one of the reasons behind ForTunes was democratizing access to data, it still holds true. Very few creators outside some of the majors have that insight on where their music is being listened to and how should they place their music. Can you speak a bit of the solutions that ForTunes is bringing to these concrete problems with creators?

Florian: I think there are some things we’re trying to give answers to, right? First and foremost, of course, it's about cross-platform analytics.

So it's providing very convenient access to data across platforms, but we have to understand that as an artist today, you have this data, right? I mean, many great services provide great access. Like Spotify spends a lot of money providing ‘Spotify For Artists’ which is an amazing platform.

But for artists having access to YouTube and Facebook and Instagram, and also social media, it's not only about streaming media, it's a lot of our social media as well. We are not only trying to give them data, but we are trying to help them understand and evaluate their data. Because to make an informed decision, you have to understand what you're looking at.

The first thing, the first service is to evaluate data. The second thing is something that I find really important, if you look at the landscape of labels, publishers and distributors, many have solutions for artists and for their clients where they provide analytics as well. But something that I find challenging as an artist is that you will not always find the times from the Bruce Springsteens, they're not that many that are signed for 10 years, right?

Nowadays many artists have a very dynamic and eclectic professional life where they will release a song here, make a collaboration there. So something that ForTunes always was is like, we are independent, we can follow your career, no matter your signing status.

You can be independent, you can be signed as a major, you can work with several independent companies, but you can always use ForTunes, and I think that's something very important as well.

And the last thing that ForTunes tries to achieve is, take this data that you understand where, for example, your songs and how your songs perform, but go a step further by not only looking into the past, which analytics always does, right? Looking into the past, but try to use the data to look into the future, which is to find new opportunities.

So we have a recommendation engine that would, for example, point out playlists that would very much fit to your music, or that can point out artists that are, sort of, at the same point in their career to potentially connect with, or maybe suggest companies that would fit well with your style, or genre of music.

Kristian: Or a playlist or discovering the means for, for distribution essentially. Finding a better way to find your audience and connect with them as well.

Florian: Exactly, Yeah.

Kristian: What do you think are the problems, currently, in the creator services landscape that need to be addressed? What are the main priorities from your point of view for the industry to sort out for helping creators at large?

Florian: I will answer very much from my perspective from also working on ForTunes.

I think it's a challenge that many people are not aware of, and I said this in the introduction as well, something that is an opportunity can become an obligation and a challenge by itself. I think if you are starting out and, let's say, you’re a teenager, and you're passionate about making music, I think it's really hard to understand where to start.

There are almost too many possibilities for you, too many services. I think to have sort of a guided way on how to approach the market is something that is really needed because if you don't have it, you have to spend a lot of time. I heard many times when I started ForTunes, many people believe that money is the scarce asset for artists, but I still believe it's time because you maybe still go to school, still have a job, trying to make your way up, still have to learn your craft, playing music, producing music, singing.

And then on top of that, you have to start running your business and that's super overwhelming. I think, to bring back focus in the life of creators, is something that would be fantastic to achieve, have people focus on making music again more, which is the reason why we all started, right, it's a love for music and not a focus on how can I create new content for a social media platform? How many streams do I have here? How well is my music performing there? I think that's exactly what technique could help achieve to stay in the loop and really focus on making beautiful art. So this regaining of focus is a great thing I think we can work on

Kristian: Absolutely. One of the things that I most admired when we got to know each other and talked more and more about your current operations is the way you bring the creators very close, not unlike the history that you had as a performing artist. Running that production studio back in the day you still sort of found that time to connect with the individual artists, your customers, and talk to them about their everyday challenges on a frequent basis.

From those experiences, running ForTunes, are there any highlights or favorite memories on helping them see the audience?

Florian: To be honest, I was my first best customer, right? Because I was also a signed artist. I was releasing music and releasing music is so emotional because you invest time and money to release your songs and you are just super keen to understand how well they perform.

And I was like, actually to admit that, maybe I would still be if I would still release music as much, but I was one of the guys that once I released a song would be in front of YouTube and just refresh the button, like every 20 minutes, just to see if the play count would've gone up or not!

And I think that's like, that's the feedback that we receive with, and that's like, that's something that's really motivating us. The feedback from artists is that with ForTunes, they regain this love for music that they can have the feeling to increase their success chances.

It's not only about revenue. Of course, that's a very important goal, but it's a lot about enjoying making music again and not feeling the pressure of I don't know, knowing the stream count of each song, as I mentioned before.

Kristian: Exactly, 100%. Great, so you've been following and tracking the technology within the music landscape for years and years, obviously through your passions and your company, what are the technological evolutionary steps that you are most looking forward to going towards the future?

Florian: Generally, I think what really excites me and that was also something that was a grand idea with ForTunes, was that artists play an increasingly important role in all services throughout the value chain.

I think this artist centricity, if this is a word, is something that is for real, I think artists play an increasingly big role, not only in distribution, but in sort of every part of the value chain. So everything that helps artists to be in the driver's seat, I think is something that will have positive impact for the ecosystem moving forward. This is also very much related to ownership, I believe.

So transparency, and now we're touching also goals that align with Utopia’s mission and that's something that excited me, to bring transparency in such a highly segmented ecosystem is really great and everything that deals with bringing back transparency is really important.

I think there are many examples, like there are a lot of distributing companies that try to achieve that, there are great promotion companies that help artists understand and bring them in the middle, and also analytic companies.

Of course, the whole NFT sector is something that is blown up right now. Personally, I believe it will take more time. It's nothing that is around the corner already. But it's definitely a very promising field where again, creators are in the driver's seat and can take their business life in control.

Kristian: Absolutely amazing. I'm really, truly honored to call you my colleague, Florian. I’m so happy to have met you and to be getting to work with you every day. Thank you so much for the interview.

Florian: Thanks for having me, Kristian. Thanks.

Kristian: Thank you for listening to this episode of Fair Pay For Every Play by Utopia. Utopia Music is dedicated to giving Fair Pay For Every Play. We provide the solutions to make royalty payments transparent, efficient, and fair. The artists and rights holders for the music featured on this podcast have been rightly paid for their contribution. As always, please remember to subscribe on Apple Music, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts or your favorite music. To find out more about what we do and the mission we're on, please go to utopiamusic.com