In part I (below), Christine talks about her journey into the music ecosystem from a very young age in Baltimore and her journey to the UK. She also digs into using data in a not overwhelming but user-friendly way.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Marc Brown: Hello Christine! How’s it going?
Christine Osazuwa: Great – how are you doing?
Marc: Good, thanks for joining me!
Christine: Of course, no problem!
Marc: Why don’t we summarise who you are and what you do?
Christine: I’m Christine Osazuwa, and despite the accent, I am based in London, UK. I grew up in the states, Baltimore, to be exact. Currently, I am the Director of Data and Insights for Warner Music Group on the Global Marketing team (Christine left this position a few months after this interview). I also run a conference/workshop/hackathon called Measure of Music, and I regularly speak at lovely events like this one. And I’m an advisor to several start-ups in the music and entertainment space as well. (Christine is now the Strategy Director at Pollen).
Marc: I didn’t know about the advisor thing; very cool! Can you go through how you started off in music and how you ended up where you are now?
Christine: Yes, that’s a bit of a long story, but I’ll sum it up! Essentially I have always wanted to work in music, pretty much since I was young enough to understand that the music industry existed! So, I remember watching the VMAs, and the GRAMMYS, and artists would be on stage thanking people, and I was always curious to know who those people were and that I wanted to be one of those thanked people. I always had the idea of what the music industry basically is, and I wanted to do that. I started booking shows when I was pretty young. The first show I booked was when I was fifteen, for my sixteenth birthday party, and the headlining band was All Time Low. They are from my hometown; it’s not nearly as exclusive then as it is now, but yes.
Marc: That’s still impressive, though!
Christine: They are only two years older than me, so they were only eighteen-year-old boys at the time. It sounds very impressive, but it was not at the time. It was in the church basement, and it was my sixteenth birthday.
I ran street teams for artists, this is back in the stone age with Myspace, so I also learned to code when I was fourteen. Building live Myspace pages out for artists, companies, and things like that. I got really into digital marketing, so I love that space. The first full-time job I had was at a startup that worked in live music. Before that, while I was an undergrad, I did a lot of other things like working at radio stations, I worked as a contractor for Olympic Records for some time, I worked on Warped Tour for a bit, basically, anything one could do in music, I did.
Marc: What did you do for Warped Tour?
Christine: I was the Assistant to the Press Coordinator on Warped Tour. It was very unofficial but everything when it comes to most punk rock music festivals is pretty unofficial.
Marc: Did you get to tour around?
Christine: I toured around the East Coast, which was super fun – we had a blast!
My Undergrad degree was in Music Business and Journalism, the school I went to actually did not have that as a major, so I also created my own major in order to say that was my major. I did my MBA in Marketing. My only job that was not in music was when I worked for the University I graduated from after I finished working at the startup. During my undergrad University, I worked in Digital Strategies so, Digital Marketing, Web Development… I really wanted to hone in on my Marketing and Tech skills. So I did my Masters in Data Science while I was there, and they paid for it, which was lovely of them. Also, I did a few boot camps, so I learned Python and Sequel as well. I learned a few other programming languages while I was doing my Data Science Master’s Degree as well. If you’re keeping count, I have three degrees, and I’m somehow not a Doctor, to my Nigerian parent’s dismay, but here we are!
Then I left the states in 2017 – essentially, Donald Trump won the election, and I said, “Oh no” and we decided it was time to go somewhere else. I called my cousin who lived in Stockholm. He’s Nigerian, I’m Nigerian, but he grew up there. He married a Swedish girl, and they have very cute children. So I called him up and said, “What’s it like?” He said, “It’s pretty cool.” So I said “Great!”, and I moved to Stockholm. It took a while to get a job, unfortunately, but I did get one – I got a job at Universal working as a Data Analyst there.
After almost two years, once I got tired of being cold and eating fish, I moved to London. Now I have a rule that I shouldn’t live anywhere not in close proximity to plantains; it’s a really good rule. It works for a lot of countries, actually. So I started working at Warner when I moved to London, which was super fun! Started on the Chief Data Officers team, didn’t really love that, then moved to the Chief Marketing Officers team, the team that decides the global priorities for Warner Music group as a whole, which was very cool. So, of course, our superstar artists like Dua Lipa, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Cardi B, etc., but even more exciting developing and emerging artists, especially outside the US and the UK, like Burna Boy from Nigeria and artists from Brazil, from all over really, and I handle the Data Strategy.
That was a very succinct story of how I got to where I am now.
Marc: I’m tired!
One of the things I’ve been noticing recently on LinkedIn is that you’re always posting jobs. I was just curious, how did you start doing that? Did you just start seeing them around and think, “Maybe I should amplify this if I can?”
Christine: Yeah, so I actually saw someone else do it. First, I shouted them out in the first post, and I am completely blanking on who it was now. But yes, I saw someone else do it, and I was like, “Oh, that’s a really cool idea, if only it was more focused on tech!” because tech is the space that I love.
The roles I post about are usually music tech/media kind of related, and I started it for a few different reasons. Number one, I started it during the height of the pandemic because a whole lot of people lost their jobs, especially people in the live space, and so I was like, “Ok, well, how can I help all of these people in some way?” My job was, thankfully, quite secure; streaming is quite secure. So I wanted to help, and this is a good way to be able to help. I started piecing together all these jobs that are really cool and especially because sometimes I’ll see a post for a very cool job, and there’ll only be three likes. My thought was “Well, if people knew about this job, they would be all over it!”
A lot of times, I think, especially in the music industry, it is sometimes who you know, but sometimes it is being in the right place, virtually or otherwise, at the right time. I definitely see job postings for something like, “Hey, I’m looking for someone that has some Marketing experience. Does anyone know anyone?” and that’ll be the entire post. I’m like, “What?” how do you search for that? It’s terrible SEO. They need a Marketing person, but there’s no way to search for that, so you wouldn’t know unless you know, so I wanted to highlight a lot of those roles that hadn’t been put on LinkedIn yet with a proper job description or aren’t even on the company websites. There’s a way to highlight that there are jobs out there. Even throughout all of the pandemic I always had a consistent amount of jobs to be able to post, which was hopefully really motivational for a lot of people that were struggling at the time.
Marc: When you look back over your career of getting into music – what you’re saying about promoting that first gig sounds like you’re the kind of person who’s like, “I just want to do this!” irrespective of what happens. Like this is something I want to do, and I’m going to do it. What do you think are the big things that sort of made it possible to end up where you are now? I wrote this blog post called “Where is “There”?” ages ago, and I talk about this idea that as an artist, you’re “here“, wherever that may be, and you’re thinking about “there”. But that “there” is different for everybody, right? So how do you think you got from where you started to where you are now? Are there things that really worked for you, or do you think you were in the right place at the right time or maybe all those things mixed together?
Christine: Oh gosh, I feel like I was never in the right place at the right time. I think a lot of it was a will to do it. I’m from Baltimore, and Baltimore is a very cool city but not explicitly a music city, but I knew anyone working in music in Baltimore. I spent a lot of time in New York, and that’s a 3 – 3 ½ hour train ride. When I moved to Stockholm, it was the same. Anyone working in music in Stockholm, I knew of them, or I knew them. Even before I got a job because I was like, “Oh, this is what I want to do; this is the most important thing; how can I do it?” It’s kind of like if nothing else is as important as this, then nothing else really matters. So I always tell people my top priorities are my husband and my job. The priority was don’t get divorced, but then after that, it’s pretty much just work (laughs).
I’m not saying this is good. I don’t think this is the greatest way to prioritise your life, but that’s kind of how things work themselves out. Working in music is my number one priority. Becoming better at the skills I wanted to become better at was my number one priority. There was always this idea that there was no other option, and when you feel like there’s no other option, then you have to make it work, right?
Marc: I give talks to people who are maybe going to music business school or are artists, trying to get into the music industry, or get a job at a record label. I find that many of them don’t feel very confident about it being possible. I think to myself, “Well yeah, it’s tough”, but like you’re saying, there can’t be a plan “B”. Do you have any advice for those people?
Christine: I talk to students, and there are a lot of young people that are looking to get in the industry or people that are looking to change their careers, and I think a lot of times it can feel like an industry that’s very exclusive or very elitist like it’s kind of leaving people out. I understand that, I feel that, and I know how hard that is.
A lot of time, I think, the reason why people feel left out is that their view of the music industry is very limited. Essentially, people think, “Hey, if I don’t work at a major label, if I don’t work at YouTube, I’m not working in the music industry”, they fail to realise there is a whole lot of music industry. It doesn’t matter for the most part, no matter how big or small your town is, within an hour, there’s a music venue, there’s someone at a music venue looking for someone to book some shows. You can call them up at any point in time; maybe there’s a newspaper with a music column. I can almost guarantee there’s a music column no matter how big or small your town is. Within an hour, there is a radio station, maybe in your town! I think people lose sight of the fact that the music industry exists not just in New York, LA, and London, it exists all over.
I also think a lot of times people think to themselves, “Oh, major labels are the music industry and nothing else is the music industry”, and once you get out of that mindset, that there’s only one part of the industry that you could possibly work in, then it gives you a lot more opportunity. Especially in those smaller towns, oh gosh, the help they need! They need lots of help, and they would love to have you knock on their door. I got my first job while I was in school and it was a live music sort of competitor to Ticketmaster essentially. I sent them an email and said, “Hey, I think your company is really cool. Can I do anything for you?” It was probably a little longer than that, but it wasn’t much longer because I was nineteen. Eventually, they were my first full-time employer but people weren’t knocking on their door because everyone was looking to DC or New York.
Marc: That’s an interesting point, a lot of the time people think, “Oh well, no one needs my help”, or that everything is already taken. The idea that people do need help, I never thought to look at it that way! It’s a good piece of advice because even thinking back to the way I started, a small indie label, they totally needed lots of help. That’s an amazing piece of advice.
I want to move on to what I sort of thought we should talk about the whole time, but there’s actually too much to talk about. We did a panel together, a metadata panel in Toronto. When people say, “Oh, you need to keep track of the analytics or data,” I don’t think many people know where to start. So I was hoping we could dial it back to zero and say, “Ok, I’m a new artist or a new manager; how do I get going in building up a system. What should I pay attention to, knowing that everybody is telling me to pay attention to socials, streaming, etc.” What’s the best thing, or how the hell should they start?
Christine: Great question, there is a lot. I think people get overwhelmed by the fact that there are so many places that you could be looking at, so I think the first thing to do is kind of think about what has worked for you. As an artist or manager, you probably intuitively know some of those things, and you don’t need the data to tell you. Then experiment a bit. Let’s start with something really simple. Let’s say Spotify is your strongest platform and then figure out the other part of it, what’s your strongest social platform. Is it TikTok? Is it Twitter? It’s it Facebook? Is it Instagram?
Let’s say Spotify is your strongest platform and Instagram is your strongest social media; then, every time you post on Instagram about your music, look at what happens on Spotify. Does it increase by a lot? Does it increase by a little? You don’t need to know numbers; you don’t need percentages, and you don’t need all of these other things. Look to see if there’s one graph that goes up and does the other goes up at the same time or not. If one goes up and the other goes up, do more of the same thing. If one goes up and the other doesn’t go up, maybe try something else instead. Just little things like that where you’re continuously kind of experimenting and looking at your numbers but not in a way where you have to do calculations, literally just continuously looking to see if things are going up or down.
I think sometimes artists and managers always think about success from the standpoint of streams, especially when you’re talking about pop and hip-hop. Always thinking streams, streams, streams. But is that really what you need? There are plenty of artists that are making great money, with Patreon, for example. Plenty of artists that are making great money with Discord channels. Artists are doing things that aren’t necessarily coming directly from streams. There’s e-commerce, there’s merch, there’s live, there are even things like Cameo. There are so many different things in different places where you can develop revenue.
I think another thing to think about is where your revenue is coming from and if it necessarily has to be from streaming. Then from there, it’s also thinking about cultivating your audience. I think a lot of times people think they need to be everywhere when you don’t. You need to be where your audience is or where the audience you want is. If your audience is not on TikTok, why are you there? Why are you spending your time there? It’s not the place you need to be. Think about where your audience is and how to find them.
There are a few different ways to tackle that. One way is to look at things like who’s making third-party playlists on Spotify and putting you into them. For example, you hop on Spotify For Artists, and you can see what playlists you were added to, check out who that person is; sometimes they have an Instagram handle in their bio or even in the playlist name, for example. Also, very intuitively, who is talking to you, who is continuously commenting, who is continually talking with you on Twitter, etc. That’s your core audience. You want to see more of those people, those are the people that make you the most money, those are the people streaming you the most, etc. So actually focus on them and be where they are. Click on their profiles and see what else they’re talking about because sometimes they’re not talking about you, but what else are they talking about when they’re not talking about you. That’s where you need to be.
Again, these are various different ways of looking at data points. I think people get stuck on streams, and how do they get more streams when there are a lot of different approaches. If you cultivate those ten superfans, and you put out vinyl or t-shirt, you’re going to make way more money from your twenty-dollar vinyl or t-shirt from those ten superfans than you’re going to make from ten new people streaming your song once. Try and think about things much more strategically.
Want to read on? Head to Part II here!