The Hot Seat: David Boyle

Published in The Music Network

David Boyle
is an expert at making sense of numbers. Vast numbers. The London-based EMI Vice President of Global Consumer Insight at EMI Music is an authority on consumer segmentation, using evidence and research data of consumers’ music habits to make some big decisions on everything from signing new artists, to product development and marketing plans for Beatles releases.

A former consultant for British supermarkets giant Tesco, Boyle has also worked in politics for the Labour Party in London and with the Democrats in New York. TMN caught up with Boyle on a recent visit to EMI’s Australian offices.

Hello David, you’ve been coordinating EMI’s research globally for the past 18 months. So what has the industry been doing wrong?

The music business hasn’t been focused on its current customer – its most engaged current customers. One of the biggest opportunities on the table right now is how to engage all those people who aren’t currently buying music. We think 50% of all people are what we call ‘lessengaged’. We need to help them to find products and opportunities that really meet their ideas. Most people care about music and it plays some role in their life. It plays a role in 99% of people’s lives, according to our Australian research.

So what’s EMI’s plan?

It’s not about trying to get people to do things differently, or persuade people to come and find music and it’s not about trying to make them jump through hoops. It’s about going after people where they are. It’s about taking music to them, whether it’s physical retail stores, drug stores, clothing stores or garages. It’s about getting simple products that are cheap into those channels, otherwise we’re just writing off half of all music consumers.

Where are the untapped areas to sell music?

We’ve looked at where people spend their time, whether it’s coffee shops, or bookstores, or chemists or clothing stores or garage forecourts. Why aren’t there opportunities in those places to buy music in one shape or another? A CD in a jewel case isn’t the right proposition; it totally wouldn’t work there, not with the price being charged now. So how can we strip the product down, make it really simple and have people buy music in those places. We need to be really creative about that. Right now, we make that very difficult for fans. It is about growing and maintaining people who are engaged. But again, half of the people are ‘lessengaged’ consumers. That’s the really important message for the industry.

What outcomes have you seen?

We’ve helped some of our biggest artists to understand how we need to engage fans much more than just producing CDs with bonus content. We’re trying to produce these “experience editions,” whether it’s Gorillaz or Kylie. We’re saying to the artist, “music is the core.” But it’s not just about the music, it’s to engage the consumer. They want much more, they want experiences. How do we take those experiences and package them up and make them available in a product? We’ve helped artists to understand that, and give consumers what they want. Whenever we talk to retailers, or our biggest artists or our biggest radio station colleagues, and we share our research in those conversations, the resounding response is always, ‘you should have done this 10 years ago.’

Are you just a numbers guy or a music man?

I love music. I couldn’t do this job if I didn’t love music. I’m many things, a with David Boyle music guy, a data guy, a retailer from my Tesco days. You have to have passion in this game. You can’t do it with numbers alone.

It’s been a big period of change for EMI in general. Does the court case involving Citibank and Terra Firma drag on yourself and other colleagues?

God no. There are two totally separate stories about EMI right now. One is about the day-to-day operations of the business. My job is to help us connect our artist with their fans, and help our people do that. But we’re totally removed from the balance sheet issues. I don’t read those stories, to be honest. That’s for them to deal with.

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