Alex White: Co-Founder & CEO of Next Big Sound

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Alex White co-founded Next Big Sound in 2008, while in his last semester at Northwestern University. The analytics service measures daily music consumption and purchase decisions around the globe. From Facebook fans to sales, Next Big Sound combines artist activity with context to help the modern music industry make decisions.

White and his co-founders have been featured in Billboard (10 best music companies) New York Times, CNN, Forbes (30 under 30), Techcrunch, BusinessWeek (25 under 25) and more.

Next Big Sound works with thousands of customers, from individual artists to major labels, and licenses two charts to Billboard magazine and just announced their foray into book publishing with Macmillan as their anchor “Big 5” customer. In 2012 the start-up announced a $6.5 million dollar series A financing from IA Ventures, Foundry Group, SofttechVC and other notable angel investors.

How did you get into the music tech industry?

I came from the music side of things. My dad is a professional cellist and I grew up playing in bands and working in a recording studio in high school before switching to the business side of things. I met my co-founders in 2008 and we realized that the industry was in a state of dynamic transformation and we wanted to impact that. 

Tell us about Next Big Sound. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company, short and long term?

The industry has undergone massive changes in the past decade or so. People are consuming more music than ever, and interacting with music and artists in a completely different way - particularly the Millennial generation. We have found that our unique data set can help uncover early on which songs and artists are reacting in the market place, who is most likely to see success, and help the industry make informed decisions armed with accurate and immediate data around online consumption. This type of information is invaluable to all aspects of the business side of the music industry, whether it be to identify talent, or to measure the success of campaigns or promotional events.

What strategic partnerships have you implemented that have attributed to NBS success?

The first important partnership for credibility was with Topspin in 2009, where we powered social music data for every artist on the platform. We also landed an early deal with Sony Music, and started licensing charts to Billboard in 2010. More recently we entered into an exclusive Spotify data integration for artists and managers, as well as a partnership with YouTube that allows us to share their detection data. These partnerships have all been key to our current position and reputation in the music industry.

How important is UX and fan interaction to the success of a company/musician?

User experience is of the utmost importance. The fan of an artist or customer of a company, and building loyalty with them, is the most important thing for the health and success of both a company or a musician. If their experience is a not a good one, the company or musician's career won't last long.  

Why is data important in successful decision making?

In a world where people listen to music a dozen different ways and traditional marketing is becoming less and less effective, the only way to break through is to try new things. The only way to understand what things are working (and not working!) is to measure how fans are reacting. This data is finally out there and measurable at a very granular level and crucial to informing business decisions.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

So much activity surrounding music happens online these days. We have already tracked more than 260 billion online plays in 2014. But there is a lot of noise to cut through. There are hundreds of thousands of currently active artists and bands, and only a few hundred break into mainstream success - a very select few become superstars. For instance, the top 1% of artists saw about 90% of new page likes and followers added on Facebook and Twitter in 2013, and about 80% of all Vevo and YouTube plays. But all of these artists started small, steadily building a fan base, often online. By tracking the different trajectories to success, whether it be a slow climb, or a catapult such as Lorde, we are able to better understand what this path looks like, and help to identify who is next.

What are your greatest successes and mistakes as founder of NBS and how did you learn from them?

Greatest success is building a fast moving and extremely talented team and a company where I am excited to go to work every morning. In the five years of starting and running this company I have never once made a single mistake. Just kidding, I make mistakes all the time. However, I try to be transparent about my decision-making process, and open to opinions and counsel that hold opposing or differing views.

Life Motto?

Days should be rigorously planned and nights left open to chance. 

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Find an area of the world that is endlessly fascinating to you, and start finding other folks that feel the same way. Together you can get started identifying and solving as many problems as you can in that part of the world. 

What songs/stations on are your Pandora or Ipod?

Lots of alternative rock, underground hip-hop and sugar pop songs.

Favorite travel destination?

Three days in a city I've never visited. Most recently that was Portland, Oregon - where young people go to retire. 

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

Pizza and IPA.

Most interesting headline you've read this week?

"Larry Page wants a Google 2.0 that will build cities and airports" - Page has totally reinvigorated the company and is an inspiration to watch. 

Role model - business and personal?

Reed Hasting - love how he has started and built the company and continues to grow and innovate. A stellar, personal mentor of mine would be Jason Mendelson.

What's next for NBS and Alex White?

Continue our march to make data as useful as possible for our customers. While we have come a very long way there are still miles to go in helping creative businesses make smarter decisions. The data sources, the technology and marketing levers all change so rapidly - we need to continue to pioneer.