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Music |

Interview with Sam Lee, Music Editor for Deezer UK and Ireland

Tuesday 26 April 2016

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Words Alice Bell

We’re really excited to introduce Sam Lee to the Spindle Magazine team! Sam is going to be putting together regular New Music playlists for Spindle Magazine listeners via the Deezer platform.

Sam began his career writing for the Line of Best Fit, NME.com and interning at BBC 6Music and then radio plugging before going on to retain his dream job as Music Editor for Deezer UK & Ireland. We chat to Sam about the music industry, advice on achieving his dream job, and  the power of the playlist.


How did you get into the industry?

 I always knew I wanted to be working in music, that was something from quite early on, and I was fairly sure that to do that I didn’t necessarily need to go to university, so after college I set about at getting as much experience as I could, practical experience writing for NME.com and Line of Best Fit and did some stuff for BBC  and then a string of internships at BBC 6Music, coming up from Swindon getting the train before peak times, and getting the train home (very) late. Then my first full time job was as a radio plugger and I did that for just over a year and then started at Deezer. This was sort of the end goal, to be working in a digital environment, whilst also being able to support new music is.


Are you able to support the musicians you want to champion via the Deezer platform?

It is actually one of the most rewarding things, when you speak to an artist or manager and they say ‘you know, we actually got a couple of hundred quid from that’


Are Deezer trying to champion new talent, rather than focusing on ‘mainstream’?

It’s about finding the balance I think, for me my role as editorial allows me to say ok here’s a new band that nobody knows about, I’m going to really support them and really push them and see what we can do, we’ve actually spoke to quite a few managers and artists where small bands who I have supported in a playlist and they’ve said that all of a sudden they’ve started to see the difference it’s making in terms of publicity and support from awareness through that. They’ve then seen money coming in. I’m not talking huge/fortune to retire, but for an upcoming artist it makes a big difference.


So for people currently using other music streaming platforms, why should we convert to using Deezer?

 Ok so the main thing we do is that the service is completely personalised so that no two peoples Deezer are the same. When you log onto Deezer, your Deezer will be completely different to my Deezer, and that’s because of a couple of things; firstly because we use very clever algorithms to make sure we’re giving the very best recommendations possible based on what you like, what you don’t like and what you might like, and also we have a team of editors like me around the world whose job it is work alongside the algorithms and to sort of take  to look at what people are listening to and to look at the data and to take it all into consideration and then they coma back with choices and say ok here’s what people like and then  the computer takes that into account and then recommends out to people with similar tastes.


Is the process of obtaining music from labels easier than it was when you started?

So we’ve really noticed a big difference over the last couple of years in terms of streaming as a whole being accepted and understood by labels. When I first started it was still a bit of a struggle to get labels on board with it, there was still a bit of suspicion around the whole thing, there was a lot of articles out saying streaming doesn’t pay artists and over the years I think it’s become really good for the industry because it’s created revenue streams where there weren’t before and it’s  a great discovery platform for new artists. So I think now labels are far more on board with the whole concept.


With so much choice online, do you think there will be a regression against digital?

First of all, the world in general, especially the digital music world is so fast paced now and changing all of the time it’s impossible to say, you know in 5 or 10 years down the line is streaming going to be around? and are downloads going to be around? So far all the evidence shows that online and digital is growing and growing and the last year streaming revenues have gone up by another 50%, so it’s just something that just keeps on getting bigger and bigger and bigger. So there’s no signs it’s slowing down at the moment.

In terms of people favouring vinyl over streaming, I think that, you know I love vinyl I buy vinyl all the time and I think that it’s a really nice format, and there’s a reason that it’s seeing a resurgence it’s that people enjoy that very physical experience and and it is a very different experience to streaming.  I don’t think the two compete, and actually on the contrary I think there’s lots of evidence that shows that actually streaming increases vinyl sales because people are discovering more music than ever before and they’re willing to invest in it, so I think the two work really nicely together.

I think one thing we try to do with streaming is try to engage fans in an experience that you probably can’t get with physical format, whether it’s playlists from artists or playlists with commentary, where you get an artist to put together a list of tracks and then they talk about each track in between, it’s things like this that bring artists closer to their fans.


Do you think that todays listener wants to be told what to listen to, more so than listeners a couple of years ago?

 I think the medium of recommendations will always be the same, I think word of mouth and friends recommendations will always be one of the main ways that people discover music, whether it’s buying records, or streaming. I kind of see my role as quite similar to somebody who would have worked in a record shop before, I think my role now is kind of similar to that, except in a different format, like we said before that there’s more music available than ever before so people probably appreciate a bit more guidance.

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How do you think that will adapt over the years?

Not only is streaming good for discovery, but then there is monetizing as well so that helps the artist there, as well as raising awareness.  In terms of how it is going to work in the future, I’d love to be able to say for sure, but one of the main things we’re seeing is playlists are becoming huge and one of the main reasons people discover new music on streaming now, and that’s not really a surprise, a playlist is nothing new, it’s like the idea that people have made mix CDs and mix tapes for as long as you’ve been able to tape stuff off the radio and give it to your friends, it’s the same as that, it’s just a different medium, and I think that that will keep continuing to grow. Which in turn alters some label and artists release campaigns because they’re starting to see playlists becoming really important to tap into the audience in imaginative ways so I think it would be quite interesting.


Visually, do you think music has become more or less creative?

 I think it’s just as creative, but in a different way. You’ll always get artists that are pushing boundaries in various ways, say for instance Father John Misty recently released a big vinyl which you opened up and it folded out and of course, it looked incredible, so of course people are going to buy it. People are still really keen to work within the digital world and be creative with it, but I don’t think it limits creativity at all, it just shifts it to a different style.


 How do you decipher your playlists?

 It’s quite simple really it’s what I like, I’m the music editor for the UK and Ireland so I have to think with what will work for those two countries, but the point of editorial is that there’s editorial tone and there’s somebody saying this is good, this isn’t so good. Sometimes you get a bit of pressure from various sides saying this is a big artist you should do something with them. I never push anything I don’t like, that’s the beauty of editorial.


Have there ever been times where you have felt pressured to feature an artist?

 There’s never been a time, like I said that would make my job redundant. Long term you’re going to loose people, because one of the strongest things with Deezer is the editorial cover we have from around the world, and if we start loosing that, we loose trust, which is the most important thing.


What advice would you give emerging musicians? 

The way that musicians become known now is completely different from how it was before, before you’d go round and gig and play every small venues and get really tight live and then you would release something because it was difficult to release music.

Nowadays it’s so easy to set up a bedroom studio, people are releasing music first and then gigging, but I think still the thing that live is still so important for bands.

Not forgetting to hone live performance would be one, whether that’s you on your own with a laptop or a seventeen-piece orchestra.

Understanding the importance of digital and streaming, if artists know how to really make the most of these platforms then they can really give themselves a leg up.

What advice would you give to our student and graduate readers?

I would say have confidence in your ideas and don’t be afraid, young people can often be the greatest innovators out of anyone, believe in that, don’t worry that you don’t have 20years experience like people across the table, chances are you’ve got better ideas.


What has been your career highlight so far?

Easy: Dancing on the stage with Nile Rodgers at The Roundhouse.


Follow Sams recommendations via Deezer