Editor’s note: This conversation was adapted from the Polywork Conversations podcast series that took place in 2022.
When confronted with change, there’s an inherent tendency to go one of two ways — riding the wave of adaptation or being swept in the tide. For Brian Zisook, co-founder of music discovery app Audiomack and editor-in-chief of DJBooth, being nimble in the midst of a sea change as the tech and music industries collided in recent years has given him the perspective to scale his companies on a philosophy of measured growth.
“As much as things have changed in the industry, and they have changed quite a bit…they've also stayed pretty much the same,” Zisook said in conversation with Polywork.
In the music industry, technology has helped creators catch up to the creative process once limited to deep-pocketed individuals and labels. While this has increased accessibility throughout the industry, it’s made cutting through the noise difficult for up-and-coming artists.
“You don't need the capital injection that you used to require in order to afford studio time and press up physical copies of an album or a single and then distribute those physical copies internationally. Now you can record in your bedroom and you can distribute your work for nothing or very low cost, and it can be available for everyone,” he said. “The problem of course, on the flip side of that coin is everybody has access to this. And so the volume of creators has intensified and the volume of content created has intensified. But the thing that hasn't changed is we only have so many hours in a day to consume.”
Discovery as more than “just another play”
Where many leaders would have seen the proliferation of artists and art as an oversaturation of the industry, Zisook saw an opportunity to combine the best of both his worlds — the discovery qualities of Audiomack with the authority of DJBooth’s longstanding editorial influence.
At the time we were fairly bullish on the concept that people liked to read. They just want to do it in an easily digestible, easily accessible format and not have to leave where they really want to be.
In 2021, content was integrated into the product with a rare bet — a new generation of multimedia consumers was just as interested in reading as watching short-form video. “At the time we were fairly bullish on the concept that people liked to read. They just want to do it in an easily digestible, easily accessible format and not have to leave where they really want to be.
“Like if you're only posting links to articles on Twitter, and then hoping that someone in the midst of scrolling sees something shiny and bright that they like in the form of a headline photo combination that they're gonna hop over, we didn't wanna do that,” he said. And so what we've seen is not only our in-app reads (pageviews) increasing month over month every month, but session length time has increased.”
The formula for this early success did not require extraordinary measures, but rather the ability to facilitate artist discovery among its users.
“I'm actually surprised more outlets have not attempted to do this. Maybe they don't think that their user base cares to read, but it enhances discovery, right? You come across an artist, are you discovering the artist or are you discovering their song? Because if you're only discovering their song, there's really no long-term value to the artist. It's just another play,” Zisook said.
More from the interview:
“I think education is the most important thing. There is a lack of trustworthy resources for independent artists to help them best navigate this ever-changing space and ecosystem.”
On coming back to earth:
“Lemme tell you, there are times when I'm sitting next to my daughter on the couch and I'm going through my feeds and she takes her hand and puts it over the phone and she says, ‘daddy, put your phone away.’ And I'm like, my daughter just gave me a reality check. I need to be present in this moment.”