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The Boston Globe

Business

Deal aims to mine Twitter for music data

NEW YORK — For the music business, Twitter holds a vast haystack of data with no easy way to find the most valuable needles — like which acts are attracting the most attention and where.

To help find them, Twitter has turned to 300, a new company started by Lyor Cohen, one of music’s biggest power brokers. Cohen announced the partnership Sunday at Midem, an annual music industry conference in Cannes, France.

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“There was a time not so long ago when we sold music to retailers and they sold to fans, but nobody knew who those fans were,” said Cohen, 54, who started as a hip-hop promoter in the 1980s and rose to top posts at Island Def Jam and Warner Music Group. “I’ve spent most of my life not knowing who the customer is. Isn’t that a shame?”

The reading of music’s digital tea leaves has become a big business as companies like Gracenote, Next Big Sound, and Musicmetric have joined traditional players like Nielsen in providing information about music online. But while music is the most popular topic on Twitter — users discussed it in more than one billion messages last year — its depths have not been fully plumbed.

Other media businesses are also coveting Twitter’s trove of information. Its deal with 300 is similar to a partnership that Twitter announced last week with the cable network CNN and the tech company Dataminr to develop a news-alert system for journalists.

Twitter’s data pile has immense value to the music industry, Cohen said. The partnership gives 300 full access to Twitter’s music data, including information not available publicly, like the location tags that identify from where a tweet was sent.

In exchange, 300, which signs artists for recorded music, publishing and other deals, will help Twitter organize data and develop software that could be used by other artists, record labels, or consumer brands.

The goal is to plumb Twitter for signs music scouts seek, such as excitement about a fledgling band.

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The goal, Cohen said, is to mine Twitter for the kind of signs that music scouts have always sought, like a flicker of excitement about a fledgling band.

But the depth and immediacy of Twitter’s data could reveal flickers that might otherwise go undetected and also give an understanding of how fans communicate and react to music. Imagine, for instance, a music executive getting an early lead on a hot new rapper by tracking the most influential Twitter users in the rapper’s local scene.

For Twitter, a successful music partnership could also help it prove its value to musicians beyond its well-known uses for communication and self-promotion. Last year the company introduced a music app to wide fanfare, but it failed to catch on and within months faded into relative obscurity.

Bob Moczydlowsky, Twitter’s head of music, said that once 300 combs through its data and helps develop analysis tools, it will make the information available to others in the music world, a process that he said might take a few months. Twitter’s data, he said, can sometimes be best culled by outside parties with specific goals.

“If you think of data as a product,” Moczydlowsky said, “having a customer who needs to make a decision will help us organize that data much better than if we tried to do it ourselves.”

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