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Warner Goes Drupal: A Q&A With Paul Sinclair, SVP, Digital Media, Atlantic Records [March 20, 2012]

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012
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Billboard

Warner Goes Drupal: A Q&A With Paul Sinclair, SVP, Digital Media, Atlantic Records

Warner Music Group is among the first companies to use a new platform by Acquia called "Enterprise Drupal Gardens."

In short, Enterprise Drupal Gardens offers clients the same advantages as proprietary "software as a service" (Saas) models without being confined to a proprietary platform like Cisco's Eos. Warner started using Eos for some of its artist websites back in 2009, but Cisco decided to discontinue Eos in 2011.

Acquia has been working with Warner for six months to tailor the platform to the music company's specific requirements. A wide range of artists websites are already on the platform, including Cody Simpson, T.I., B.o.B, Portugal. The Man, Stevie Nicks, Iron & Wine, Surfer Blood, JaneDear girls and Gloriana. Websites for Jason Derulo, Waka Flocka Flame, Shinedown, Paramore, Wiz Khalifa and Trey Songz are among those due to be on the platform in the coming weeks.

In a conversation with Billboard.biz, Paul Sinclair, SVP, Digital Media, Atlantic Records, explained the benefits of using a Drupal-based platform and how it plays into the role of today's record label.

Billboard.biz: What does this partnership mean from a practical standpoint for Warner's websites?
Paul Sinclair: Here's why this matters to us and why it matters to artists in a nutshell: the thing we've learned over the last few years doing the direct-to-fan thing, both on the website side and the ecommerce side, is that there are a couple things that are really important. The website needs to stay up, and that's no trivial task. The other side of it is the world keeps getting more innovative and keeps changing faster. The [platform] needs to change with it and be almost infinitely flexible. Having done this for a number of years at Warner and Atlantic, the platform we were on before [had] a sense of robustness. During the Grammys, when other websites were non-accessible because some artist had an amazing performance on the Grammys, Bruno Mars' website was still up. That was one of the things we got out of our old platform.

The next great thing that we find to be interesting, we need to be able to tie it into the artist experience - the artist website, the ecommerce store, whatever it is. Warner has been doing things with Drupal for years and open source is great, but in my opinion we're ultimately an innovative record label, not a technology company. So we should focus on great products and innovation and marketing, but that doesn't mean we're running a bunch of servers and stuff like that. This [partnership] gets us the best of both worlds for artists. The website stays up and they get the benefit of open source because there's a zillion developers out there giving cool little features back to the Drupal community, but without the headache of running all your Drupal stuff.

Was lack of flexibility a problem with Cisco's platform?
It wasn't a lack of flexibility, it was [the platform was] proprietary. You had a big team but there are only so many people to build new features for Cisco. Drupal is a worldwide platform where everybody from a kid in his bedroom through to big companies is building stuff [for the platform]. Ultimately it opens up the world. Cisco, as big as they are, can only put so many resources against anything. Artists love to be at the bleeding edge. One of my jobs is to help them decide [if something] is a great idea or if it's not. If it's a great idea you don't want to be handcuffed. You want to be able to plug it in and try it.

What kinds of things can we expect from artist websites on this new platform?
There are some very cool social networks out there that allow you to have apps that upload content and that's why everybody loves social networks - they build tools to allow you to upload content very easily. In the past we've tried to replicate those. With Drupal we've figured out it's faster and easier to do that. So in the near term we're going to be rolling out apps for artists to be able to get content. I was sitting down with Shinedown at lunch yesterday and they said to me, "Hey, we love our website and we love social but we really do love our fan community on our website. We want to figure out easier ways while we're on the road to be a part of that, because it's hard while we're on the road." And we said, "We think the solution is we're going to have this app for you and it is going to work on your phone and you'll be able to get content on there without having to pull out a Macbook Air." I point that out because everybody should have an app to put stuff on their website, but it's more challenging that it sounds.

We're thinking through if there should be a deeper fan rewards program [on artist fan clubs]. By being there for the artist, should you be rewarded when you tweet, when you log into the website, when you buy something whether it's from us or a retailer? The openness of this platform [means] we try it and it works, awesome, we can do it with other artists when it makes sense. And if it doesn't work, then no harm no foul, you can move on and try something else.

The last couple months, everybody's been talking about Pinterest, right? When there's a new thing, this platform allows us to plug in the new thing for one or two or a hundred or however many artists want to try out the new thing, and figure out if it works with their fans or not. It doesn't require us to wait six months while we miss the opportunity to get in there because the platform itself is flexible. You can also make sure that every artist website is not the freakin' same. Every artist wants a unique experience. Artist websites can't look like templates. Artists want to feel like it's their experience.

You've said that Warner is a music company and not a technology company, and on the hosting side you're not a technology company. But it sounds like to some degree you have to be a technology company now. Is that true?
Yeah. Look, we have lots of people who do this. We have lots of people at Atlantic who do digital. There are lots of technologists in the company. I just think our focus should be on leveraging technology for artists - experiences, products - and not on managing servers. We should be working on the edge cases and letting people like Acquia worry about the boxes that power the thing, and the core platform that powers the thing. Therefore we can focus on the artist experience, the fan experience, the community, the things you should do as a 2012 record label. I think there was some thought over the last decade that record labels were going to be technology companies. I think we're leveragers of technology, we're not technologists - even though we have lots of people who live and breathe tech all day.