Being a Tech Leader in the Music Industry with Scott Williams

By Published On: December 18, 2018Categories: Blog, Podcasts, The CTO Studio

We all know technology is constantly changing in every industry, but this is especially true in music. So what is it like being a tech leader in the music industry today? Scott Williams of CD Baby is here to tell us.

Scott is the VP of Technology at CD Baby, a company that began as the go-to spot for bands who wanted to promote their latest CD. But CDs are a thing of the past now, so how has CD Baby evolved with these changes? Scott will answer that question and much more during our conversation on this edition of CTO Studio.

In this episode, you’ll hear:

  • How does the hero complex hold us back?
  • How many tracks do they have in their catalog at CD Baby?
  • What is one of the more unique aspects of CD Baby’s payout system?
  • What is Content ID?
  • When is commitment more effective than compliance?
  • And so much more!

When CD Baby started out it was the go-to place for bands to get into the music industry promotional machine. This was before iTunes and iPhones and mp3s had taken over as the preferred format of music. With that in mind, one of my first questions to Scott was how did they evolve with the changing tech? How did they reinvent themselves to stay relevant?

This year is CD Baby’s 20th anniversary, and he’s been with the company for five of those years. The reinvention predates his time with them, but he thinks they’ve continued to thrive as a business because the spirit has remained the same. CD Baby has always been committed to helping artists, especially independent artists, get their music where it needs to be: out to their fans.

It used to be this was done through selling CDs, but when iTunes came along it replaced the physical format of the compact disc and getting music out to fans became an electronic endeavor. So they had to be one of the early adopters of iTunes.

They continue to adapt today. Currently the paid streaming services produce a lot of revenue for the music industry. In that vein, they distribute music everywhere music can be distributed digitally.

Because he’s so tapped into the music industry I wanted to know if he had any thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl. There’s definitely a trend towards vinyl, according to Scott. At CD Baby they have seen this demand grow. It’s definitely a niche, but it’s not one that’s going to evaporate any time soon. He thinks the demand for vinyl is back for many reasons: everything from the connection to the artwork of the cover album to the sound to the tactile experience of owning and playing a record.

Circling back to his personal story I asked Scott what drew him to work at CD Baby. He had friends who had used the service before and CD Baby had a position open that interested him. Plus he likes the mission of helping people breakthrough and find their success, plus he loves the people at the company – he hasn’t found better people anywhere!

Which leads us to talk about his dev team: how large is it? They have 30 people in all of IT engineering: some of those people are in devops roles or on the IT help desk. The majority of these people are specialists: a database team, a web team, etc.

At CD Baby they have lots of web properties: lots of brands and products within those brands. They have CD Baby and within that is a members site where artists upload their music. They have HostBaby which is a site that lets artists host their own website for their bands. HearNow is a newer tool that allows artists to create promotional one page sites. Those are a few of their brands, there are more irons in the fire according to Scott.

As the VP of Tech, what’s it like to navigate those integrations, the product development road map, etc.?It’s definitely a challenge. They have some integrations in place now, and while they could do more, there’s an ROI that needs to be calculated on each of those. They have opted for integration when something valuable would be unlocked for users.

A good example of that is artists who are releasing an album have the option to create a HearNow page. HearNow is a promotional tool that creates a page on which people can stream music and can click on links to where the music can be found online.

Changing gears, I asked Scott to tell us how he handles high-level and low-level conversations at CD Baby. As the VP of Technology he’s a leader and I was curious about what his personal framework is for leadership. Scott says he is lucky to work with the people he has, they are fantastic. They’ve had a few changes over the last few years which has helped solidify the feeling of being one united team.

But as far as his personal framework, he’s a fan of the servant leadership model. He’s focused on finding win-wins for people that help them grow in their career while also helping the company grow and expand.

Personally he has not responded well to authoritarian top-down leadership, and he doesn’t think that’s a good fit for technology workers and knowledge workers in general. That kind of mentality just builds compliance when we should be aiming for commitment. Commitment comes when you give people more autonomy and empower them. You still hold them accountable for their goals and standards, but you allow them to choose their path.

We also talk about how to deal with the hero complex many of us face, why I considered quitting my start-up several times and more on today’s CTO Studio.

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