AEI’s Farhana Aboo: “Compilations and playlists take the work out of music discovery”
Farhana Aboo is Marketing Manager, Music, at AEI, a full-stack music and media company. She boasts an impeccable track record with internationally renowned brands such MTV, Perform Group, Relentless Records and One Little Indian. We recently pinned her down and got her unique insights on the UK’s eclectic music landscape, why compilation CDs are thriving, and why the record label of the future is a full-stack model.
–Farhana, thanks for taking the time to talk with us today. Could you tell us a bit about the AEI Group and its unique background and story, as well as your role?
AEI is an independent music community – based in East London – that inspires and nurtures emerging talent. We provide artists, managers, entrepreneurs and other talented individuals with an infrastructure and environment in which they can grow and succeed.
The company was established 20 years ago with Drum&BassArena, the flagship brand that started off as a forum to share d&b audio clips with fans. Since then, AEI has grown and expanded to include massive brands including UKF, All Trap Music, NoCopyrightSounds (NCS), TheSoundYouNeed, Subsoul, FreeSongsToUse and many more.
I have been at AEI for five years and am marketing manager for our music division. I manage the marketing campaigns and strategies for all our releases as well as working on new music business opportunities.
-AEI Group used to be known as AEI Media, and re-branded last year to reflect the diversity of its activities. Can you please describe what those are?
AEI operates a “full stack” infrastructure, which includes a recordings, live, and media partnerships division. We work on a more holistic level. For example, an artist we discover on one of our YouTube channels would sign a release with us, which we then distribute and publish, and feed this into the other departments where, for example, the live team would book that artist on shows and festivals we promote and put the artist up for any sponsorship and media partnership opportunities.
We are no longer just a media company. Music is still our main focus and our activities and involvement are across more than just YouTube channels. For example, we’ve invested in music festivals such as Let it Roll (the biggest drum & bass festival); the first ever drum & bass conference BEC (Beats Evolution Conference); and El Dorado, a boutique festival in partnership with Cirque du Soul, along with various labels and artists. We also create bespoke content in house.
-AEI has a few different brands under its umbrella. Could you please tell us about them, and how they’re different?
We have a flexible approach to working with our partners. Some of our brands are fully owned by AEI whereas others are partnerships or joint ventures.
Drum&BassArena, the flagship brand, is well respected within the industry and continues to put on hugely popular events, successful compilation series, and the prestigious, annual Drum&BassArena Awards.
UKF was one of the first YouTube channels we brought into the fold and one of the most successful. Initially covering d&b and dubstep, but now encompasses all types of electronic music.
NCS (NoCopyrightSounds) is a bit of a phenomenon. It hit 10 million subscribers a few weeks ago. The music on the YouTube channel is available for YouTubers to use for free in their videos – the majority tend to be gamers. NCS was the channel Alan Walker was discovered on and consistently brings through new talent.
All Trap Music, a YouTube channel specializing in Trap music is – as with most of our other brands – one of the leaders in the Trap scene.
Subsoul – a channel for best in deep house and garage is a brand that has a great track record for picking great music, including one of the latest releases Arle – Close to You – Icarus remix, which is doing really well.
TheSoundYouNeed is a cool YouTube channel covering a range of chilled electronic music. The brand has gone beyond just YouTube with events, festivals, compilations, as well as a record label.
Eldorado Festival is a boutique festival we launched last year in partnership with Cirque du Soul.
As I mentioned above we also launched the first ever d&b conference in partnership with the Let It Roll team in Prague.
-AEI Group is unique in that it is one of the few ‘full-stack’ providers for music. Can you see this model being emulated in some of the more mainstream music companies and labels.
I think it is a model that is very effective and other companies definitely see the benefits of a full stack model. In the future, I can see a number of companies coming together with their specialist divisions to form a full stack company in partnership with each other. Or just working closely with companies like AEI to maximize efficiency.
-You have a unique view into the UK music industry, especially into all the fantastic music being created that probably doesn’t make it onto a mainstream radio playlist. What do you think these vibrant music subcultures say about creativity in the UK?
I think there is so much talent and creativity not just in the UK, but the world. Our audience is very global, so we see music from everywhere. I think what it says is that there is a lot of talent out there and advances in technology mean a lot of people can now express their creativity.
It can also be very frustrating that new music from emerging artists isn’t always on people’s radars – in particular getting playlisted into streaming services like Spotify. You see the big artists pretty much dominating the official playlists, making it difficult for discovery.
-At our Music 4.5 seminars, we’ve talked a lot of playlists – including how they’re curated, marketed, and monetized. One could argue that AEI has this down to fine art with its successful compilation series. Why do you think compilation CDs continue to increase in popularity? What can playlists learn from compilations?
As the industry keeps mentioning, the majority of music fans prefers the lean back experience. I think with the huge amount of choice and access we have to music it can seem like a lot of work to discover new music. Unless you are a massive artist, albums as formats also struggle a bit. Compilations and playlists are able to take the work out of music discovery. People have reliable and trusted brands that curate music you know you will like and that is fresh.
Music 4.5 – conceived, organized and executed by 2Pears – is a series of seminars in London and New York that explore the intersection between music and technology. We are always looking for expert speakers from across the industry, including start-ups, entrepreneurs, technologists, journalists, lawyers, managers, labels, and artists. Find out more here.