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Why Big Data Has Been (Mostly) Good for Music

In the late 1970s, Robert Hazard had a problem. He’d been tooling around Philadelphia’s music scene for more than a decade, trying out any sound that might put him on the map, to no avail. Then, in 1981, he finally recorded a demo of catchy new wave songs, which his manager passed along to an influential radio DJ. The songs went into heavy rotation and Hazard’s shows started selling out, attracting the attention of Kurt Loder—who gave him an appearance in Rolling Stone.

RCA signed Hazard to multi-album deal and redistributed his self-financed, self-produced 1982 EP. Glowing reviews propelled the single “Escalator of Life” onto Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, locked in MTV airplay, and led to sales of more than 300,000 copies. Two years later, Hazard’s first LP failed to meet sales projections and his label dropped him. He died in 2008, largely an unknown. Two months after he died, Spotify's app launched; if it had been around when Hazard peaked, his career might've looked much different.

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