April 6, 2020

Perry Bashkoff - Instagram Music

Perry Bashkoff - Instagram Music

Perry Bashkoff, Head of Music at Instagram, joins host Lawrence Peryer to share his thoughts and insight on the New Normal.

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Perry Bashkoff, Head of Music at Instagram, joins host Lawrence Peryer to share his thoughts and insight on the New Normal.

Perry and LP worked together at Warner Music Group and navigated the digital music space together for years. They catch up about what Perry is seeing in his role at Instagram as well as how he's trying to help his local community.


Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.


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Lawrence Peryer:           How are you?


Perry Bashkoff:              I’m good man, how you doing?


LP:                               I’m doing okay. It’s good to see you.


PB:                              I’ve got my sidekick here.


LP:                               Nice. Is that your agent?


PB:                              This is my agent, yes, see and approve everything that I do as always.


LP:                               By the way, that kid over there has like a ten-megawatt smile.


PB:                              Yeah, ten megawatts. How you doing buddy?


LP:                               I’m doing all right. I’m actually uncomfortably well given some of the stuff going on.


PB:                              I kind of feel the same way. I was telling someone the other day I, and you know you were here, the first few days I think everyone kind of went through this kind of like what the hell, panic, not panic, how do you get your head straight. And then something just kind of came over and I said, okay new norm, how do we get through this, what do we focus on, how do we keep it positive, and how do I help. I’m not running around town. I’m not a doctor. So we’ve been doing a few things here in New Jersey to help out where we can. But yeah, same for me man, every once in a while, I get a little thing of bring your mind back to center, but yeah, ironically, weirdly calm and positive given everything that’s going on.


LP:                               I’m going to jump in.


PB:                              Go man.


LP:                               How’s your family?


PB:                              Family is good. We’ve been locked down here for 20 days now.


Child’s voice:                 Twenty-one.


PB:                              Twenty-one. Thank you. I have been a little bit longer. I decided to kind of jump out, and stop communing, and working from home several weeks before that. So we’ve been 21 days here. Everyone is healthy, everyone is positive. And like I was saying everyone is trying to see how we can help and what we can do to help others.


LP:                               Did you travel a lot before this?


PB:                              I was travelling a bunch. I don’t travel a ton in general, but I had a lot of our teammates have just been talking about how man, it was like just over a month ago we were all in L.A. for the Grammies. Look how different life it, right. So to travel, travel in general, just the company also. Facebook and Instagram in general very fluid, always on the road company. People travel in countries, and offices, and sometimes you see people in different offices more than you see them in your other office. I didn’t do a ton, but enough, enough.


LP:                               I was on the road basically three days and two nights every week for the better part of the last two years. So it’s been a little bit—the first couple of weeks of this I was like, it’s nice to be home. I can finish unpacking the boxes from when I moved last fall. Just the last couple of days I’m like I need to get on an airplane.


PB:                              It’s funny, I don’t know if you remember, for ten years now I’ve worked from home a few days a week. So everyone’s been kind of joking with me like, hey man, you’ve been preparing for this for a while.


LP:                               You’re ahead of your time.


PB:                              Yeah. I mean honestly, you miss the interaction, obviously, tech allows us to do this, but yeah, I was definitely not travelling as much as you were. That’s for sure.


LP:                               Well you talked about the idea about of like where you can be of service. That theme has come up a lot in the last few days with people because I think this thing, you know, it’s invisible. If you’re not directly impacted, it feels really abstract. And there is that sense of what can I do? And a recurring theme that I’ve heard from people is this kind of notion of its concentric circle. It’s like your wellbeing, and like your just personal welfare, and your self-care, self-management. A then like what do you do for your people, your family, the people around you. And then there’s that next run of people, some of it’s personal, some of it’s professional. Like the people you have obligations to. Who’s counting on you for whatever it is they’re counting on you? And it takes probably 80 to 100 percent of your energy just to do all that.


So if you do that right, and everybody focusses on doing that right, we should be okay. And then some of us will have that extra resource, whether it’s time, money, energy, wherewithal to then think bigger. How do I go down to the hospital ship and load supplies, or whatever it is that’s going on? For me, the first few days was about, how do I keep spending money. I’m not really good at much. I can swing a hammer, I suppose, if I need to. But I’m pretty good at like ordering takeout. So I doubled down on that.


PB:                              I’ll tell you, I’m the same way. I mean I such at any homework capabilities. I’m really the worst. I can’t hang a picture. But it’s times like these that I love the fact that I am able to use my skillset. Because, quite honestly, I’m not leaving the house. I’ve got some underlying health stuff that caused me to take a few extra weeks earlier and just be prepared. But we started this thing out here in Jersey where specifically what you were saying. How do we help local food establishments and how do we feed the first responders? So we actually we set up this fund. Fund, I mean I’m collecting money from our community via Venmo, and PayPal, and Zelle, and all those things and every day we are making orders from local restaurants and having them delivered to the firehouse, to the EMS, to the Office of Emergency Management.


LP:                               Oh man.


PB:                              It’s pretty cool to watch. But that’s my skillset. I’m the same way like you. I’m not delivering stuff. I cannot leave the house. But man we’ve been able to like create this little network thing that we’re going on a week of deliveries every day. And they’re super appreciative. We were walking around the neighborhood with the dog and there’s a cop sitting for some roadwork or whatnot. And he jumped out. He recognized me, he jumped out, he said, hey man, I just want to thank you. We stopped by and got our slice of pizza and shit. So it’s pretty cool. But I’m with you man, what can we do to help with our skills, whatever they are. And connecting people and generating that awareness where someone might not be thinking that. That feels like I’m at least giving back a little bit. Unless you’re directly affected by it, you’re kind of confined to your house. But life is kind of going on. It’s a weird thing. And then you turn the news on and it’s a war zone I some places.


LP:                               Yeah, it’s been very difficult as a lifelong New Yorker, Northeasterner to be on the other side of the country and to see what’s going on back home. Because it’s not like that here. It’s quiet. It’s shut down. All the same social distancing are in place. But there’s no, there’s no naval vessel off the coast. There’s no [unintelligible 00:07:42] hospitals in the streets or in the city park. And that’s been really difficult to see from afar. A week ago I talked to people who didn’t know anybody who was sick and today and yesterday I talked to folks and they’re like, yeah, people in my building, my neighbors, my kid’s teacher. It seems like it’s very real in New York City.


PB:                              I’ve been saying the same thing. I said to my boys, it’s only a matter weeks guys before everyone knows someone who’s affected by it. And we actually just this past weekend found out one of our cohost’s friend, his father, unfortunately, both of his parents got it, his mother is recovering, his father unfortunately passed last Friday. So it’s one of those things where you’re like, dam it’s getting really real and really real. I think here in our town, I think we’re up to almost two hundred cases confirmed here. And it’s that proximity to New York that all the commuting and everything that happens. But I agree with you man it’s only a matter of time before someone knows someone knows someone. And it just keeps getting closer and closer. Hopefully you keep it away from your immediate family, and your family, but it’s crazy.


LP:                               What’s new at Instagram Music? And I don’t necessarily mean new in terms of product or meta new, but like what’s new in the new normal? What’s happening in terms of how’s your day different and how’s the business different?


PB:                              It’s kind of wild man. My wife was joking with me the other day. She said, I don’t understand how you have so many music emergencies in the middle of the global pandemic. And it’s not that they’re emergencies, it’s that people are using the platform for what it was originally built for. And it was built to bring people together and create these connections. We just have the freedom and the ability to see people every day whether it’s travelling, or in the office, or whatnot, family, whatever. So we’re seeing just in general, right, an influx of usage of video messaging, and live, and whatnot. So I would say what is happening at Instagram. I mean the product teams and the strategic folks looking at it are reevaluating and reprioritizing what is important right now and what the world needs.


And I think that’s the other piece I keep reminding myself. This is not like when the tornado came through Nashville, or when Hurricane Katrina, and it’s a very focused thing. This is the globe. This is everyone that’s affected by this. And the platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and others are literally saving some people’s mental capacities to be able to talk to others. And so yeah man, it’s crazy. We could not be busier right now, really focusing on insuring people have all the details, information, best practices to best utilize the tools and stay connected.


And, from a product perspective, we’re trying to reprioritize, specific for music, how do we help the community that had all their tours cancelled, that can’t sell merch, that pushed their albums back? So we’re re-looking at what does it mean to add monetization to a product that didn’t have monetization planned for six months? How do we fast track that? How do we fast track donation type things that probably were on the three-month window? How do we move that up while making sure that the platform stays stable? Because, at the same time, I guess as we’re trying to launch new products and new features, the increase in usage across the board is astronomical. And things that we just didn’t plan for all at once. And then you add, on top of that, our offices are on a global shutdown so everyone’s working remote. So all the engineers and product people are doing all this stuff from their homes.


So it’s been wild to be, after spending 20 years on the music side, it’s been wild to be part of what’s happening here to keep people connected. But man, I couldn’t be happier to be part of what’s happening. But the fun part is watching people really get creative with the tools. I mean we always have best practices, and what works, what doesn’t. And that works, great, but then you see some of the DJ battles happening, and the read with. All these things are happening with the product and it’s like yeah, this is exactly what it was supposed to be for. It just is happening organically in an unfortunate situation. So it’s just making everybody think a little differently about what matters, A, and B, how do we continue to support the needs of the various industries. So super busy, super busy is the short answer, but all of that falls under trying to keep people connected in an unconnected world.


Our mutual friend Doug over at Metallica, he was saying, this is such a weird thing. When there’s catastrophes like this normally people come together to fix it. And this is a weird one that in order to fix this, we actually have to separate ourselves. And the only way to stay connected is through this. The only thing I started telling people is—this is not a pitch. Facebook has this portal device, which is a video conferencing thing. My wife’s grandmother is in a nursing home in upstate New York, ninety something years old.


Child’s voice:                 Ninety-six.


PB:                              Ninety-six. She’s never owned a phone. She’s never owned a laptop, nothing. You know, she just talks on the phone and she sees some family up there. So we sent her a portal because it was the simplest thing for her. But it’s changed the communication. They locked down the nursing home. She couldn’t have seen her daughter, or her other granddaughter, but now she’s at least able to do it. So it’s just amazing to see those kind of stories with the connections that are happening. Again, watching artists, specifically in music, watching artists being as authentic as they can be because they don’t have another option. And normally they have to be polished, and makeup, and lighting, and stuff. It’s like, or not, or we’re all human and we’re in this. So it’s been wild.


LP:                               Have you found that, I mean I would assume there’s been a lot of talk over the years even of trying to get artists to things that are little more candid, or authentic, or behind the scenes. So now that that canyon’s been crossed, do you see that as something that can continue when we start to get back to whatever normal is? Is it like, okay it’s not that scary now? It is okay to not have the sound, and lights, and the hair, and the makeup, and everything else. What would you hope would happen to come out of this?


PB:                              Yeah, we’re kind of—it’s a great question. We’re referring to it as the new norm. The two buzzwords that we always use is authenticity and consistency. You consistently want to be authentic. And I think we’re trying to like grab a bunch of data that shows people the benefit of using these platforms to stay connected in an authentic way for just your overall being. It’s not about streams, it’s not about merch sales, it’s not about tickets. It’s about connecting with people on a different level. This is always something that kind of drove me to come over here was the ability to hit an artist or athletes’ passions outside of what they do every day. And we’re seeing a lot of that now. We’re seeing artists go live and talk about cooking. And we’re seeing artists go live with their therapist and talk about how they’re [unintelligible 00:15:36]. I mean things that, you’re right, we talk about it forever.


So we’re spending a lot of time kind of analyzing data and trying to make sure that we have a lot of things to provide to the community to show hey, was it that bad? You’re now comfortable with it a little bit. And hopefully we get to this new norm, yes, where we get back out into the world and everyone can interact. But what is the value of staying connected to your fans around the world, and staying connected to other artists around the world, and songwriters, and whatever in a non-Covid world. So, yeah, it’s a massive focus for us to make sure that people take advantage of this situation we’ve all kind of been forced into and not take it for granted that oh, this was a moment in time, now we’re go back to. No, let’s evolve into whatever that new norm is that is some good combination of using these tools and in real life situations. It’s definitely a focus for us.


LP:                               Has the nature of any of the inbound changed for you? Are you getting different types of questions or problem statements from right’s holders, or artists, or that part of the community?


PB:                              Yeah. It’s kind of been a little all over the place. You’ve got everything from just basic hey, I want to make sure I’m doing this right. It’s my first time or whatever. What has been really interesting, and this is what we’ve been talking about the product time, our feedback loop kind of just went through the roof. Where we often have, hey can you use this for six weeks, give us some feedback, whatever. Now because of the increased usage, I mean the feedback loop has just expanded a hundredfold from hey I need this special feature with [Live With 00:17:19], or this was a little buggy, or whatever, which has been great.


It’s obviously a lot of inbound of struggling businesses, sectors of the business that are asking how to use the tools, what are ways that we can replace some of the losses that we have, again touring, indie retail, whatnot. I’m actually doing a thing next week to talk about how the tool sets can help indie retail. But a lot of that inbound is the questions. The live thing is just off the hook. There’s always going to be questions about what can and can’t be done. And I think our tools are continuing to evolve to support what’s happening. And it is an organic happening. No one could have planned for this to happen. Our tools were built for capacity and for usage for what it was let’s call it three months ago. And boom, in three months, it’s a different world.


So our tools are having to evolve, our rights manager is having to evolve, and all these kind of things. So tons of inbound but a lot more just about am I using it right? How do I optimize what I’m doing? Here’s some more feedback for you guys to make it even better. And that’s been great, right, because we’re hearing it from all walks of life, around the world, developing artists, established artists, superstar artists. So a lot the same, but a lot a lot of new and unique conversations.


LP:                               That’s great. I want to touch on a couple of things you just said. So you talked about sort of developing or emerging, developing, and superstar artists, or established artists, do you have an interesting use case of how each one is, or something that you’ve been like, wow I didn’t know that someone was going to do that with the platform?


PB:                              Yeah, I mean I think if you use a superstar, Miley Cyrus has always been really active on the platform and she’s always authentic. She has really stepped up and shown that authenticity in a variety of ways from going live and talking with Demi Lovato to she has this regular cadence. She’s bringing her therapist on, Live With, talking through things. Lizzo, out of nowhere, pulls her flute out and does a meditation live for people. Developing artists trying to replicate and replace some of the shows that they had promised to fans, and had booked on the books, and doing stripped down sets. Superstars like Michael Buble who had not been active on the platform coming up with some really cool stuff with his wife. One day it’s cooking. One day it’s this. He’s live with that. So we’re seeing a bunch of these things. I mean the hip hop community has absolutely taken to the platform with the DJ sets, and the rap battles, and whatnot. So a lot of that has been interesting.


I think outside of music, we’ve some of these other ones where people are using the platform teaching. We’re seeing teachers in Italy and now in the U.S. using Instagram Live to teach classes for students. We’re seeing people reading books to students. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lin Manuel Miranda doing battles. It’s been amazing to watch some of these things. But it’s all, and they’re all learning from each other. So when someone comes and says, hey I have an idea, what do you think, we’re able to point to some of these things. But I would say those are probably some of the highlights that we’ve seen. And literally every day we just continue to see really, really smart, unique, really well thought out uses of the tools.


And then they come with a, hey, this was good, you know what would have made it better? And it’s awesome. And that, I think, is what makes our full conversation cycle so much better. And, hopefully, when we come out of this thing, we’ve learned a ton. And the products, in general, whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, or otherwise everyone’s just learned from what people need in times of need and what they will need in the future.


LP:                               Have you stepped out from behind the curtain at all and done anything on the platform as an individual?


PB:                              I did. So my son, my dog is a therapy dog and my son and my wife go on these visits where they go to nursing homes, or they go to airports, or whatnot. Obviously, all that’s cancelled as well. So we were kind of joking around like, well it’s not official therapy dog type stuff, but hey, you know what dude, if you went life every morning for half an hour and just did tricks or Homer and had people look at him, it’s a virtual type of therapy. So we’ve done that. For me, what I’ve done in the house to try to keep it light and fun is Wednesday is dress up day for us. We basically find whatever the hell, old Halloween costumes, we put together ridiculous things that don’t make sense and we post them all over social and have people giving us feedback and whatnot. People have picked up on the work from home culture type stuff.


And then I experimented the other day with a Live With one of my best friends growing up who lives in New Orleans and went the path of becoming a Rabi. We both were joking around about the good old days of Hebrew school and decided hey, let’s sing one of those crazy songs from Hebrew school live together on Instagram. So he had his guitar and I had my piano. I think we had nine people following because who really wants to watch that, but yeah. I mean we’ve been testing it out. The other thing that’s been really interesting to see is Instagram with all the stickers and whatnot, they react to cultural moments, and whether it’s black history month, or this type of thing.


And there’s a few stickers that they’ve thrown out there that we just we kind of use them regularly, the thanking health heroes’ type of thing, the stay at home piece reminding people to stay at home whenever possible, social distancing. So we’ve been using those a little bit strategically as well in a good way. Again, we’re trying to have as much fun with it, but we’re definitely consuming a lot more. We’re definitely a lot more of the great stuff, and even the stuff that the boys follow, even those folks are coming up with some really cool things. Some people are going into the archives. They don’t really want to create new content, that’s okay, we’re go into the archives, we’re find something cool, and we’ll repurpose it, or we’re release it for a little bit. It’s been really cool to see how people are using it.


But, for me, also I’m just staying connected with family. My brother is out on Long Island. He’s got a little baby. We’re doing nightly hangs. My mom and grandfather down in Florida, same. But using the tech for what it is and really reconnecting with people that you normally just text conversation with. No, let’s do video now. Let’s try it. Normally we’re on email or whatnot and here we are man. So it’s been a little overwhelming to see people using it for what it is, but it’s cool.


LP:                               That’s my biggest hope coming out of this as well. I’ve heard from more people either audio or video in the last three weeks than I probably have in the last year. Text is great. I love getting the random text from somebody just to know somebody’s out there thinking about me, but this, the video thing and god, who knew I’d want my phone to ring. Usually the phone rings and I run in the other direction. But it’s been really amazing lately to see that. Thanks for sharing some positivity. It’s been really great.


PB:                              I appreciate you reaching out. I’m glad we were able to do this. Listen, all kidding aside, let’s do it more often because if there’s anything that this has shown me is life is too short. And who would have thought I would have just really loved to go watch my son’s soccer game. And I’m really pissed I can’t do that.


LP:       All right man, I’ll take you up on that.

Perry BashkoffProfile Photo

Perry Bashkoff

An experienced, cutting-edge digital media professional and effective leader with a proven track record to surpass sales and management goals. Specialties: 20+ years of digitally-focused creative/strategy/sales experience, Effective mix of dominant, assertive, and diplomatic closing capabilities, Expert in creation of form and custom presentations, Gift for achieving personal, trusting relationships with clients.