Tuesday, November 18, 2014

We build our own cocoons

Great piece on how, making music more democratic, also leads to less music discovery as network effects kick in and people only want to listen to what's popular already:
Now that the Billboard rankings are a more accurate reflection of what people buy and play, songs stay on the charts much longer. The 10 songs that have spent the most time on the Hot 100 were all released after 1991, when Billboard started using point-of-sale data—and seven were released after the Hot 100 began including digital sales, in 2005. “It turns out that we just want to listen to the same songs over and over again,” Pietroluongo told me.

Because the most-popular songs now stay on the charts for months, the relative value of a hit has exploded. The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn 77 percent of all revenue from recorded music, media researchers report. And even though the amount of digital music sold has surged, the 10 best-selling tracks command 82 percent more of the market than they did a decade ago. The advent of do-it-yourself artists in the digital age may have grown music’s long tail, but its fat head keeps getting fatter.
So radio, key for music discovery, plays the same hit songs again and again so people won't change that dial. Labels used to pay radio stations to take the risk and promote new music, but this was killed under the anti-payola rules. Be careful what you ask for. Here's Steve Albini:
Radio stations were enormously influential. Radio was the only place to hear music from any people and record companies paid dearly to influence them. Direct payola had been made illegal but this was a trivial workaround. Record pluggers acting as programming consultants were the middlemen. They paid radio stations for access to their programmers and conducted meetings where new records were promoted.
It would be ironic if radio and the labels, long criticized for homogenizing popular music, actually were key forces in keeping it diverse.