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Saturday, September 27, 2003

you can’t afford all this music

gikiski recently brought up a point about minutes and music. now that this subject has appeared, it’s time to dump my thoughts into the ether. (don’t be too afraid, this will be shorter than my post on music monopolies, i hope).

dollars are a fluid, expanding market, but attention is a fixed, limited market. this means that capturing your attention is more challenging than capturing your music-buying dollar. if i have your attention, the dollars will come.

defining the attention market

gikiski’s got some interesting theoretical data, but we can get a better fix. the us census bureau publishes [pdf] this stuff. the relevant table is #920: media usage and consumer spending 1992 to 2002. it’s a bit dated (1998 to 2002 are projected figures), but close enough for blog work.

the top-line figure is 3360 hours of media consumption per person per year (this varies from 3324 to 3398, i’m just picking a nice round figure), and it remains fairly steady. just over 9 hours per day. that does make sense – if you figure you work 8 hours and sleep 7 hours there’s 9 hours left in the day (for most of us). sure, some of your work time might include listening to the radio, but some of your not-work-not-sleep time involves conversing with people, so it probably evens out. in any case, about 9 hours a day passes the “sniff” test – it’s not outrageous.

how are you going to spend your 3360 hours?

according to this table, “media consumption” includes tv, radio, recorded music, magazines, newspapers, books, home video, movies, video games and the internet. that’s a lot of slices in the pie, and the only one we are sure is about music is “recorded music” (radio must be some combination of music, talk news and commercials). for the sake of argument, we’ll give the recording industry half of radio plus the recorded music – about 800 hours, or about 24% of the total attention market

so, madame recording business executive, you have 800 hours a year to tickle my ears – just over two hours a day (2.2 hours)… and there are fundamental, practical limits that apply.

limits on the market

the first limit is that people generally can’t listen to more than one song at a time (and enjoy both). that’s a hard technical limit (i haven’t seen anyone pitching brain-rewiring technologies to expand the potential music market yet). that means you can only cram about 33 4-minute tracks into my head per day (12,000 per year). (and now you know why songs get shorter and “hey jude” is an exception 🙂 ).

the next limit is a personal one. people actually like to listen to the same old songs. a lot. once they fall in love with a track, it gets replayed until it’s “played out.” once it’s played out, it may still worth an occasional listen, especially if you somehow associated some meaning with it.

the third limit is a processing-cost one. rather than putting effort into “finding our music” we generally use filters that that narrow the field [dramatically] so we don’t have to hear things we don’t like. how many bad songs will you put up with before you hear something you like? often, the answer is zero. music consumers have choice, and it’s real easy to skip to the next track or the next station if you don’t like a song. the most obvious filter is the radio playlist. top hits can approach 14 spins a day on a radio station. at that rate, you’ll hear that track twice in your 2.2 hours a day. two of your 33 available slots just got used by one song. and you’ll hear it twice a day, every day, maybe for weeks.

wrap it up, i’ll take it

success is self-limiting, and this gets back to my theory that performers are monopolies.

at the high end of the curve, we run into a problem of diversity. as a performer, i want your attention. i absolutely want 14 spins a day on radio. i want to own as many of those 33-slots-a-day as i can get. if i can get my tune into your head often enough, you might just fall in love with it. once you fall in love with it, you’ll buy the cd. and a ticket to the concert. and a t-shirt. and maybe a poster. and the video. and my next cd. and the next ticket. and the next t-shirt. and you’ll play my tune at your wedding, and aniversaries. and when i issue a greatest hits set, you’ll buy that too. and the special edition box set. and when cds are old and boring, you’ll buy the holographic musicube that has that track on it.

but there is a problem in this market for attention. for every slot the recording industry fills, there’s one less slots for someone elses’ music. the record label’s job is to get you to fall in love with as many tracks and performers as possible – and they can’t do much about increasing the number of tracks you’re exposed to. they can make the tracks shorter to squeeze in maybe just one more (and are doing that). they can make the market broader, and hit everyone with the same track at the same time (and are doing that). and while all this is happening, they have to fend off all the other media so you still have 33 slots to play into (and there are some strong suggestions that they aren’t succeeding).

once they succeed with one track, and you buy that cd, every time you play it also counts against those 33 slots, and they have to push harder to open them up so you can pay attention to their Next Big Thing. so they play the tracks out. if you fall in love enough to get hooked into the money-making machinery, that’s all it takes. after that they have to move you on to the next one as fast as possible, or the machine grinds to a halt. what’s that grinding sound in the distance?

there are hundreds of thousands of performers out their doing their thing, and you just can’t afford the attention to hear them. that’s their problem: finding you, their audience.

posted by roj at 4:04 pm