The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

The scale of the pop universe

I’m always fascinated to see real concrete sales numbers attached to pop-culture artifacts that you actually pay for—books, movies, video games, music. So I thought the most interesting part of this NYT piece on Cee-Lo Green was this graf:

“Forget You,” released in August 2010, reached No. 2 and has sold 5.3 million downloads in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, making it the 12th most downloaded track of all time. (By comparison, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” the top song of 2011, has sold 5.7 million.)

If you had asked me to guess how many times the top-selling track of 2011 had been downloaded—and remember, this is bigger than any of Lady Gaga’s songs—I would have guessed at least 10 million, maybe 20. Really, 5.7 million downloads for the top song—a song supported by a basically unfathomable media monsoon, by omnipresent playback on the radio, on TV, in real places like coffee shops and car dealerships—that ain’t so many.

So on one hand, it just makes me realize how truly fragmented music is these days.

On the other hand, it makes me realize how many of a pop song’s plays aren’t paid for by listeners like us. Rather, the song gets licensed, soundtracked, muzacked, and just generally rolled out across the walls of the world. That all drives downloads, sure, but I’ll bet it also accounts for a huge fraction of the total lifetime listens. And it distorts our instincts—it makes pop songs seem bigger than they are.

And on the third mutant hand, it makes me hopeful that we might build that bridge between Kickstarter and Louis CK-level success after all. If the absolute top of the scale—the speed of light and commerce—is 5.7 million, then suddenly the number of purchases and plays a musician might get through a smash-hit Kickstarter campaign (50,000? 0.01 RITDs?) seems pretty meaningful.


Tim says…

Hmm… Because it also makes ME wonder: what kinds of analogues might we draw between the kind of amplification (and attendant monetization) afforded a pop song and a smaller self-publishing experiment.

Louie CK is an interesting example, because he obviously has a fan base built from TV & other big media, but that first big wave of downloads was overwhelmingly driven by the Internet. And then he goes on TV to promote it: Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon, etc., without just the special & the idea behind it but this story of how well it’s doing. And he basically doubles it. (There’s a lot of momentum there.)

If you think about New Liberal Arts, that has an audience & awareness about it that WAY outstrips the number of copies we sold. (And yeah, we gave away PDFs for free. But still!)

I think about this whole idea of objects of attention, which I’ve written about but can’t link to here because I’m tapping on my phone. The Clay Shirky idea that “nobody has ever appeared on Terry Gross who has not just written a book.” (Louis CK was also on Terry Gross.) And that awareness creates a feedback loop that sells more copies, but maybe even more importantly, makes more opportunities possible, for you to try your next thing, & the thing after that.

How do we amplify these projects? How do we keep them echoing like Adele, even in the ears of people who never consciously stopped to listen?

Yep, I agree. With a Kickstarter project, even a very successful one, it seems like you reach, engage and delight your peeps… and only your peeps.

By contrast, any corporate publisher/distributor, even a bad one, is pretty good at delivering that “ambience”—getting new content out into broader media, booking the Terry Gross interview, getting the song played on Grey’s Anatomy, etc.

So yes: I think this is exactly the challenge! I mean, should a good Kickstarter project set aside part of its budget for… professional PR? That seems dissonant, somehow. But is there an effective alternative?

The UK Christmas music charts are a bit borked at the best of times, with the general public increasingly approaching it as a really low-bandwidth communicative medium for brodacsting the public mood…

That said, this year’s #4 was Alex Day, an unsigned twentysomething YouTube vlogger, member of an all-vlogger Doctor Who-themed rock band, who seems to have found a way of transmuting upbeat charisma into advertising revenue. All the money from sales of this track went to charity.

Did you see this piece on Japanese consumer culture after 10-20 years of economic stagnation? Essentially, the argument is that, in a time of crisis, most people cut back on their spending on media, culture and fashion. Those who continue buying are the rabid fans, for whom consumption and collecting constitutes part of their identity. And with those sales informing the future constitution of pop culture, things quickly get very weird indeed.

And we’re next.

Eric Harvey pulled together sales figures for Pitchfork’s Top 50 Albums of 2011, and quite a few of them are surprisingly low for albums that seemed to have a pretty big share-of-voice this year (Destroyer, Tune-Yards, James Blake, and Saint Vincent, for instance)

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