Digital Audio Insider -- the economics of music and other digital content

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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

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April 28, 2010

Some Quick Thoughts on the Quirk Presentation
by David Harrell
Tim Quirk's presentation on the Walkman to the iPod and how portability and infinite storage changed the way we listen to music is a great read. And I completely agree that it's a shame that traditional radio formats are so narrow. It's hard to discover great new music if everything you listen to comes from the same genre or subgenre.

That said, I can't help thinking that his interpretation of the musical open-mindedness of Guns N' Roses fans is a little too generous. Quirk notes that Big Champagne data on P2P traffic reveals some surprising diversity in the music libraries of GNR fans -- more than a third of those listeners also have tracks from Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, and Garth Brooks. Quirk asks the rhetorical question, how many radio stations play all four of these artists?

After reading Quirk's post, Glenn Peoples at Billboard conducted a quick experiment and reported that the first three subsequent artists played on a Pandora Guns N' Roses station were Bon Jovi, AC/DC, and Metallica, even though, based on the Big Champagne data, Eminem and Black Eyed Peas had much higher GNR correlations those rock artists (and the three country acts above). Earlier today, I did the same thing on and the first five subsequent artists were Aerosmith, Izzy Stradlin, Skid Row, Sebastian Bach, and Gilby Clarke.

So are GNR fans ill served by Pandora and The underlying methodologies for these two services are a very different, but it's probably safe to say that neither is likely to serve up tracks by Tim McGraw or Black Eyed Peas on a Guns N' Roses station. Yet even though it'd be wonderful if streaming services pushed the boundaries more on musical genres, I'd argue that the majority of those GNR listeners might not want to hear those artists.

Please don't get me wrong -- I'm not arguing for musical conservatism, I think almost every music fan could stand to expand his or her listening range. But a listener who likes Guns N' Roses enough to launch a GNR station on Pandora or is no doubt a completely different listener than someone who just happens to have a GNR track in his or her library. (Especially when you consider that the tracks arrived there via a P2P service.) The former listener is a somewhat dedicated fan, the latter might just be someone who has fond memories of "Sweet Child O' Mine" and other 80s music and nabbed the track from a P2P service, but doesn't have much interest in the rest of the band's catalog.

Despite the correlations reported by Big Champagne, none of's top 250 similar artists to Guns N' Roses (as determined by actual tracks played by listeners) are outside of the hard rock, metal, or rock genres. While I truly believe that fans of one genre like and appreciate great songs from completely different genres, unless the Big Champagne data shows a similar overlap in the number of listens, as opposed to a mere shared presence on a hard drive, it doesn't indicate that any given Guns N' Roses fan is open to hearing Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, or Kenny Chesney.


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