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Evergreens: What The RIAA's Doing Wrong 119

Chris Johnson writes: "Recently I've been doing some heavy analysis of actual RIAA sales data, from the entire history of Platinum-certified albums. I've worked out a methodology that compensates for the explosion in CD sales and highlights ability to drive sustained sales over years. There's a top 10 list of albums and a top 10 list of the most commercially important artists in history with definite surprises- and the full lists as well, downloadable as text files, with Perl-friendly index numbering, so the analysis can continue with the annoying work already done! Perl folk, go nuts! The actual analysis takes this data and attempts to extrapolate from it and explain the competitive situation the music industry is in relative to Internet music in general, and what they are missing in their assumptions and plans. Should be interesting to see what people make of the Evergreens project! -Chris Johnson" Nice analysis of the history and future of music promotion.
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Evergreens: What The RIAA's Doing Wrong

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    "compensates for the explosion in CD sales..."

    Err, given that statement the RIAA isn't doing anything WRONG (in their view), but something massively RIGHT.

    What sells music is MARKETING. Not talent. Not the music itself.

    Why do people like Spears, N*Sync, Rage Against the Machine, etc? Your tastes are decided by the RIAA which is an awesome marketing machine.

    Good lord, they even made a television show about it "Making the Band".) Those guys are HORRIBLE, however ABC is decided that you will now buy their "O-Town" marketed goods.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The Grammar Nazi is right. The author of the piece has got some mildly interesting data which he then proceeds to completely obscure with some rather bewildering and irrelevant calculations. It is not even clear to me what he is trying to estimate.

    A large banner reading ANALYSIS [] is really no substitute for a little common sense. Better still would be a few courses in statistics, microeconomics, or even marketing.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Your explanation of his calculations is incorrect. I don't think his methods are particularly useful but if you're interested here they are:

    Search for "Help!" at the RIAA website here []. Get the following results (sorry about the formatting):

    BEATLES, THE HELP! 01/10/97 CAPITOL Multi Platinum 3.0 ALBUM GROUP Standard
    BEATLES, THE HELP! 01/10/97 CAPITOL Platinum ALBUM GROUP Standard

    Meanwhile, on the author's table here [] we find the corresponding line:

    108 The Beatles, Help!

    Evidently the calculations were simply:

    2001 - 1965 = 36 (total years since release).

    36 * 3.0 (number of "platinums") = 108 (his scoring for the album).

    In my opinion a better quantity would simply be the number of platinums, since that is apparently roughly proportional to the number of albums sold. Of course that is really a measurement of how much money the band has made from record sales, and not such a great measurement of how popular they are or were.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Besides Nirvana,
    The Smashing Pumpkins
    Rage Against the Machine
    maybe Trent Reznor/NIN
  • Promotion has become more important than quality. OK, well the study does tell us (me anyway) that this has been a long term trend, rather than my previous (unsupported ) feeling that it has only ocurred over the past decade, it appears to have extended over the past two deades, and perhaps a bit further back.
    Hell, the recording industry's need to push mediocre music on a mass audience has existed almost since the inception of the technology! Even before that, sheet music was big business and the same strategies ruled.

    Listen to some of the old jazz (for example) recordings. Not the famous Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington sides, but the non-famous ones. Many highly-respected artists were forced to record the trite "song-of-the-day" for the studios.

    This "promote-at-all-costs" attitude was a major contributing factor in the death of Fats Waller and probably many other artists with whom I am less familiar. Certainly it contributed to the depression and retreat to drugs of many a rock-'n'-roller. If anything, the study doesn't go far enough back into history to trace the trends.


  • But the RIAA isn't moving to a new business model. That's part of my point. We only remember the good/long lasting/important musicians because for some reason what they did affected a large part of the population (at the time) in some way. There are countless musicians who were widely promoted for a short time and then dropped into the abyss. There is nothing new here.

    How many of us can honestly say we understand the importance of 1920's jazz musicians? How about the ragtimers and shout pianists of the 1910's? Certainly these were very popular people who defined music for a generation. Who here knows the names of the composer and lyricist for Charleston? I do, but only because one of my hobbies is studying music from that era. This tune in particular was promoted with great abandon, to the point where the composer lamented his reputation as a pop tunesmith. The song has a certain meaning to folks of that generation, though most from this one could care less, just as most a generation from now won't really care who the Eagles were. One could argue that's already the case.

    Of course things have changed a bit with Napster and digital music, but not that much, really. Recoding devices have been around for a long time and the RIAA seems to be doing fine. One could argue that it is more difficult to share physical media than bits, but only a little more. Used record stores have been around forever, as has radio.


  • Absolutely. I think any sort of scoring system is hopelessly inadequate. Music by its nature is abstract -- impossible to quantify. Which bands are "important" depends more on a particular persons tastes than it does on number of albums sold, etc. Some of the most musically influential artists have quite small discographies with modest sales numbers. Some of the multi-platinum artists listed in the study will be considered irrelevant by some listeners.

    It might be more interesting to look at the history of music promotion as a whole -- find the top promoted acts/albums/songs each year and look at how long they stick around in terms of sales/radio time, etc. Longevity and sales will be biased toward early publishers but perhaps radio time tends toward newer releases.

    We might also be able to reasonably agree on truly monumental artists or albums -- those that the general population agrees are significant. This will be a quite small group, I think, but I wonder how these acts were promoted. I'll bet they're some of the top-promoted artists of all time. Such a result would take away from the study's conclusion that the industry's heavy promotion of a limited number of acts means that none of those acts will have any staying power. I just don't buy it.

    As an interesting twist, we can look at the same sorts of numbers from the perspective of the artists -- the acts they think are the most important. I think we'd get some wide differences from the general population.

    To be truly accurate we ought to look at this over the entire history of recording and perhaps even back to the sheet music publishing business.

    My own taste is predjudiced toward classic jazz. It is interesting that in the jazz community, it's been generally true that commercially successful artists are considered inferior musicians. I've never quite been able to figure out why, but the trend goes back almost to the roots of the music. It seems the same is happening in the rock/pop world. I see a sharp parallel between the break from swing to beebop (where jazz lost its general popularity and the vilification of classic/popular artists by "real" jazz elites became more apparent) and the break from rock (classic/metal/alternative) to pop (Britney, 'N Sync, etc.) where the pop artists are equally vilified by the l33t death metalers.

    Perhaps this latest break occurred much earlier, as indeed it seems to occur at every generation (I used pop as a label deliberately). It's not unlike the raging debates between Windows/Linux and Linux/BSD. There's always a crowd deriding the popular group of the day.


  • Nice try troll, you need to learn a thing called "subtilty" if you want to catch this crowd. RIAA keeps the price down by forcing out competitors with its monopoly? You'd have to get up early to catch even Slashdottors with that one.

    Down that path lies madness. On the other hand, the road to hell is paved with melting snowballs.
  • It's always fun to wake up to a slashdotting. All of a sudden instead of just spam you have several damn good questions in your mailbox by smart people, and you're yawning and blinking and trying to answer them, knowing they represent about 1000 much rowdier people saying the same thing on Slashdot itself. So: Garth Brooks.

    I got an email asking why Garth Brooks isn't on the top ten artists list. Garth Brooks is number 21 on the complete list of commercially important careers. The only country artist he's second to is Kenny Rogers at number 14, and this is hard to argue. More relevantly, the only artist remotely contemporary to him is Whitney Houston at number 33- every other act has been sustaining a career for _years_, in many cases starting from the 70s or earlier. Garth Brooks _does_ make a hugely strong showing- no other rock or pop artist registers so high given such a late start. The analysis is of _evergreens_, remember. The question you should ask yourself is this: thirty years from now, will Garth have _beaten_ the Beatles, or will his sales have flagged while the Beatles' sales have continued?

  • Absolutely. The labels are not rolling in cash. It mostly all goes back into the channel again in the form of payola. It's not about lambasting the record labels for greed- it's recognizing that, due to their very nasty situation, they're forced to take certain actions that aren't desirable- and asking how important it is that the labels survive under those conditions?

    The 'channel' needs to back the heck off from the labels and stop squeezing them so damn hard. That's what keeps CD prices so high and keeps novel, original music largely off the radio. Unfortunately, with recent consolidation, it looks like the channel's going to squeeze the labels even harder. It's an absolute shakedown and everybody loses- except performers and listeners outside the mainstream, who are to some extent legitimized by a situation in which people are almost forced to explore other avenues of music awareness and distribution. I have to sympathise with your friend but at the same time it's as if she is a nice person working in telemarketing- I'd still be happy to see her employer hosed even if it costs her her job. There are better places to work :)

  • I would love to see that myself. Several _days_ into the data entry, I realised that I'd have been much happier if I'd at least made note of the last certification of each album, or individual record of both the release date and the number of platinums. But it was too late to go back. Contrary to the appearance of it, I have a life of sorts ;) and there are some other things I _must_ do. I've got to hack more controls into my dithering software, and remix something like 5 CDs for release on, and this has been delayed for _months_ by other things, including a move, and further delayed by the Evergreens project. Starting over wasn't an option.

    You have what I've done: the alphabetized list is ALL the data I have. It took at least two literally 18 hour, wrap-around nonstop sessions of data entry plus many less concentrated days to even get that. You've also got the only source of information I had: []. It does not _contain_ the information you specifically mention. It (when heavily corrected and cross-referenced with Google or some other web or music searcher) does contain more information than I ended up using. I'm aware of that, but not especially sorry or apologetic about it. Evergreens is as much as I could do, this month. Assuming the RIAA keeps its fairly sketchy database online, I may go in and do more someday. I was really _hot_ to add all the Gold records in, weighting them at (number of years out / 2), but time just did not allow that.

    If anybody decides to organise an effort to copy out a snapshot of ALL the data in this database and put it up somewhere in a more hackable form, I would be wildly excited and pleased. Imagine one person getting every certified album starting with A, and compiling complete data for year, gold and platinum sales, possibly the individual cert dates for each award- there _is_ no more information publically available. I think it would be great if someone did this. I just know that I can't do it right now, single-handedly.

  • And as admitted- I made a serious blunder when I got half the data entered (the entire _multplatinum_ list) without retaining the details of last cert, year of release etc. I wanted to quickly check out what the basic formula did. Having done this, it was time to go on and add the single platinum records- and that's when I wanted to get the broader data- but the initial data entry session was an eighteen hour assault that wiped me out for days, and I just plain couldn't face doing it all over again... at least, not THIS month.

    I _saw_ and was aware of every single certification date relative to year of release. You can too, if you are very patient: is where I found the gold+platinum search engine, and CDNow and Google were respectively where I looked up the large amounts of missing or erroneous information. I'm not aware of anywhere else you can get this info. The current bands of 1990 (the 'Limp Bizkit' of their day- such as Warrant, whom I mentioned) are not getting ongoing promotion.

    It would be terrific to see the actual sales (not rounded off to the nearest million) of bands divided by the total earnings of the record industry for that year and thus making a much more accurate analysis of the situation. I would _love_ to see that. Unfortunately, I didn't and don't have access to that information, and didn't take the time to exhaustively record all the information I _did_ have. What I did was something rather than nothing, and that because I could and because nobody else seemed to be interested in looking at album sales from this perspective in even the crudest way. Well... I've taken care of that 'crudest way' stuff ;)

    If anyone wants to do a better job than I've done, I will jump up and down and cheer and hope earnestly that you make your results available as freely redistributable text files as I have done ;) I _know_ it's possible to do a better job. Please do! This was the best I could do for now, and you've _got_ it. An analysis in the hand is worth two that cost $100,000 and are locked in a filing cabinet in the records-keeping department of Bertlesmann or Sony ;)

  • To some extent you are assuming that people cannot be exposed to music other than through a formal place-for-exposing-music.

    The thing is, no such place is strictly necessary given a context where people can _access_ music or other content directly. As long as the Internet allows you to (as an extreme) type in an IP address, connect to the computer and download a file from a server somewhere else in the world, that channel exists. While that channel exists, it is easier and cheaper for musicians to expose their music than it has ever been. There _was_ no analogous situation before audio tapes, and even with audio tapes, the cost of getting a copy of the music to somebody was significant. With data copying and the Internet, the only real barrier is awareness- and in practice, awareness is not necessary. In a peer-to-peer situation, content that's really strong yet totally unpromoted can proliferate wildly. The very successful internet musician "Bassic" came by his popularity in just this way- promotion came _after_ grass-roots listeners had proliferated his music widely.

  • No, just more 'commercially important' in a historical sense. Go to Hollywood and tell them you want to make a big movie, and you have Abba under contract. Now go to Hollywood and tell them you want to make a big movie, and you have _Eddie Murphy_ under contract ;)

    This is nothing to do with artistic merit, simply a matter of commercial clout and ability to drive sales over the long term. If Eddie Murphy came out with an album of just about _anything_ today, don't you think he'd have an easier time getting space in Wal-Mart than Abba would?

  • Garth is just too recent to dominate any list of sales _over_ _decades_. I think it is actually quite likely that he will be viewed by history as hugely important, and will have his albums still bought in great numbers ten, twenty, thirty years from now.

    But with the Beatles, with Elvis etc, we are not guessing. We _know_ they still sell, decades later. We don't know that Garth will sell a damn thing five years from now- what if the industry just overexposed him to the point where the world's sick of country? There are risks to superstardom on his level.

    He may _be_ another Beatles. He may _be_ more important in the long run than Elvis. But it's too soon to tell. I think it's foolish to expect my methodology to anticipate such success. There were other suggestions of just leaving off recent artists- which I consider equally unreasonable. I'm sure there are many ways to measure a Britney or Garth against the Beatles and the Monkees and Elvis- not least by paying attention to the _content_ and speculating on why country music became popular, what mood was tapped. But all I wanted was to work out some arrangement where the _numbers_ put all those people into context. Given that the context is historical and commercial importance over the long haul, I have no problem with not giving Garth his due right at the moment. Wait and see- and frankly, the guy rates very well by any standards. It just seems goofy to insist that Garth _must_ _be_ more historically/commercially important than Michael Jackson- who broke the color line on MTV _singlehandedly_- or Bruce Springsteen- who had presidential candidates trying to co-opt his 'political platform'- or Pink Floyd, among the most commercially heavyweight bands _ever_ for _decades_ on end.

    I stand by my methodology. If you'd prefer to measure straight-up total sales, that's a different perspective entirely, and you'll be misled into thinking the Britney Spearses of the world have a commercial future. I think that the fact Garth rates #21 and Britney rates #440 tells its own story- by _my_ methodology ;)

  • Update- I tried another way to shuffle the data, in this case taking career _averages_ of the artists. The result was mostly garbage, and I ended up throwing out all artists that did not have at least two platinum albums that were not greatest hits collections- this caused the resulting list to look a _little_ saner, though I really wanted to see what it did to the many acts with dozens of platinum albums.

    The commentary (about 'formula' versus breaking formula and how breaking the formula can also mean breaking 'local maximums' in sales) is at the bottom of the page now, and links to the much smaller, noisier list I wound up with. Here is the top 20 artist _averaged_ careers:

    1. 188 Led Zeppelin
    2. 151 Eagles
    3. 146 Michael Jackson
    4. 130 The Beatles
    5. 126 Boston
    6. 119 Meat Loaf
    7. 110 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
    8. 108 Simon & Garfunkel
    9. 105 Fleetwood Mac
    10. 104 Pink Floyd
    11. 103 Journey
    12. 095 Janis Joplin
    13. 088 Johnny Mathis
    14. 087 Peter Frampton
    15. 086 Billy Joel
    16. 085 Guns'N Roses
    17. 084 Men At Work
    18. 081 Steve Miller Band
    19. 081 Lionel Richie
    20. 080 Whitney Houston

    -chris johnson

  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @01:37PM (#147124) Homepage Journal
    Insightful... to be specific, if the Beatles were launched in 2001, they'd promote Love Me Do until we puked- it'd sell as much as it did back then, only scaled to 2001 levels (say, 18 platinums)- they would continue to milk the formula (note that the song 'Help!' is documented as Lennon's cry to get out of the somewhat formulaic situation the Beatles were in)... and then around the time of Rubber Soul, the shift in content would lead to more difficulty getting the record on radio in the face of stiff promotional competition from The Monkees 2001, and due to the ambivalence the record would flop compared to the earlier ones.

    As a result, Revolver would have even less promotional muscle and would flop even worse- "Love You To? Tomorrow Never Knows? What are you guys, trying to blow it here?", and there would be no budget for a symphony orchestra on Sgt. Pepper, which would be orchestrated much like Let It Be- kinda low-fi early-days sounding.

    When that flopped, forget getting approval for a double album- forget getting tracks like "Revolution #9" on said album- forget even getting approval for the minimalist cover, and hence the very name 'White Album'- and goodbye to the (according to some! ;) ) most commercially important Beatles album in history.

    The rules _are_ different these days.

  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @02:24PM (#147125) Homepage Journal
    "I'm not going to sit and manually do it."

    No problem at all. Nobody is making you. I _did_ sit and manually do it. You think that's worth nothing (or worse than nothing?). I charged you nothing, so we're even.

    I'm sorry you're _not_ going to sit and manually do it properly. I would love to have better data to work from- I simply did not have the time to get everything I could.

    Assuming the RIAA site remains up and continues to offer that search facility, I may at some point do the whole horrible task over, informed by the criticisms I've seen here- _especially_ if, as I suspected, not a single blessed one of these critics is themselves willing to sit and manually retrieve all the data from the RIAA's balky NT server. Some sort of bot or HTML-parser might be in order: I wrote software to add artist career totals rather than add all the individual albums up with a hand calculator.

    However, if I am the only person in the world expected to do this absurd feat of singlehanded data entry and cross-correlation to fix faulty records... you're not going to see it done right away. If you are that determined to say "THIS is how the job must be done", well... you know what to do! It involves sitting. I can confirm that part... >:)

  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:37PM (#147126) Homepage Journal
    If you do find a way to get data, other areas that interest me (that I was unable to deal with due to being an amateur at what you do and not getting raw data) are the time periods between releases and certifications.

    I have a hunch (plainly mentioned in my words on the subject), largely brought on from having seen every cert date in the course of doing the analysis, that in recent years the ability of acts to continue to sell albums through back catalog has _really_ fallen off. I named Warrant- double platinum, then no further certs in ten years. I think there's a pattern there- I saw a lot of that. Some of it must surely be just due to the fact that you can't release _last_ year and get a cert for five years from now- but there's no compelling reason for the times to be so obviously compressed, the entire commercial lifespan of an album compressed into a matter of eight months and then fizzling out completely.

    I think this would show in a listing of 'record lifespans' measured by certifications. In particular- I would love to see the same data sorted using this formula:

    • Each album is a sum of values derived from certifications- triple platinum, three values added together, and so on.
    • Values are simply the date of certification minus the release date- number of years since release. So as a record keeps on getting certifications, the 'points' for each keep getting higher and higher.
    • Result, no weighting in favor of older albums except those that continue selling and earn recent certifications.

    I think this could potentially turn up some real surprises. It would certainly be a much more effective metric for revealing 'evergreen' albums. You could again add artists' albums together to return career numbers, this time more clearly indicating which artists tend to produce albums that keep selling many years after release.

    Even with the limited data I ended up with, there's one trick I didn't get around to doing: instead of summing career totals, average them. I can tell you right off two results- soundtracks and Broadway shows would drop way down in 'score', and Elvis would drop way down in score, because he faded into obscurity on an endless string of lame albums and repackagings. I may just give that a try because now my curiosity is aroused... because I am no sort of professional analyst, I am essentially hacking with the data to see what happens, and trying to come up with interpretations of what I'm seeing. For instance, until I did this analysis I had no idea whatever that movie soundtracks were such astonishingly big business. The bulk of those are _recent_ and still scored shockingly high- and led to some insights on convergence and why this was happening.

    Again, if anybody does manage to suck all the data off the RIAA website (remember, huge amounts of it is incomplete or flat-out wrong! That was more than half the work!), I would love to hear about it. I know there's a lot more to it than what I ended up with. I just couldn't do more than what I did, right at the moment.

  • by Chris Johnson ( 580 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @01:52PM (#147127) Homepage Journal
    As the original author, I quite agree. There's further stuff that I wanted to do that I just plain ran out of time to deal with. I wanted to add all the Gold records weighted at half the weight of Single Platinum. No time for it.

    I'll add that I have been kicking myself since halfway through for only noting down the product of those two fields and not keeping the fields themselves. The 'alphabetical' list is literally what I was typing in, record by record- at first because I wanted to get a quick look at the multiplatinum level, and then I was stuck either going back and starting again, or going on... Please do show up my inadequacy as a data analyst by going to and making nice downloadable text files suitable for data munging that contain ALL the information you can get from that source, i.e. artist, album, release date, cert date of each certification. I would love it if you did that! Would have saved me days of exhausting and nonprofessional work. I'll further warn you that loads of the information is either missing or flat wrong, and must be corrected through cross-referencing with other sources- _this_ I did, well I thought.

    There is no original files- what you see is literally all I have. is the source for mining. If you mean it and have the facilities to do a better job at this, may I please, earnestly and in _total_ _sincerity_, beg you to do it? I'm not a data analyst: I'm a sound engineer dabbling in many other fields. If I'm not mistaken my own limited analysis is _the_ _only_ compiled data source of this information out there and publically available. Now that I've taken a shot at it, maybe someone or some open-sourcey group can get some people together and do it right? Nobody would be more pleased than I. Eighteen-hour days of data entry sucked...

  • by David Price ( 1200 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:51AM (#147128)
    "the record format- a 'score' number which is zero-filled and represents the number of certified platinums times the number of years since the album's release..."

    I don't quite understand why this is a relevant measurement of album performance. It weights albums dramatically towards those that have been out longer - witness the absolute domination of the Beatles atop the list of performers, simply because their albums were released first. I like the Beatles, but this method of accounting doesn't make all that much sense to me.

    Of course this study is going to indicate lackadaisical performance by the Britney Spears and N'Syncs of today's music world: their albums haven't had nearly enough time to build up the massive multiplier factors awarded to those albums from older, more established bands. If an album were to be released today that became an instant craze, selling 60 million copies in one year, it would take yet another year to eclipse a merely double-platinum album that had been released in 1970.

    Clearly, the project is trying to weight away from such insane explosions of buying frenzy, and towards artists who have established careers practicing their craft. This is a noble goal, but explicitly multiplying by number of years since release causes older acts to automatically become more significant simply by virtue of being older; a one-hit wonder from the early eighties will outrank any number of career artists who started in the mid-nineties and show no sign of stopping anytime soon.

    Perhaps a better weighting factor for the purposes of the study would be one that awarded different point values to different platinum events. An album's first platinum would be awarded a flat rate; subsequent platinum certifications could be multiplied by the number of years since the album's release. This could be somehow extended to artists, as well - artists who consistently earn platinum status could be rewarded, even if no individual album does extraordinarily well. If you haven't gone platinum in a while, you don't get awarded more points for rocking in your chair and reminiscing about when you were a star.

  • Try thinking about a wedding reception, do you see them playing mp3's at the ball?

    Depends on the D.J. you hire. Many of the semi-formal and even formal functions I've attended in the past two years have used professional D.J.s. It used to be that you'd see these guys lugging in box after box of vinyl or CDs. Now, it's a laptop or desktop with tons of storage chock full of MP3s. One guy was pretty good at the last function I attended. He would challenge the crowd to come up and search his MP3 database for a song he didn't have. I think he was stumped only about 5 times the whole night. I bet he went home and filled in those 5 little gaps in his collection that very night. Next time, he'll be able to provide those requested songs, and with each new gig he plays, he gets more and more suggestions for bettering his collection.
  • by crovira ( 10242 ) on Sunday June 17, 2001 @06:10AM (#147130) Homepage
    The "top n" artists aren't their's., They produce nothing. They have no artists or pressing/burning facilities.

    They are the music mafia. They exist to maximise profits. New artists cost money to produce and to promote. Old trash is pure gravy to them. The deader the artist, the happier they are.

    Ever wonder why Elvis is still selling albums? Who gets the money?

    Why would anyone invest in yet another Boxcar Willy record?

    Its not because they like 'em. Its that the artist gets squat (public domain,) they shuffle the playlist, it costs squat to make (25 cents a CD including cover art [its some old photo scanned with a different photoshop text layer,]) and they are rolling in it.

    They are parasites on the artists' efforts.

    But the blood suckers have become so engorged that they now control the show. Its like a leech on your ass guiding you to chairs with holes in them, (you know the room and what happens there,) so they don't get squashed.

    End result, you get to listen to shit.

    The MPAA's the same. But you get brown shoved in your face instead of having it crammed in your ears.

    You're paying for music but you're not the one who bought it. Ever wonder what the elevators are filled with? The malls, that theatres, every public gathering place. Ever wonder why? Its not for your benefit. Its not for your enjoyment. This stuff is bought by people who don't listen to it.

    Now the RIAA & MPAA have a major threat to their business model.

    CD burning and the internet can absolutely wipe them out, so they get some kid arrested in Europe and drag his ass to New York, they get CD-ROM burner manufacturers to add all kinds of crap to make recording and copying impossible.

    Supposedly its anti-piracy, but its not. Pirates use equipment that can do bit copies and never even attempt to interpret the stream. Its anti-YOU. If they lose control they are history.

    Like the mafia going to the matresses, there's a lot of collateral damage and they really don't give a shit if a few civilians get killed in China or their rights get trampled in Europe.

    They are going to make money if they have to rip your pants off. But there are laws that not even they can break. And if you have no money, they don't get any either...

    I've turned off the TV and radio, stopped going to the movies and my advice to the xxAAs out there is to get other jobs.
  • Not to completely disagree with you (I'm a huge Phish head ... if they'd only go on tour again) ... but Dave Matthews used to (and still might AFAIK) allow taping of his shows. He did, however, sell out as you said.

    Another band people might want to look at that has no real backing is Of A Revolution ( ... they have basically all of their songs on their site so you can stream them).
  • I think one of the best points made is the bit about Napster being a collection of the history of music. As stated, there is an enormous amount of overlap but you only need one guy with a Bif Naked fetish to grab one of your favourite Bif Naked songs. Only bands affiliated with the big 6 RIAA houses get any play on the radio or shelf space in the store. Next time you're out look for bands on Vagrant or Kung-Fu or Hepcat and see how many you find. Figuring out how to charge for and manage downloadable media is the big problem. You can't expect to have everything for free, that's communist open source horse shit because it isn't REALLY free. Downloading all the music from a particular band might not hurt some large band who's gone platinum or has the potential to go platinum but if I download some small band's discography who'll probably be blessed if they even sell 100,000 records I'm really fucking them over.
    Slashdot has this reality distortion field in which the specifics of a problem are never really discussed, only the concept and some quick numbers. CDs are an enormous business and growing but the billions of dollars in sales don't all go into some dude's pocket. It goes into the pocket of that dorky kid at Warehouse Music or the truck driver every cuts off while he's making his rounds and then finally the artist who's had to sell rights to their soul in order to get their music out to people. Even if a band absolutely loves playing their music just to play it they can't exactly do it for free. As my brother's taught me in the time he's been playing guitar, a rockstar's toys are expensive as mine are. Not only is their equipment expensive but so are recording sessions and hiring a guy to master your songs. Don't assume any music comes out of the studio sounding like the cut you lsiten to on your CD. Even if it's only removing the sound of some guy farting while he's jamming down on his guitar shit still needs to be mastered. None of that is to mention how a musician is supposed to make a living. No one here can write free code without some sort of income (for most of you thats mom and dad). Figure out a way for a musician to recoup all those losses without a recording industry (and associated framework) and you're a billionaire.
  • Even if armchair analysis can provide meaningful advances in knowlegde (and I'd agree than it can), that doesn't mean that most people, including judges and bureaucrats, will take their findings seriously.

    The findings that most people outside the scientific community take seriously need to have some meritocratic credentials attached to them, particularly if they challenge status quo knowledge. Uncredentialed findings, particularly those which alter a world view, are treated as little more than the fantasies of zealots. Often even when they come from people with credentials, it often takes many people with credentials to back them up.

    I realize that peer review is supposed to accomplish this, but to me that often just looks like meritocratic approval -- the blessings of the priests. How many signficant amateur findings have been ignored by established science until science came around to either solving the problem on their own or changing their paradigm to accept the findings?

  • I don't think he said that the RIAA was going to go away, but that if you want a career as a musician, than you're screwed if you sign with an RIAA member. They may continue to make billions, but they're not interested in keeping a musician around for more then a few years anymore.
  • As the original authors says, he got the data from the RIAA web site. Wanna do your own research? Crawl the results of this search:

    Just hitting enter will return all records.

    There are a couple of other DBs on the site also.

  • by No-op ( 19111 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:49AM (#147136)
    98 degrees, N'sync, and the backstreet boys "came out of the blue" ? that is a complete fallacy. The backstreet boys and N'sync are both creations of Lou Pearlman, who manufactures groups like ford manufactures cars. these bands fall COMPLETELY in line with the kinds of changes the author was discussing, and only serve to further his point.

    So, in reality, your longwinded rebuttal only serves to strengthen the author's hypotheses. thanks!
  • by warpeightbot ( 19472 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @09:20AM (#147137) Homepage
    Here in the Pacific Northwest, I know of at least two individuals who are making a go of their bands... promoting stuff on the Internet, raising money thru local concerts, advance sales, etc. Gaia Consort [] is an, umm, alternative band (just happens to be my favorite) that just went to press on a new CD funded entirely by the fans (some of whose names are on the album for making significant contributions).... one of the other little perks is that even base-level contributors (I bought an advance copy of the CD) get into the passworded section of the site where they can nab advance mixes of the work as it happens... is verra cool, actually helping music evolve.

    Now, Chris doesn't make any real bucks on this. But someone you might have heard a bit more about does... Heather Alexander [], a Celtic fiddler/singer/songwriter, actually makes a living at this, both for herself and her hubby/agent. No, they're not rolling in it. But they're doing what they want to be doing, and making a living at it. I would call that success.

    The point is, the music industry outside of RIAA is not dead. There are a lot of small labels working outside the box, and bands who get airplay on alternative stations and rackspace in mom and pop music stores... and a growing audience that does NOT listen to Top 40 anymore. When enough people figure out that there's more to life than "Oops, I did it again," RIAA will lose its stranglehold on the business, and the world will change. A very quiet revolution, but I think it's already happening, given the amount of noise going on in the courts....

    No, I didn't get a dime for those shameless plugs, I'm just a fan. Deadhead-style band promoting is alive and well.

  • by Webmonger ( 24302 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:05AM (#147138) Homepage
    But how did you know you liked their first album before you purchased it, and that you didn't like their second without purchasing it?

    We rely on industry-controlled promotion (radio play, video play, insertion in soundtracks) to inform us about a lot of what-we-might-like. If it was just Hootie and the Blowfish, it could just be a bad album. But if it's a trend where H&B is simply an example. . .
  • You are correct that his analysis isn't quite on target, but you must admit (I would hope:) that he is making a step in the right direction.

    It seems that his goal is to say that the current fixation by RIAA members on current hits and current sales might not be the best one for long term growth and profits. Were I a shareholder, this would be more important.

    You also seem to indicate that there is some way to predict the future sales of a record (you mention 2.5 million this year, and next, and next, etc). I believe the guy at Evergreen attempted to answer this concern with two pieces of information: first, he points out that without promotion, they don't go anywhere (unfortunately, as pointed out in another thread, there is no analysis of this point, merely conjecture based on a few groups). Second, he indicates that current bands (N'Sync, Britney, etc.) do not receive ongoing promotion. Again, I didn't see analysis of this on the report.

    But, if these two points made in the article are accurate, it should allay your concerns WRT prediciting future sales.

    Again, it's not a great study, but it seems to be looking in the right hemisphere, at least.
  • Well, apparantly, you don't know what analysis is either, as you have mistaken and confused terms such as 'good' and 'better'.

    By including data that the industry conveniently forgets in their PR, he is making a better analysis than what was previously available, and is taking steps towards what can be called good analysis.

    Yes, the analysis is poor. But that does not mean that his results and his methods are not better than what came before.

  • His point was that the DMB was popular before they were signed to a record label. Remember Two Things sold more copies of than any other indie record ever. Now you can argue the the band has become manufactured but they did not start out that way. BTW I looked on ticket master and for current DMB ticket prices and they ranged from 30-45. 30 seemed to be for lawn tickets in big venues and 45 seemed to be for smaller venues. Phish isn't on tour so I couldn't check their prices but 30 sounds about right.

  • Try thinking about a wedding reception, do you see them playing mp3's at the ball? I highly doubt it. Do you think radio stations across the world would adapt to mp3's?

    Actually, I see it a lot. There's a club [] in town that plays MP3s off a laptop rather than keeping thousands of CDs behind the bar or hiring a real DJ. It makes sense. They can load up a playlist for the whole night in the down times, or they can just put Winamp on random play and be done with it. It seems to be fairly popular, and they have a greater selection of songs than they could have otherwise.

    I DJ'd when I was in college, and I was thinking a few years ago how mp3 would have revolutionized my DJ'ing. I hated lugging a thousand CDs everywhere, fearing that the other thousand you left at home were going to be the ones people wanted to hear, or that someone was going to jack that out of print NIN Head Like A Hole single. I would have given my profits for a year, just to have the server that's sitting on my floor right now (40+ GB of mp3s). I would have given my profits for five to have access to Napster while I was DJ'ing an event.

    If I was setting up a DJ service today, I'd get a huge tower server and cram it full of the biggest hard drives I could buy, the best sound card I could buy, a 56K modem, a 10/100 eth card and then fill that bad boy up. While I was DJ'ing, if someone asked for a song I didn't have, I'd immediately go download it off Napster. Within four or five songs, I could be playing their request, even though I didn't have it before they asked.

    MP3s are not perfect, but for certain applications, they are a Godsend.

  • Do you think radio stations across the world would adapt to mp3's?

    Actually, it would make quite a bit of sense. A 128 kbit MP3 exceeds stereotypical 'FM quality', so why not? Also, many stations these days (think 'Clear Channel' here) are centralizing studios, using hard-drive based storage at the individual stations for what goes out over the airwaves. The information has to get to these hard drives somehow, and in some format... I have no idea how it's done (is there a station engineer that wants to jump in here?) but leased lines (fractional T-1) or satelite makes sense.

    Besides, I'm sure Thomson Multimedia and the Fraunhofer Institute would love the royalties.

  • Good one. I agree with the AC below, too: Smashing Pumpkins. I actually looked their stats up, too. Siamese Dream is still selling pretty well long after it came out.
  • by look ( 36902 ) <> on Saturday June 16, 2001 @09:03AM (#147145) Homepage
    I am excited by this research, but sadly I must agree.

    For example, the author of the study does not even *mention* the effect of the switch from LPs to CDs. When records went nearly extinct in the 80s, people rushed to re-buy their favorite old music, essentially giving pre-CD artists twice the hits they might otherwise have. I think this reflects in the author's analysis. Also, I'm going to take a stab at "analysis" here and say that multiplying the number of millions time the number of years since release is radically biased towards ... OLDER ALBUMS! What you really need to do is look at sales figures year after year and compare those.

    I was also disappointed to not see the names of any of these "sporatically important" 90's acts. When he mentioned earlier on slashdot that he was conducting this research, I looked up sales figures of Nirvana's Nevermind myself out of curiousity. Nevermind has sold 10 million copies, with the latest in 1999 (you can check this for yourself). This demonstrates that some artists 90s artists can continue to sell records after they stop being promoted.
  • I totally agree with the first two and the third paragraphs of your post, but I almost completely disagree with the third.

    Independent and regional markets are back with a vengence? I move around the country on a regular basis and I can tell you that I hear the same crap on the radio in LA that I did in Indianapolis or Houston. Of course, that only tells me that the RIAA 'owns' the radio stations play list. You get more of an insight as to what people think is cool and great when you go to clubs where DJ's select the music. I hear the same music in the clubs around the country, too. Invariably, the music that gets the most people dancing and cheering are the songs that you hear on the radio because people 'know them.' After awhile, the DJ will also almost always play something he/she thinks is cool, but that most people haven't heard yet and the dance floor will clear. They have to switch back to the popular crap to get people excited.

    My point is that popular music still isn't as regional (with the exception of local bands in college towns) as it was then. The only time I've really seen regionalization in the music industry is with the electronic/rave scene. The songs at the raves in different areas will almost always be different, but the type of songs (house, jungle, true hip-hop, techno, and yes even gabber) will be more prevelant in one region than in another. This doesn't show much, though, because the majority of people at raves already try to be different from mainstream and choose what they like for themselves. It is an interesting sociological study in the fact that people in different towns will gravitate to one type of sound as opposed to another.

    As far as the Independents go, you're right: anyone can produce a decent sounding recording now and market it on the internet for a very low cost. There just doesn't seem to be any of them making it big like they used to, though. The only "popular" indie band I can think of is... well, I forget their name, but they've been around forever (before the internet was even on computers as Homer would say) and already have a loyal fan base even though they've had 40 different band members in 10 years.

    Independents are gaining back some ground in the internet with Napster and all, but I don't think it is with a vengence yet. People are still listening to and buying the crap from the RIAA, but every once in awhile they might pick up a CD from a little known artist they heard on Napster. I would also say that it IS easy to tell what the next big thing is going to be: just ask the RIAA. I'd bet that every big phenomena in the past 5 years has been picked by them.

    That is just my take on the situation. I don't EVER listen to the radio in my car and only hear popular music in other people's cars or at clubs, so maybe I'm not the best judge of what's going on in the music industry. I also never use Napster; I go to used record stores and listen to unknown CD's and buy them if I like them.

  • I agree. Check out the Artist's Careers list. Prince is ranked below The Monkees, yet he has 14 albums on the list and The Monkees have only 7. I would like to know the # of albums sold; I would bet Prince not only sells more overall but is also still selling more than The Monkees. That time period multiplication factor definitely skews things toward the old artists whether they still sell or not.

    Maybe multiplying the # of sales in a specific year by the # of years (from that year) since the album was released. Do this for every year that an album has been around. This would still put a little bias toward old albums, but it would at least show what bands are selling a lot over a long period of time as opposed to those that sold a lot for 3 years 30 years ago.

  • Or... instead of counting the number of records sold per year, count the percentage of records sold that year.

    It looks like he's trying to unbias the data in a similar way that a loaf of bread in 1950 costs $0.10, but costs $1.50 in 2000. Replace GDP with percentage, and voila.

  • Then again, maybe you didn't have anything to do this weekend?

    Maybe Michael takes what he does seriously and you on the other hand like to bad mouth other peoples work?

    IS it because you hate your parents? Were you abused as a child? Don't hate yourself or blame yourself, blame and hate your parents, not others.
  • I know a couple of guys who are doing it without the RIAA... but so far, just *barely* squeaking by.

    Andras Jones [] supplements his music with acting (he's in an upcoming horror flick called The Attic Expeditions, with Seth Green and Jeffrey Combs). I know he's worked like a madman for *years* promoting his and others' music... so it's possible to be completely indie, but Internet or no, it's still a long, hard road just to get by.

    That link is - l - he also has a site at

    His friend Sandman [] is trying to work that same road, too. Only a few songs at the site, but if you like rap and country fused together (and who doesn't?), he's great.

    What I like about these guys is they're both geeks. Andras even has a concept album about a high school dork called "Unpop" that is just awesome - great songwriting and fantastic production quality for an indie release. But as good as the album is (and I think it's as good as anything I've heard), it's probably a niche market of us geeks who'd get into it. In other words, exactly NOT the bland, homogenized masses the RIAA crowd have been chasing after.

    And I think, if we're lucky, the big players won't notice until it's too late how irrelevant they've become, and we can finish forming our own new models for business. Hopefully...
  • Don't forget college radio...lots of colleges have small, student-run FM stations. Most of them are little, if at all, influenced by the RIAA; student DJs will often decide their own playlists, and though this does give an uneven quality to stations (8-10pm might be a really cool show, with DJs playing material you really like but haven't heard elsewhere and 10-12 might be a pair of teenybopper freshmen who like boy bands, Britney Spears, etc), it does provide a forum for new music.

  • hardly any of those artists have released what I would call a "hit" album in the past 10 years.

    Numbers speak for themselves, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men have all released hits. I like none of them but what you constitute as a hit and what numbers say will always clash.

    - No band will ever "come out of the blue" any more and hit it huge.

    Ugh dare I post their names, but 98degrees, NSync, and Backdoor Boys have all "come out of the blue" and hit it huge whether or not we like it.

    - The RIAA's business model is focused around promoting a small group of artists through the radio and other media which they mostly control.

    Get real do you think the RIAA would slight anyone it could make money off of? Just because we (well I) don't like the RIAA does not mean they would choose one over the other. Money talks in the game and I'm sure the RIAA is looking out for the interests of making money from as many artists as they can.

    The RIAA companies will no longer be able to promote the artists they want to promote (ie, the ones that they feel give them the greatest chance of profit).

    RIAA doesn't promote anyone, marketing people within the record labels do so.

    - The RIAA's biggest fear is that artists will be able to promote themselves and leave the RIAA out of the loop entirely.

    False, many artists don't have the time to promote themselves, nor would they do a good job of it (see: Prince/The Artist Formerly Known As) and even if they did, they would not make as much money as they would by allowing their labels to promote them since it would come out of pocket. Taking a look at the hip hop industry, and not to sound prejudiced but how many inner city kids do you know who were former thugs that made the switch to music, how many do you think would know how to promote themselves, or even care what the RIAA is doing as long as they see cash. Same with bands.

    It's only a matter of time before this really starts to happen. Good riddance.

    Don't get your hopes up high this will never happen (abolishing the RIAA)
  • by joq ( 63625 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:17AM (#147153) Homepage Journal
    The time to look to the music industry for a career is over. There is absolutely no future in it. What this means is, other opportunities will be opening up.

    Opportunities have always been openining up, but this does not mean the music industry is going to die. This was an argument some time back only it was with the film industry when many invested in dot com companies who were going create movies for the Internet and about 99.999% of them all are on

    It's a nice analysis done there but it means little to associations like the RIAA since ... THEY'RE NOT LISTENING. Facts are Napster has boosted sales in music in some polls, and other polls state it has harmed it. Well only one can be right, and that one will forever be an opinion of someone's.

    Try thinking about a wedding reception, do you see them playing mp3's at the ball? I highly doubt it. Do you think radio stations across the world would adapt to mp3's? Searching for a hit song on Napster or something similar? Nope won't happen, as long as record execs keep people happy with graphical cd jewel cases, promoting overblown parties, etc. Don't wanna make this long, but any argument any way you cut it would never be an unbiased one.
  • Of the bands/albums listed there as "important", none are all that important any more ... hardly any of those artists have released what I would call a "hit" album in the past 10 years.

    So what you are saying is that that Bethoven's 9th sucks just because he hasn't released anything lately?

    As was pointed out in a prior slashdot discussion, music, literature and art do not cease to be relevent just because they weren't made yesterday. IMHO human nature has been the same for millenia, and if you say something novel and insightfull about it, that doesn's cease being important quickly.

  • Certainly it could be thought that RIAA is so upset with Napster et al. just because of some potential lost sales. However, they have to know that the Napster user is their best customer. They aren't stupid.

    So, why are they so upset? Because having people able to choose what they listen to for themselves destroys their ability to dictate what people listen to.

    RIAA owns the entire current 'popularization channel' from MTV to Radio to concerts to the music store chains. What happens to this investment if the listeners suddenly don't have to be forced to spend their money on the things that RIAA promotes? RIAA loses control of the channel and its members lose billions of dollars.

    They are prepared to overhead a little song exchanging, they always have been. In some countries, you already pay a tax to support lost revenue when you use a recordable CD. So it's obviously OK with RIAA if you use it in this fashion, you've already paid for that priviledge.

    What's not OK with RIAA is for you to start having a choice about what you listen to without their permission.

    Any time they want to make a few more hundreds of millions of dollars, all they have to do is sign some non-terrible band and force the channel to promote them. The record goes platinum, the concerts sell out and some label makes a pile of money. Sometimes they don't even bother to find a band that people can stand to listen to. (I'm sure you can think of several bands that are talentless, I know I can.)

    So when they lose control of their popularization channel, they lose all of their instantaneous guaranteed profits. They decide what is 'cool', they make everyone else decide that it is cool, too. People have plenty of money, especially those who are most impressionable. First comes some targeted marketing kiddie crap from some predatory company. Then when the little zombies get a little older, start spoon feeding them their choices about what entertainment to experience. It's pathetic, but there is something we can do about it.

    But if you want to hurt RIAA, listen to digital music and personally decide what to hear. You will be denying them the opportunity to control you.
  • by G27 Radio ( 78394 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:50PM (#147156)
    I threw together two scripts to compile the entire database into a CSV file (which may be imported into MS Excel or anything else that likes CSV.)

    The first script, uses LWP to pull all the data in it's original HTML format into a file called riaa.htm on your harddrive. Beware, this is 30991603 bytes worth of data.

    The second script, parses riaa.htm data for relavant info and creates the CSV file riaa.csv.

    The riaa.csv file it created for me was 1596076 bytes and appears to contain the entire 16474 entries.

    Scripts are here: []

  • I guess I'm not particularly important to the RIAA... on a quick glance, it looks like less than 25% of the CDs/records that I own are even on those lists!
  • You've got it right on here. But the real problem was talked about in the beginning of the article, and that is that the music industry has turned in to a hit factory rather than a place to grow artists. The reason the RIAA is so scared of people going outside what's dictated by them is that they're putting all their eggs in a few baskets. Right now it's the pop stuff and it's going great for them.

    We have seen what happens when their hit factory fails to produce though. Remember around '96 or so? The big "electronica" movement that was supposed to "save rock"? Never happened. Prodigy released an album and some people liked it, but there was no gigantic tidal wave to save the industry's pocketbooks and there was a lot of hand wringing. People were faced with two choices pretty much, buy or don't buy, and they chose not to buy.

    Napster allows people to choose not to buy again, and that's what hurts. It's not so much that the music's free (like the article said) but that people have a choice in choosing not to buy what MTV is pushing right this second. The hit factory is totally subverted as well, because a lot of people who would have bought the CD for the single just downloaded the damn thing instead. The RIAA's "album full of crap with a diamond in it" mentality fails utterly. This wouldn't be the case if they were developing as many artists as possible to be successful and produce quality albums. Instead of investing money that way though, they take the quick and easy path, and they're scared of the possible consequences.

    My most honest hope is that the online stuff really will start to sink its teeth in to the pocketbooks, and that maybe the record labels will wake up and re-shift their focus from the dollars to the artist, and from the image back to the music (tough in the MTV era, but still possible as electronic music proves). I don't care about downloading music for free. I just want to have some choices, and I want the radio to not sound like "fridge buzz". I want American culture to feel vibrant again, and I want the music to be the driving force behind it. And I can only hope it happens soon.

    "I may not have morals, but I have standards."
  • They are limiting themselves to the stupid market. Idiotic highschool and sub-highschool teenagers. When these kids get sick of their 20th modern version of Pat Boone in a row, then they will stop buying that crap and start downloading and buying from independent record companies/artists. And as the article said, they will slowly develop their own taste, and Britney Spears will no longer satisfy. Know any 35 year-olds in to Britney? 35 yearolds have WAY more money to spend on records and junk than lazy teenagers. The majors are essentially writing these people off, going for the easy cash. Maybe they can sustain themselves forever, a new sucker is born every .0001 seconds.... But the rest of humanity, those not wearing training-bras, will crave independent music, mostly distributed though the internet. Most good punkbands make nothing compared to madonna or britney spears, but because of independent labels, zines and mp3's they can show up in any town, and draw a thousand or so people for a show. They make a very good upper middle-class level of income, and don't have to work for the man, and can make whatever music they want. The RIAA is irrelevant.
  • Because their albums continue to sell you dumb asshole! Evis has sold far more records after his death than he ever did while living!
  • But if they do not have a strangle-hold on distribution and promotion who gives a shit about whether they exist or not. They cannot keep artists away from the public, nor can they determine what types of music people will hear. They are irrelevant. Their existence is like that of microsoft's, they can't control *everything* anymore. Before linux Microsoft was on the verge of being in complete control of all computing, but now they don't matter much. They still exist and make billions but so what!

    They cannot make my unix skills usless by making every computer 100% infested with GUI's and 50Meg Registries. For a while there, the ultimate death of unix, except in extremely rare niches was almost a given. None of "the kids" could afford a real unix box, few people could get anything other than the most basic unix skills, but easy access to linux and cheapo pc hardware means there are lots of people with solid unix skills. Businesses bought microsoft junk because they could easily find someone with enough skill to keep the machines running well enough to do excel and word. Now you can get people who know linux, they can run simple services and over time can learn more complex enterprise unix skills.

    Now, a cheapo computer means an artist can do all the things it took a major label to do, record, edit, master and distribute their music. Concerts, offical CDs, T-shirts etc is where they get their money from. They build an audience that shows up at concerts and buys various trinkets to show-off the fact they're into the band, etc by giving away the mp3's and tour notes, and pictures, concert footage, etc.

    Previously a few Major-label artists dominated, and fewer people were able to make their own music available, music got bland and stupid. Every once in a while something special happens and a situation opens up, freedom reigns. For computers it was Linus's linux + GNU, for music it was mp3s + napster.

    (Punk rebelled against the lame 70's, 80's and 90's bullshit, but punk didn't have the internet and only had limited sucess with just zines, 7" records and risk taking as their tools, you might say punk was the BSD of the music scene.)
  • You would be fucking them over, if you never buy a CD, T-shirt, button, or never go to a show when they tour. If you were to download every song, but never spend a dime on them, then either you are the cheapest rat-bastard on the planet or the band sucks. I doubt you would have ever bought their CD at the Record Store. But then who says they would have ever been able to even release an album, they would have never been signed, and never made a dime. At least with mp3's they get a chance to find an audience, if they can turn that into an income source, then everybody wins. "the kids" get to decide on which artists prosper, rather than some scumbad mob-affiliated bean-counter with less musical talent than John Tesh.

    If you were an artists who would you rather have to appeal to?

  • Even if this does produce "favorable" results, it will not be credible because it's founding precept is that the RIAA is missing the boat and that this system will show them up.
  • I don't know about how you differentiate between the "methodology" and the word "system" when used in their respective contexts, but if you care enough to nitpick about it, your point may have some merit.

    As for my "sweeping generalization", it is only further confirmed by your concisely worded correction, save for the omitted statements about showing the RIAA what they are missing in their assumptions and plans. The foregone conclusion is that we (will) know better than the RIAA.

  • aw man, as if linking to them from here wasn't bad enough.... posting a script to mine their site?!?!

    I like it. Using it now. That'll teach 'em for going after Napster ;-)

  • I agree with you about music - abstract, impossible to rank objectively, etc. But it really misses the point of the Evergreen article.

    What is being asked here is whether the RIAA is moving towards a business model that is only sustainable in a very short term. If so, how long could it be expected to last. As was pointed out earlier, if I were a shareholder, I'd consider this a very interesting study.

    Music may be abstract, but sales figures certainly aren't, and if the RIAA were doing short-sighted things with My Valuable Shareholder money, I'd be inclined to shift my money elsewhere

  • I think you are saying some good things, but I think Nirvana is a terrible example of a band that continues to sell well after promotion drops off. First of all, the nature of their breakup (Cobain's death) was a Jame's-Dean-for-the-90's affair. Much of their current success is the dead artist syndrome. In addition, they still get heavy play time on the radio and primo placement in record stores. Is this all because of popularity? Or is it because distributers are well aware of the selling power of their albums, and are continuing to push them on radio and in stores?

    Of course I don't know the answers to these questions, but unless you do, it's not saying much about the industry.
  • I agree that such a "formal place-for-exposing-music" need not exist, but I also feel that such venues are powerful ways to spread music.

    The sheer variety and scope of the available music means that it can be difficult to spot the quality; things like popularity of downloads (and better word-of-mouth name recognition) tend to heavily favor established artists. (e.g. even in the online scene people are more likely to listen to Trance Control because of their popularity than to a new, unknown group, even if some people are talking up the unknowns)

    Word-of-mouth is a great thing, but having something like a radio station is the difference from having 10 people talk about your music and having a thousand do the same. Talent *should* rise to the surface, either way, but the distribution is much broader and faster with a larger base.

    I think the "radio" format is also laudable, because in its pure form it is nothing more that that word-of-mouth writ large. When individual stations and DJ's have the ability to choose their songlists, listeners become aware of which DJs play music they generally like. Thus the Djs can expose their listeners to new things they might not otherwise be aware of. (and vice versa on occasion) In fact, the good stations are often the ones that play things people are known to like interspersed with new, unknown content. This is just like the 50's distribution model you speak of, with stations experimenting so they don't miss the next big thing. (sadly this has become less and less common in commercial radio, because why take a chance on something new when you can play recycled hits?)

    This model is better than the word-of-mouth distribution, because you might hear from a number of friends that such-and-such song is good, but never download it. Alternately, you'll probably continue listening to a "radio" stream as long as the music is pleasing, absorbing that new music effortlessly.
  • by Tiroth ( 95112 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @09:17AM (#147169) Homepage
    In order for Johnson's "For everybody else" advice to succeed, we are missing a crucial element: a place for people to be exposed to music.

    Sure, there's, which I think is quite successful at introducing people to some new songs, but what is really needed are powerful independent webcasters, and the technology to give them an audience. However big net radio is today, it won't come into its own until the wireless networks allow you to listen to it in your car, or while jogging.

    If wireless moves quickly enough, it's possible that non-industry people could even end up dominating this new "digital radio" market before their competitors (old school radio) ever wake up and do something about it. After all, a 128kbps stream is of far higher quality than conventional radio, and though webcasters pay for bandwidth, they don't have the enormous initial costs of a radio station, transmitter, and licenses.

    What would this kind of movement do for music? Most probably, it would mean that in any city in the world, you could choose from several thousand radio stations, rather than a dozen. There would be stations that would cater to subgenres, playing music never before heard on commercial radio. And it would be a panacea for artists outside the system, who attract the attention of a DJ with a few thousand listeners, whose attention spreads the music from there.

    Even more beneficial, the digital nature makes it easy to push the names of songs and artists to the listener, and facilitates purchasing: a song stream could easily embed an URL.

    In short, grassroots digital radio is a promotional path for artists who are outside the RIAA system, and have no wish to become a part of it. It's also a godsend to the thousands of RIAA groups who are too small to be worth pushing on radio, whose talents languish because people are never exposed to them. Contrary to Clear Channel's opinion, some people really do like to listen to different music: even the good stuff gets boring after a while.

    The major bar to this wonderful idea is that the RIAA has such a stranglehold on the market that it will be exceedingly difficult for independent operators to build up the critical mass of music that will keep the public listening. It wouldn't be such a big deal if the RIAA would allow webcasters reasonable access to music, but we all know that short of congressional action this is not going to happen. Perhaps the creation of a independently controlled rights management website would help: artists would indicate in some form the rights they give to webcasters, and perhaps the royalties they desire. If such a thing got big enough, even RIAA artists might demand the right to webcast their music in their contracts.

    Competing with the RIAA/ClearChannel will be exceedingly hard. But hopefully that critical mass of webcasters, artists, and (!) lawyers is out there. I hope so.
  • What exactly is this weighting system telling us? As you point out, this system has the effect of favoring old records over new records. Maybe there is some useful predictive value in this somewhere. Maybe with more granularity in the data, week-by-week sales for example, it would be more interesting. But as is it looks like a complicated justification for why the (old) music the author likes is better than new music.

    A more serious onjection is that the study only examines albums. But albums have played different roles in the marketing of music. The single as a stand-alone product was tremendously important for a long time. Of course, counting those would probably catapult Slim Whitman into the Top Ten.

    He also doesn't correct (though how this would be done I have no idea) for the effects of demographics. The Boomer generation is inordinately large and wealthy they could buy more records period. This is really the only explanation for the Eagles I think. ;-) Michael Jackson's _Thriller_ was released in 1982 when the main record buying demographic was dominated by the baby bust generation. And it sold over 26 million copies in the US alone. An astonishing phenomenom.

    Popular music works best as ephemera. And whatever you're in to when you are the right age is the best music that there has ever been. A brilliant disc by Beck, for example, is not going to affect me in the same way that a mere pretty good album by The Specials will. Why? Because I listened to The Specials in high school.

    Are the Beatles a better band than Haircut 100? Sure. Are they better than XTC? Well maybe you think so but I don't. So what? Some bands changed pop music "forever" before and some will do it again. Now be quiet. The music's starting.
  • Garth Brooks is the third best selling artist of all time and only about 1% behind #2. The fact that he's number 21 on your list shows more that's there something wrong with your methodology. All three of the top artists had relatively short recording careers (about 10 years each). The difference is that Brooks reached that position without the benefit of a second generation of fans (since he's too modern), and without the benefit of a sales resurgence due to CD re-issues (since he started recording after transition to CD's was well underway).

    If you normalize the sales to the time since the artist began recording, Brooks would be #1 of artists at least ten years in the making. You need to account for the fact that he started recording 20-30 years after #1 and #2 did, so will have less sales on that account. The danger is this is that an artist who sold a lot in a very short period (such as Britney Spears who sold 22 million in two years) would outrank anybody; however, I think Brooks has proven he has the longevity to survive.

    BTW, some other modern artists who rank very high on all time career charts are Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. Carey started recording only in 1990, but ranks very high in all-time album sales. I don't think she's on the road to slowing down, and she's still young, so she could well be a candidate to reach #1. As for artists who started since the mid-90's, it is way too early to tell who will emerge as the biggest sellers.

    Will Brooks be as remembered as the Beatles are today? He was unqiestionably the most influential artist of the 90's. The decade before, country music was nothing, and by the late 90's had become the #1 genre (in sales) in the country. Since his music appeals to such a broad audience (as opposed to, for example, teen phenoms), I think he will have a strong core audience for quite some time.
  • You're on the perfect drug...
  • Trust me, if you make some data available, there are hordes of statisticians and econometricians who would be thrilled to do rigorous, meaningful analysis. Some of it would be suitable for publication in scholarly journals, and some of it would be worth reading.

    As other replies said, we'd need (ideally) quantities sold per album per year, price at which it sold, and other events taking place during that year (events like changes in copyright law, formation of industry associations, etc) which could affect record sales and or prices. And of course, anything else under the sun that you can find. For goodness sake, never record summaries when there is raw data to be had! I guess you know that now...

    Price data would be pretty important for most sorts of econometric analysis, but it might be possible to do some imaginative stuff without it, if the quantity data was fairly good (I'm just talking through my hat... don't ask me what). Of course, there are also other approaches which don't lean on economic theory. Data miners and statisticians could hunt down correlations between sales and events and tell you whether they are statistically meaningful.

    I guess that my point is that you probably have a lot more ability to do the world a favor by compiling data than by trying to analyse it. If your aim is to show that the RIAA is doing us wrong, or a bunch of fools, or something along those lines, you will really need a Ph.D in an appropriate field if you want anyone important (like a judge or a bureaucrat) to take you seriously. The years that it would take to learn to do valid analysis could probably be better spent, unless you want to start a new career.
  • Promotion has become more important than quality.

    A quick question for you... Does this mean that if an album is actually well promoted that there's no way the music can be good, then? Is that the new perception?

    I, for one, think it will happen that someone will self-promote their music successfully, eventually, whether over the web, or in magazines, or wherever. So it's not a good idea to get locked into the thinking that good promotion automatically equals prefab music.

    The Net has shown that it can change all kinds of rules. That's what the RIAA and MPAA are fighting. But, if history has shown anything, it's that even the most powerful of organizations can't fight change.

    Eventually, the "tyrants" on the boards of these corps and co-ops are going to retire/die/whatever, and they'll be replaced. It won't be too long before they get replaced by the current generation. Hopefully, that will bring about some positive change in these corps and co-ops. It's happened before, and it can happen again.

    Okay, rant mode off. Thank you for reading.

  • We had our DJ play MP3s (written to regular CDs) at our wedding because the music that we wanted to play just wasn't available for sale anymore.
  • College radio stations aren't like this. All of the ones I know shun the music the big radio stations are playing. College radio stations also gave bands like R.E.M. and Radiohead their start.

    And while acts like Brittany Spears may be really big now, where will they be in a couple of years? In contrast They Might Be Giants have been going strong for years and years now, and I suspect they'll continue to do so until they don't feel like it any more.

    Sotto la panca, la capra crepa
  • how many songs on the radio right now will still be performed 180 years from now

    RIAA is in bed with MPAA, as the high performance of the Hollywood Soundtracks "artist" shows. This means they likely had a hand in Disney's buying off of Congress [] to squeeze perpetual copyright through a loophole in the U.S. Constitution. RIAA will probably help buy the 2098 copyright extension to 195 years just so they can use copyright to prevent radio stations that "get it" (if there are still any around) from refusing payola and playing the Real Music that RIAA labels are no longer pushing.

  • I have a friend interning at BMG, and she said the majority of people there really have absolutely nothing against free music distribution

    Partially because BMG is owned by Napster's de facto parent company Bertelsmann.

  • I wonder how many songs on the radio right now will still be performed 180 years from now, as Beethoven's work is?
  • The Dave Mathews Band are the rare exceptions.

    I must disagree on this point, DMB is highly commercial. His last two albums were so overproduced and targeted directly towards high school girls who find his voice "sexy." If your looking for an example of a current band who stands out amongst the crowd, the perfect example is Phish. Phish allows live taping of shows, Phish sells a lot of material via their website instead of an actual release with their record company. Also. and most importantly, Phish does not charge a ridicoulous amount of their concert tickets, it costs $30 to see a 3.5 hour phish show, compared to paying $60 to see DMB play for 2 hours.

  • Only 168 hours a week? What are ya, wimps? In the old days, we had to work 168 hours straight...up hill both ways.

  • I'm currently in the process of cross-referencing it with Napster.

    While still inconclusive, my early analysis indicates that such long lists of artist/albums results in higher profits for IBM and Seagate.
  • Opportunities have always been openining up, but this does not mean the music industry is going to die. This was an argument some time back only it was with the film industry when many invested in dot com companies who were going create movies for the Internet and about 99.999% of them all are on

    The precision of that measurement suggests that you think there were at least 100,000 dot com's who were going to create movies for the Internet (whatever that means!). :)


  • Not that I disagree with what you are trying to say, but its wrong to blame the lack of album/career oriented rock on the RIAA. The RIAA is equally concerned with its entire catalog, and so are its member record companies.

    Rather the ones you'd be better to blame is the radio stations, who seem to all agree that even in the rock/alternative genre, there should be singles released off of albums so something equivalent to payola can be acquired in exchange for being the record company puppets.

    Basically, they've all discovered that the pop/top 40 system is the most profitable for the radio owners.
  • 130 Boz Scaggs, Silk Degrees

    that's way up there! Thats Jazz! No way anyone bought that stuff. There has to be more popular jazz stuff than this, let alone way more popular pop stuff.

    I'm surprised at most of the stuff above this

    014 The Rolling Stones, Voodoo Lounge


    017 Rick Springfield, Hard To Hold

    How can this be?????

    You'd think everyone with one of those Zeppelin albums would have picked up a couple of stones records as well.
  • Note to crack-smoking moderators: the parent post was *funny*. Definitely not redundant...
  • Well, I don't live in the States, but I am still very sceptical. I didn't even know Eddie Murphy has recorded albums. :-)

    And I don't personally like Abba, but I'd think more people want to buy music by an actual band rather than a comedian.

  • Hmm. If these stats are correct, apparently Eddie Murphy has had a bigger career in the music business than Abba.


  • Chris asserts that Clear Channel is drivig people away from radio.... while that seems to make good horse sense, and I would love to have it be true (I can't stand Clear Channel for a number of reasons, some aethetic, some political... here's Salon's articles on why should should too []), does anyone have any numbers to back that up?
  • Do you think radio stations across the world would adapt to mp3's?
    Actually, it would make quite a bit of sense. A 128 kbit MP3 exceeds stereotypical 'FM quality', so why not? Also, many stations these days (think 'Clear Channel' here) are centralizing studios, using hard-drive based storage at the individual stations for what goes out over the airwaves. The information has to get to these hard drives somehow, and in some format... I have no idea how it's done (is there a station engineer that wants to jump in here?) but leased lines (fractional T-1) or satelite makes sense.

    It doesn't make sense, however, if anyone connected to the internet can connect to a multitude of servers and download the .mp3 for themselves, listening to it when *they* choose to.

    Radio plays what the labels payola them to play, telling you in effect what to like and what to listen to. Sometimes their suggestions aren't all that bad, but increasingly we're finding that they suck as they strive more and more to make the entire world conform to the tastes of the typical corn-fed 9-14 year old girl demographic. If people can find and listen to whatever they want, whenever they want, that will destroy radio's ability to dictate tastes to the masses and control what's popular.

    Radio has basically two options:

    1. Act as a "news" site that puts the spotlight on emerging acts and unknown material. They look for stuff that's cool and share their discoveries with the masses. Many people are too lazy/don't have time to find unknown acts, but they might like them if they knew about them.

      This is *sortof* what the whole "alternative" thing in the early 90's was about, until it denegrated into a contest to find the least popular band and let them have their 15 minutes of fame, adjusted for inflation to 15 seconds.

    2. Provide more than just canned content and prepackaged heat-up-and-serve stuff that you can find anywhere else. That is to say, focus on the DJ's and on-air talent/personality. By this, I don't just mean hire a bunch of smart-mouthed jackasses to act offensive and provocative in the name of ratings, a la Howard Stern, but provide useful and interesting content. Anyone can put on a hit single and listen to it, but tell me who can do a career-spanning retrospective, offering insight into the stories behind the songs, contrasting one artist with another, etc? VH1 does this to some extent with their "Behind the Music" series, although they're glossier and fluffier and gossipy and not very indepth, scholarly, or insightful. But maybe this is a bit much to ask for in the days when the paradigm seems to be an automated DJ machine pumping out a focus-marketed top-30 list.
  • I'm not sure if this is right, but I think that the systme works something like this:

    1964 Beatles release "Help!" (not sure if that's the right year, but for the sake of argument)
    1964 Album goes platinum. Score +1 for the Beatles.
    1984 Album sells in platinum numbers *again*. (Don't know if this actually happened, but for sake of argument.) Beatles are still very popular. Score +20 for the Beatles.

    This seems somewhat reasonable if you're trying to gauge the "actual" level of interest in an album independant of the "artificial" influence of promotional efforts by record labels and mega-hyping. There are a number of assumptions made by this, however, so it's really only a very rough way of measuring.

    For one, whether an album is being "promoted" or not is not a binary sort of thing. Albums and artists are promoted at varying levels. New albums quite understandably need a bit more promotion, especially if they are from unknown artists who need to break in and compete against established acts.

    Looking back at the fictionalized Beatles example, I would be very surprised to hear that the Beatles *weren't* being promoted during all this time in some form or other. It's *quite* likely that if a special, 20th anniversary release of "Help!" had been issued, perhaps for the first time on CD since it *is* 1984 we're talking about, that this would have been somewhat heavily hyped. But the study probably would have looked at the CD sales in 1984 as the same item as the vinyl sales in 1964, even though in some sense the 1984 CD version is a "new" product.

    For another thing, it's somewhat debatable how "articial" promotion is. *Some* promotional efforts are more obviously artificial than others. Trying to give Vanilla Ice "street credibility" when he was some rich kid whose name ended in "the third" reeks of inauthenticity, for example. But if an artist self-promotes, say, plays local gigs at coffeehouses, sells home-made t-shirts and demo tapes, doing interviews with Rolling Stone and Spin, etc. This is clearly "promotion" which contributes to interest in the artist, too, but we think of this as "honest" and "authentic" promotion, even if the artist is flat-out lying about their life story, etc. so that people will think that they're more interesting/glamorous/etc. Obviously, any artist who completely eschews promotion of any sort will never be heard by anyone. They'll sit in their house playing music that only they hear.

    Still I think that long-term interest is a valid indicator of "real" public interest as opposed to hype-generated interest. But it would be nice to see a less didactic picture than "promotion=fake and therefore bad".

  • I don't think that it came accross in my earlier posts. I *love* the idea of what you are doing. I'm working on a webbot, so maybe it will be easy for me to go and get the data again. I'll send you the files if that is the case.

    I'm not saying that you are incompetent or anything. I happen to work on these sorts of things for a living, that's why I know about it. I'm sure that it would be the same with you.

    For now, I will keep in mind that there is data on the RIAA website, and maybe I'll be able to retrieve it. You are doing the community a service by compiling this data and creating the website. I hope that I will be able to contribute and help you out.

    Of course... I'll never admit to being the grammar nazi. I'll happen along and offer help without mentioning any of my /. posts.

  • I sort of disagree with your last comment, nels_tomlinson...
    you will really need a Ph.D in an appropriate field if you want anyone important (like a judge or a bureaucrat) to take you seriously. The years that it would take to learn to do valid analysis could probably be better spent, unless you want to start a new career.
    Much scientific research is done as a hobby or side-note by many people. Although, the expensive kinds of research (nuclear physics?) is usually reserved for PhDs and other likely-to-be-funded types, much is done at a lower level by people as a hobby.

    For some examples, take a look at Chaos theory and fractals. Many chaotic atractors as well as new fractal patterns and properties have been discovered by people who don't have PhDs in mathematics/physics/sciences. Afterall, Lorenz was a weather analyst.

    Galerkan was an engineer that had a few rules-of-thumb for analysing structure problems. This became the known in numerical analysis as Galerkan's Method.

    The era where scholars were jack-of-all-trades is admittedly over, but that doesn't prevent significant findings from cropping up from non-specialists.

  • by grammar nazi ( 197303 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @08:03AM (#147197) Journal

    My job is doing analysis using variations on Kohonen Self-organizing-maps and other unsupervised classifications techniques. We do classification and data-mining all many different types of data. I read this article and immediately thought I might be able to use the data to try and find some of the correlations mentioned in the article. Unfortunately, the data doesn't contain enough information. The only files that I saw had some magical number which is the the sum of each product platinum times the number of years since the album came out. The unsupervised learning algorithms should determine the calculated numbers, not a person. Where are the original numbers?

    If the evergreen project wants any serious analysis to be done with this data, then they need to include the raw, initial data. This would be the year of each platinum album, the year of the record release, and any other relevant or irrelevant data. Please re-release these files with the original data so that a thourough analysis can be done.

    I'd be happy to test out a few algorithms on the data.

  • Try thinking about a wedding reception, do you see them playing mp3's at the ball?

    Actually, I was at one last weekend, and the DJ had a laptop. I didn't go see if he was playing MP3's, but I'll say I didn't see too many CD's on his table that night. And I don't know if he was playing stuff he ripped from his own collection or stuff from Napster, but there you go.
  • I think the author does realize this, he points out that almost all of the groups in the top ten are dead.
  • While some of what the article points out is interesting, and (almost) seems mathematically supported, I find it simply isn't true. It suggests that an artist's album sales are greatly affected by the amount of promotion it gets. Sure, sure, spending gobs of money on a promising album will get it on the airwaves, into people's ears, and eventually, money will be exchanged for these aluminum plates... ...unless, of course, I don't like what I hear.

    Yet in some ways this isn't Hootie's fault- because there's evidence to suggest that the nature of record label hype had changed by the time Hootie came around. G'N'R represent the very last wave of career bands, and the pattern of promotion given Hootie was NOT the same.

    Huh? I liked their first album, and purchased it. I didn't like their subsequent albums, and didn't buy it. I don't quite understand what record label hype has to do with a simple taste issue.

    While I don't claim all consumers to be equally picky about what goes into their ear, the article makes out the consumer to be a mindless minion who is directly controlled by the record labels and their advertising. Sorry. Interesting math game, but I just don't see that as true.
  • While this is not the best analysis possible, it is not wholly unreasonable. Taking your example:

    Band A
    1 million albums = 1 platinum
    So, 1 platinum * 5 yrs = 005 (score)

    Lookinbg five years from now:
    1 plat * 10 years = 010

    Band B
    2.5 million albums = 2.5 platinum
    Five years from now:
    2.5 * 5 = 12.5 million sold = 12.5 platinums

    12.5 plat * 5 yrs = 060 score

    060 > 010 => Band B > Band A in 5 years, as it should be.

    So, this ranking will account for continued sales over time.

    Still, I would think that total profit, cumulative & inflation-adjusted per year, would be the most accurate way to investigate such things.

    But those numbers are probably not available, and still neglect other profit sources such as concerts, merchandise & TV specials.
    D. Fischer
  • by sdo1 ( 213835 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:20AM (#147206) Journal
    A couple of points...

    - Of the bands/albums listed there as "important", none are all that important any more. The success of Beatles "1" aside, hardly any of those artists have released what I would call a "hit" album in the past 10 years.

    - No band will ever "come out of the blue" any more and hit it huge. There is no such thing as a non-manufactured band anymore. U2 is currently in the midst of a sold-out tour, but if they were starting today, it's likely they wouldn't exist. They owe their early success to a core groups of fans and a bunch of radio stations that were willing to play their music. Those stations are now essentially run by the RIAA. See these articles:1 [],2 []. Bands today such as The Dave Mathews Band are the rare exceptions.

    - The RIAA's business model is focused around promoting a small group of artists through the radio and other media which they mostly control. Having "free" music available over the internet breaks this model. The RIAA companies will no longer be able to promote the artists they want to promote (ie, the ones that they feel give them the greatest chance of profit).

    - The RIAA's biggest fear is that artists will be able to promote themselves and leave the RIAA out of the loop entirely. It's only a matter of time before this really starts to happen. Good riddance.


  • Embracing a better model might help you compete with the RIAA... independent artists like Jonatha Brooke [] and Peter Breinholt [] do it all the time. Who knows what the next succesful business to embrace the right model that could compete with the RIAA might be?

    BUT.... saying that the RIAA is doomed because their basic model is flawed is very much like Eric Raymond saying Microsoft is doomed. They *might* die in the long run. However, for the better part of OUR lifetimes I bet we're going to see these organizations exist in some form or other, and quite possibly in the dominant form they are now.

    I say this not so everybody gives up producing something better, just to remind those who were thinking "Whew! The RIAA _is_ going to fall" a little reality check. Any "new thing" is going to have to contend with the entrenched record industry powers, their mass media channeling, and their lawyers.

  • It seems that we already knew this. Promotion has become more important than quality. OK, well the study does tell us (me anyway) that this has been a long term trend, rather than my previous (unsupported ) feeling that it has only ocurred over the past decade, it appears to have extended over the past two deades, and perhaps a bit further back.

    As for te rest of the findings, I'm sure many of us had a gut feeling that such things were true, but it's nice to see them quantified


  • The article did state that it was weighted towards the older albums. Mainly, he was trying to identify the groups that have sold platinums year after year. If you look at just the leading sellers in one year, in music, movies, or books -- most of the time, five years later it's "what were we thinking." If the band broke up about 30 years ago and two of them are dead, but their recordings are still selling, then it's likely there was something like real quality...
  • by regexp ( 302904 ) on Saturday June 16, 2001 @07:49AM (#147221)
    This is not really what I would call a strong piece of data analysis. The author came up with a somewhat arbitrary ranking index, then cherry-picks within his data set to find individual bands that confirm his hypothesis. He then uses that confirmation to support his explanation of the mechanism for the phenomenon.

    The ranking index the author uses to measure long-term selling ability (millions sold x years aon the market) would weight an album that sold 1 million copies 5 years ago (and none in subsequent years) the same in long-term selling power as one that sold 2.5 million copies last year, 2.5 million copies this year, and will go on selling 2.5 million copies every year from now. Whether you agree with the conclusion or not, this is shoddy analysis.

  • I'll harp on G'N'R since I consider myself a "real fan"... It's pretty well known that the press hated G'N'R - the band based a whole album on the lies that reporters were priniting, going so far in one future song to NAME THE REPORTERS who were doing it, and ranting about "punks like Warren Beaty" at their stadium shows!

    Appetite was great, mostly because it was the right sound at the right time, and the band's image certainly helped sell the album. Then they came out with Lies, a decent album and a "must-have" for any true fan. Along came 1992, and they proceeded to go on a huge world tour to promote Use Your Illusion 1 and 2. Of course they were famous for filling stadiums and putting on a great show - but the real strength of the band at that point was in the albums themselves, UYI 1&2. To this day, I'm still trying to figure out from where they stole their songs (OK - Heaven's Door is a cover...). I can't believe that Axl et al. have the depth of thought to put together a song like Estranged - in short, both albums are timeless, not reflecting "the scene" of rock in any city, or of the early 1990s, or whatever. The songs sold themselves, and (in my unbiased opinion...) deserve true artistic recognition - they're not just pop rock (don't get me started on how Kid Rock whored the G'N'R sound and image). And then there were the videos that they made for UYI - also extremely well done considering how needless they were - like the extra stroke on a canvas that may just ruin a masterpiece, the videos came out OK.

    Then came "The Spaghetti Incident?", a punk album. Punk (almost by definition) lacks the constraints of dramatic composition, the hallmark of the UYI albums. Maybe the band just wanted a change from... *cough* putting effort into their songs, most likely they were just burned out at that point. To summarize, the only good song they've made since UYI is Sympathy for the Devil, a cover used in the Interview With the Vampire soundtrack that totally puts the Rolling Stones version to SHAME.

    To summarize, G'N'R's success and failure correlated with the quality of their work, and I don't think they're a good example of how promotional campaigns can make-or-break a band.
  • but this does not mean the music industry is going to die

    The way I understood the article he didn't say that at all. My translation:

    If Beatles were launched in 2001, they'd promote "Love me do" untill we puked, but "The White Album", Sgt. Pepper, and "Let it be" would never see the light of day.

  • Slightly offtopic, but I wanted to throw this small piece of information in to digest: I have a friend interning at BMG, and she said the majority of people there really have absolutely nothing against free music distribution, including the (almost now completely defunct) Napster. I couldn't completely understand her vague comments about this, but apparently a few people in her office actually have Napster on their machines (or at least are listening to music all the time :) ).

    The whole "Major 5 - Napster" dealie was apparently initiated by the Major 5 a long time ago, but she doesn't feel like "Napster has anything left". All the labels are concerned with, according to her, is "making sure the employees have enough money for bread on the table". She's generally against people who have tons of money (like CEO's) but many of the lesser workers there, including her immediate boss which she liked, were fired.

  • There's a couple of things the analysis left out because the data doesn't cover them - first, artists used to release albums a lot more than they do now. Back in the 60's a lot of them had to put something out every six months. This resulted in a lot of crappy albums with just one good song, but it also resulted in talented musicians like the Beatles getting better because the amount of studio work and songwriting they had to do pushed them to it.

    Second, the variety of what was played on 60's Top 40 was amazing - Tammy Wynette, Jimi Hendrix, Dean Martin and James Brown could be all heard on the same station! There were regional markets - a record that was a flop in New York could be a Top 10 hit in L.A. or Detroit. The suits that ran the record companies signed a lot of different acts because no one could be sure what was going to be the next big thing. A DJ might decide to play a B-side for the heck of it, and in weeks it could be a No. 1 hit. ("Ode to Billy Joe" Bobbi Gentry). Independent record companies loved this environment because it meant they had a chance of getting somewhere. The majors hated it because they had to sign a lot of acts and could never be sure which ones would hit as the market was so volatle. Some of the smaller labels like Liberty, Dot, Uni went broke or got bought up, because they didn't have a good clue as to what good rock and roll was. Others, like RCA and Columbia, coasted for a while until they figured out the new sounds and how to sell them. Companies like Atlantic and Warner Bros. knew what they were doing and cleaned up. It was a chaotic time for the business, but a great time for music. It was the period when singles stopped being so important and albums sales took off. It was a time when 2 or 3 track recording evolved to 16 track. Those companies who adapted survived - those that didn't, didn't. And from detractors of rock and roll to conservative A & R people to radio companies unwilling to experiment in the new FM band, a lot of people tried to reign it in or hold it back because they knew it threatened the way they knew how to do business.

    Today, we're seeing the exact same phenomenon - anyone can have a useful recording studio if they have a fast enough PC. Anyone can put that music out on the web and anyone can trade it - it's like having your own radio station that plays only what you want to hear or are curious about. Suddenly, independent and regional markets are back with a vengence - even a short listen to today's hit radio reveals a lot more variety then there used to be. Once again, it's harder to tell what the next big thing's going to be, and people are paying less attention to what the promotional machinery is telling them. Once again, the record companies are facing stiff competition from independents and (internet) media outlets that play what they want to, not what they're paid to.

    This is what the RIAA is really scared of. People have taped off the radio for years - but it was still stuff the companies were promoting. Now, they could be listening and buying to anything. And to them, that's dangerous.

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.