They Follow The Data

Data killed smooth jazz radio. When Arbitron employed Portable People Meters, when they could track what people were truly listening to on the radio, it turned out the filled-out diaries were wrong. People lied about what they were listening to. And once it turned out they weren’t listening to smooth jazz radio as much as they said they were, the stations flipped format.

The same thing is happening in music today. People have the idea that record companies are cultural institutions beholden to the arts, but the truth is they are businesses, beholden to the buck, just like you, who will shop at Amazon despite declaring that Wal-Mart hollowed out your city square. Turns out cash is the biggest motivator. And what is driving cash in music today is hip-hop and pop. Despite seeing reviews for jazz and rock and all kinds of genres in the newspaper, in the news, the truth is we now have listenership data on streaming services, and they’re anemic there. You can complain that fans of these sounds don’t stream, but their fandom is unquantifiable. It certainly doesn’t translate to sales, not in any tonnage, so those in the production business are going to follow the money, which is in streaming, which is in pop and hip-hop. These other genres will die because there’s not enough money in it, no one with marketing bucks, with cash on the line, will produce them. Big band music died, why can’t rock?

And it becomes a vicious cycle, the younger generation makes hip-hop and pop because that’s where the money is. That’s ALREADY happening. So other genres lay dormant, become stagnant, and then fade away to marginality.

Now this can all flip. But it requires innovation, excellence, a reaction from fans. Marketers, i.e. labels, will go wherever the cash is. If klezmer starts appearing in the Spotify Top 50, there will be a run on those acts. So, hip-hop and pop may not be forever, certainly not in their present forms, but what will replace them is not something from the past, but something brand new, maybe a mash-up of previous elements, and it will appeal to the youth, because they are the active consumers, streaming and going out to the show in prodigious numbers. So if you think you can make it with three chords and a guitar, with a mediocre voice and repetitious lyrics…

Think again.

“Here’s what happened the last time audio producers got better data”

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