Music = Soul Food 20:34 on Tuesday

IP Democracy blog In a NY Times op-ed piece musician Damian Kulash writes the following about copy-protection hurting the artist [via IP Democracy]:

The truth is that the more a record gets listened to, the more successful it is. This is not just our megalomania, it’s Marketing 101: the more times a song gets played, the more of a chance it has to catch the ear of someone new.

I agree that copy protection is bad for the artist, but I’m not so sure of the given marketing advice. And that’s because music is like food.

Let’s have some background first. I’ve basically heard four reasons attributed to the decline of music sales:

  1. Piracy, especially “free” online piracy where teens trade music on P2P networks. For some reason battling the black-market, organized-crime CD piracy that allegedly funds drug smuggling and human trade is of not such vocal concern.
  2. Format radio. Those stations that are more interested in their share price than their share of interesting new music.
  3. Long Tail. As internet makes it easier for listeners to discover new music, they gravitate from the big name artists to the obscure and unknown.
  4. Crappy music. Well, it’s an opinion. (But one that’s true. ;)

All of these sound more or less feasible, but for this discussion number two is of interest. Format radios excel at playing the hit songs times and times again, day after day, many times every hour. Yes, the more times a song is played, the more of a chance it has to catch new listeners. At the same time those who hear the song for the 30th time get sick of it. If you eat the same food every day, eventually it gets dull.

In the marketing 101 vibe I would bring in the logic of supply and demand. Copy protection makes music less convenient for the listener, which lessens the value of the music. Getting played more and more times creates excess availability, which lessens the value of the music before it’s even bought — up to the point of consumers feeling the music is all around them and free for taking. Obviously neither of these is good for the artist.

There’s a golden middle road somewhere among exposure, exclusivity, availability and artists’ rights. If you find it, let me know.

2 Responses to “Music = Soul Food”


  1. Cynthia Brumfield Says:

    Niko, thanks for the link, but to be clear, the comment you attribute to me is actually a direct quote from an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times by a musician named Damian Kulash.

    Still I don’t disagree with Kulash (and I don’t entirely agree either :)

  2. Niko Says:

    Sorry about that! I’ve corrected the attribution now.