Attention Music Marketers: Don’t Read This!

ashlee simpson.jpgI have to assume today’s teenagers are just as intelligent as the kids I grew up with. I know they’re far more worldly. The ones who read, read interesting books. Electronic games are hellishly complex and require rapid analytical skills. Even some of their favorite TV shows are pretty hip.

So why is this generation stuck with such horrible pop music? Science might have the answer, and it’s a depressing answer indeed:

A new study reveals that we make our music purchases based partly on our perceived preferences of others.

Researchers created an artificial “music market” of 14,341 participants drawn from a teen-interest Web site. Upon entering the study’s Internet market, the participants were randomly, and unknowingly, assigned to either an “independent” group or a “social influence” group.

Participants could then browse through a collection of unknown songs by unknown bands.

In the independent condition, participants chose which songs to listen to based solely on the names of the bands and their songs. While listening to the song, they were asked to rate it from one star (“I hate it”) to five stars (“I love it”). They were also given the option of downloading the song for keeps.

“This condition measured the quality of the songs and allowed us to see what outcome would result in the absence of social influence,” said study co-author Matthew Salganik, a sociologist at Columbia University.

In the social influence group, participants were provided with the same song list, but could also see how many times each song had been downloaded.

Researchers found that popular songs were popular and unpopular songs were unpopular, regardless of their quality established by the other group. They also found that as a particular songs’ popularity increased, participants selected it more often.

So, obviously, the trick to success in pop music is to create the perception that everyone else likes a song before anyone even hears it. That must be why payola is so hard to stamp out. You can’t count on songs rising on merit. Better to manufacture popularity than have to wait for it.

I know, payola ruled in my day, too. God bless the mobsters of 1967 who got the Young Rascals, Aretha Franklin, and the Doors to the top of the charts, is all I can say.

(This story came from

Update 2/10/06: I guess payola is alive and well.  See the post immediately above.


One thought on “Attention Music Marketers: Don’t Read This!

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