It All Started with the Walkman

Home taping is killing music.Former Too Much Joy frontman and current Rhapsody Music V.P. Tim Quirk has analyzed a bunch of Big Champagne’s filesharing data and presents a fascinating article: The Quiet Revolution. The most interesting part, to me, is where Quirk discusses “Tracks Per Fan” (i.e., “how many songs the average fan of a particular artist has in her library”):

Keep in mind that TPF is an average. So, while Bob Dylan has 3.64 tracks per fan, that means some folks have dozens of Dylan songs and some have only one. To put it in mildly embarrassing perspective: I have 423 Dylan tunes on my iPod, which means for every geek like me there have to be 159 people who only have “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (I originally typed “Like a Rolling Stone,” by the way, but the stats say “Knockin'” is in fact the most widely shared Dylan tune).

That spread of 159 normal people for every 1 completist hoarder suggests labels aren’t losing nearly as much as they claim. Or, rather, if they are it’s not because people are stealing songs they’d have purchased otherwise. It’s because people are no longer paying for songs they never wanted in the first place.

There are so many strange things about the data Quirk presents (Gucci Mane? Aventura?), but what it comes down to is that there’s a lot of room for the music business to turn casual listeners into bigger fans.

Below, I took at look at my own iTunes library to see what kind of music fan I really am…

So as of right now, my iTunes music library contains 17,367 total songs. I add about 50 or 60 new songs per week via my emusic subscription, ripping my CDs, and downloading promos. I’m obsessive about the music I love, so the number of tracks for my top artists isn’t really surprising:

1. The Beatles: 826 – This is kind of ridiculous. That includes my rips of the original 80s CDs, plus both the new mono and stereo remasters, the Anthologies, the BBC sessions, and a handful of bootlegs. Whatever.

2. The Mountain Goats: 260 – This surprises me. I don’t have any bootlegs or live shows. Just official releases. That’s a lot of stuff.

3. Neil Young: 239 – Neil is undercounted. Anything listed as “Neil Young & Crazy Horse” isn’t going to be there. Not to mention all the stuff on the Archives, the Buffalo Springfield box, etc…

4. Elvis Presley: 231 – And I haven’t even come close to ripping all of my Elvis CDs.

5. Elliott Smith: 226 – This (obviously) includes lots of live stuff and rarities.

Here are the next ten:

6. Wilco: 193

7. Johnny Cash: 189

8. Tom Waits: 187

9. The Smiths: 154

10. Beastie Boys: 147

11. Beck: 141

12. Liz Phair: 140

13. Bob Dylan: 131

14. The Rolling Stones: 127

15. Big Star: 117

No big surprises there. I have a total of 2,613 artists. Well, unique artist names anyway…

The thing that really surprises me was that of all those artists, 1,729 of them are only represented by one song in my library. This is shocking. Glancing at my list, there are some obvious clerical errors (such as having only one track by Cool Kids—the whole album is listed under The Cool Kids). But still! Two-thirds of the artists in my library have a personal TPF of 1.0. That blows me away. What am I, a teenager?

Overall, my average songs per artist is 6.6. Which is respectable, I suppose.

How about you? What does your personal TPF look? Do you consider yourself an album person or a single person? 33 or 45?

13 thoughts on “It All Started with the Walkman”

  1. There may be an easier way, but I exported my library and then imported that text file into an Access database, and then created a query that grouped by artist. I am, after all, a geek.

  2. Goes to show that for most listeners the Album format was never preferred. The way I look at it, the industry has been refussing to let go of the album format that made them so much money in the 60s and 70s. They pushed it even more with CDs. But in the past 25 years, how many truely great CDs are there with more than 12 tracks on them? Not many.

    The electronic music of today is a lot more like the pre album days. People want to buy individual songs (singles). But the industry won’t let it fucking go.

  3. I’m pretty OCD but even I wouldn’t think of exporting my song list to Access to count average tracks per artist! But I’ll guess mine is somewhere north of 10, because I always import albums in their entirety and I have relatively few artists with only one song in my library (soundtracks, various artists comps like the Help! benefits, etc.). Obviously I’m an outlier and not a typical 21st century music fan.

    Looks like my top 15 are:

    R.E.M.: 320

    The Who: 311

    The Beatles: 307

    Pink Floyd: 251

    Radiohead: 207

    Eels: 185

    Rush: 185

    Johnny Cash: 183

    Tom Petty: 179 (filed with Heartbreakers songs)

    Rolling Stones: 140

    Neil Young: 139 (filed with Crazy Horse songs)

    Matthew Sweet: 135 (includes the Between the Covers records)

    Midnight Oil: 135

    Wilco: 124

    Queen: 118

    Which suggests that the oldest bands are going to have the highest average TPF. Well, maybe. If Dylan’s TPF is 3.64, and the guy has recorded 10,000 songs (plus or minus), then maybe there’s a lot of browsers out there. I’ll have to check out that full article to see if there’s any older artists that tend to attract less browsers and more obsessives.

    Total tracks in library: 16,104.

  4. I knew Aventura–the NY-based, Dominican pseudo boy band that plays an “urbanized”, bi-lingual form of bachata (itself the Dom Rep.’s tropical, inner-city version of the blues)–was crossing over, but wow…

    Also, how does Liz Phair even have 140 songs?

    Scotty, I agree: most music consumers have never preferred the album. Let’s go back to the music biz’s golden era, in terms of revenue, the ’90s. For every music fan who owned 100, 250, 500, 1000 or more CDs then–or if you want to go back to the pre-CD era, vinyl albums–I would venture there were thousands of music consumers who owned less than 10, 15 albums; 25 tops. I don’t have the numbers but I have a hunch people who used to buy music on a regular basis still do, if on a much lower scale. It’s the casual 10-15 album buying music consumer that the industry has lost.

    Speaking of the ’90s, two of that decade’s trends I detested were: the more than 12 track album; and the filler-laden album whose singles were purposely not released to retail, in an effort to sell the equally crappy artist’s album. (Smashmouth, anyone?) But I still believe in the album format; it went from being a compilation of current singles and b-sides to an actual moment in time for the artist. Maybe I’m just a grouchy old fart, but I don’t think it bodes well for music if artists return to thinking in terms of individual songs and not albums. Then again, I guess we’re already there.

    Jake, I only buy individual songs by artists who I otherwise don’t care about or I need a tune for a last-minute DJing gig, otherwise I’m getting the album. Before digital downloading my main criteria for purchasing an album was I had to like at least 3 songs. I still try to adhere to that basic premise, so I guess I’m a 33 kinda guy.

  5. Those Liz Phair tracks include all her officially released studio recordings (incl. eps, b-sides, etc.) up through 2003, plus Girly Sounds, the “Phairities” boot, and a bit of miscellaneous Napster-era garbage.

    As for my 1,729 one-offs, I haven’t analyzed closely, but my guess is the bulk of those are from my Rhino box sets (Nuggets, Doo Wop, Soul, etc.) combined with free label samplers, iTunes “single of the week” stuff, etc. I also used to download (and keep!) lots of freebie mp3s from sites like epitonic back in the day.

    I should check to see how many of those 1,729 are damned with 1- or 2-star ratings.

  6. How many of you keep songs you don’t really like in you iTunes library? If a song comes on that makes me cringe, I delete it, although if it’s an artist that I normally like, I will keep the file on my hard drive as an mp3 so that whatever album it’s from is intact somewhere, but I don’t keep music I don’t really like in my library. Anyone else? Right now I have 26,911 songs in my iTunes library, but there are some duplicates there and a lot of stuff I haven’t listened to yet. I expect to whittle a lot of that away.

  7. I keep them, but I assign them a low rating (1 if don’t really like it; 2 if it’s just okay). Then I filter out the low-ranked stuff from the playlists that get synced to the iPod/iPhone.

    My justification for keeping them is that I might change my mind. Or I might forget why I hated something and need to be able to go back. I’ll delete lower-bitrate dupes, but I rarely delete bad stuff unless it’s REALLY awful.

    I think the last thing I actually deleted was that first Times New Viking album. Got the promo, and I was actually OFFENDED by how bad it was. It was recorded so loud that even at the lowest volume my iPod goes to, it still was just painful assault on my ears. (And this is coming from someone who loves the noisy primitivism of Crypt’s “Back from the Grave” series, and thinks that most of Nuggets is way too polished to truly count as garage rock.)

    Before that, it was probably Liz Phair’s Somebody’s Miracle.

  8. Jaimoe, I usually leave the drek in my ripped library, but prune them out when I transfer them to my mp3 player. I’ve got a 120 GB library but a 30 GB Zen so I have to be a little more selective. So, I’ll load My Morning Jacket’s “Evil Urges” onto my portable, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste space to include Highly Suspicious.

  9. I’m not sure what to deduce from TPF. The person with only one Dylan song may have every Zeppelin song and vice versa…people stealing stuff collect a lot of random shit. Did the study say how many total songs there were for every p2p participant?

  10. jake. listen to somebody’s miracle again. it took a while for me, but i’ve grown to like it very much. i’m a sucker for liz phair.

  11. Who ISN’T a sucker for Liz Phair, on some level at least?

    If you’re looking to quickly gauge your TPF in iTunes, couldn’t you just divide the number of items in your music library by the number of artists listed under the top (All) Artist selection? Doing this yielded 13.78 for me, which makes sense because not only am I an album guy, but if I find an album I like I tend to get at least another album by that artist, and often more.

    I suspect generally that TPF is a bit of a misleading statistic, though, because of those factors cited in this article, including compilation purchases, alternate credits (Cool Kids/The Cool Kids), plus how well you gather and then weed out the one-off tracks picked up over time. Interesting concept, though…

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