Too Much Choice Overwhelms More Casual Fans

image from farm5.static.flickr.com I've written extensively about how abundant musical choice may not always be a good thing for fans. This video by Sheena Iyengar, one of the leading researchers in choice theory and author of the now famous jam-study, makes a point about the difference between novice and expert users.

In music, casual fans may find too much choice overwhelming while more involved fans have an easier time eliminating options. It's hard to say how vast the chasm is between casual fans and experts. But aren't we all novices most of the time and susceptible to the symptoms of choice overload? Take a look:

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  1. the problem of filtering all of the music will only get worse. i think the most staggering statistic was the difference in albums released in 1999 compared with 2009. if i remember correctly, 1999 saw ~14,000 albums released, while 2009 saw ~110,000 albums. pretty overwhelming to me!
    it’s reasons like that why i wanted to start rank ’em ( http://gorankem.com ) so prospective fans wanting to embrace a new artist could lean on the collective knowledge of the existing fanbase. we call it the ‘wikipedia for music discovery’ as the resource should grow stronger as more & more fans share their personal favorite songs from each of their favorite bands.
    always interested to hear a/b this dynamic in consumption. thanks for sharing, kyle!

  2. Adam, it’s not really surprising that there are so many albums. In most digital stores, your visibility is directly related to one of 3 things: the newness of your album, the number of albums you have, or your marketing machine. And more is better from a SEO perspective. What you look or sound like isn’t really one of the main criteria.
    I think music search has a *long* way to go and the music industry is making it even harder by boxing itself into huge databases with everything in it. I don’t think a music wikipedia will work for the masses. Most people won’t join a network just to find music. It’s too much work.
    In any case, even if you know what you want to find, it can be really difficult to find a song or band. For example, I was surfing the TV the other day and this band came on in between some club songs I already knew and I was not really listening but by the end I was hooked. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the band name or the song name, or even the lyrics. The next day, I went to find this band online. All I had to go on was: the image from the video, the sound, a foot drum, a banjo, and an acoustic bass, and that I saw it on TV on a particular day. It was on TV, how hard could it be?
    I swear it was damned near impossible. I tried looking at MTV, searching for the unique band configuration, the foot drum, blue grass, country, were they Irish?! (I don’t even know what genre it was!) the instrumentation. Nothing. I looked in the film database, trying to find the clips on the show I thought it was on. Nothing. It wasn’t even the right show, turns out. I went to the TV websites looking for the videos played the previous day. Apparently, no one keeps that information on their website. I did image searches. Nothing. Seriously, this is what music fans are up against! I finally found the song by finding the right TV channel and waiting for it to come on again. It turned out to be Mumford and Sons. Brilliant music. Once I knew the name, it was easy to find online, but if you don’t know the name of what you’re looking for, it’s really, really hard.
    There’s a ton of basic descriptive, image, emotive, and temporal data that’s important for music discovery that isn’t being recorded anywhere in any coherent fashion and it certainly can’t be searched or casually browsed by a fan.

  3. I totally agree with Adam — abundance is not the problem — it’s discovery. I think having tons of left-handed metal bands from Japan is great, for fans of that music. More IS better. Finding it is the real problem. Systems will keep getting better at recommending music for a particular listener’s taste and it will be better for everyone — the listener, the artists and the industry at large.

  4. Interesting thoughts. More can be better I guess but it does make finding anything (and more especially anything ‘new’ that you just might like a bit tricky. Sure it is easy to trawl through piles of sites and profiles or internet radio stations to find new stuff but frankly if I hear too much more ‘badly produced in a central european bedroom’ dance music I’ll go mad!
    Re Cathleen’s point about trying to find Mumford and Sons without knowing who they were…oddly I knew who she was talking about before I read the name in the post. Strange! They are English and largely south London based by the way.
    Given that finding stuff is so hard and in my ‘other life’ I am very much into sales and marketing, I can’t resist plugging my own music at http://www.reverbnation.com/chrisbutler If you like the Mumford’s sound you may just like Fly the Flags and my version of The Green Fields of France
    Cheeky I know 🙂

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