Vinyl, Cassettes & Retail

Does The Music Industry Spend Its Own Money On Music? [SURVEY RESULTS]

image from guest post is by David Chaitt of SoundCtrl.

Intro: Two Mondays ago, I left work early with a migraine. After a long shower and a nice nap, I woke up completely in a daze like any time I nap. I was in the mood for something laid back. At that moment I got an email that Sigur Ros was doing a "Cyber Monday" email blast to promote the various package options for their new live DVD/album Inni. I made the impulse buy and dropped $58 on the Vinyl/DVD package as a nice early Chanukah gift for myself.

Since I'm not directly in the music business anymore, I wondered if any of music biz cronies would have done the same (the act of spending their own money on music), so I crafted a survey and sent it off to almost 500 people. From my friends directly and those who my friends passed it on to, I received 128 responses (some wrote novels and others wrote quick one word answers).

The Survey:

  • How many albums did you purchase in 2011: 0, 1, 2-5, 6-10, 10+
  • How many concerts did you pay for in 2011: 0, 1, 2-5, 6-10, 10+
  • Do you use Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, other music streaming platforms? If so, which do you use the most?
  • Did you purchase a premium subscription to Spotify, Pandora, rdio, or other music streaming platform? If so, which?
  • How many albums did you illegally download in 2011: 0,1,2-5,6-10,10+
  • Are you a: musician, blogger/writer, manager, producer, agent, radio, music startup, independent publicist, label rep, publisher, venue rep, promoter, festival rep, entertainment lawyer, or other.
  • Optional questions:
    • Main reason(s) for buying the album (I couldn't find it on is a valid answer)
    • Main reason(s) for paying for the tickets (I couldn't get on the guest list is a valid answer)

I could have immediately set up a Google Survey to make it more efficient to get people's answers. However, part of me is extremely glad I left it open ended for people to answer with complete freedom rather than multiple choice. Like commerce for any art form it's hard to put a dollar sign on the final product, so the flexibility in people's answers allowed them to tell their story and the full justification for their purchasing habits (if any at all).

Demographics:  Similar to any survey I've ever done, I tried to make the pool of surveyors diverse. Below are two charts conveying gender and occupation.


Occupationclick on images to enlarge

A few initial insights (before I reveal the results):

  • The people that offered the most information were the ones who were interested in finding out the results (which included the optional questions).
  • The gender ratio seems on par with the industry on whole (1 in 5 are women)
  • The responses by occupation seem to make sense. Musicians wanted to tell people they bought music, so others would be guilty. Writers want to convey that they'd buy more music if they didn't get so many promo copies. (Good) managers and people from music startups nerd out to these sorts of experiments, so they'd make time to answer.
  • I regret posing the question as downloaded illegally instead of albums you have that you didn't pay for since a lot of people share music through hardrives, data discs, and USBs.

Random Quotes:  A few interesting responses to these 3 questions (anonymous on purpose):

  • "I don't buy music. I rent."
  • "It's tasteless to download music illegally"
  • "I've never downloaded music illegally, but friends send me music all the time"
  • "Label people specifically are known to never buy any music."
  • "I'd guess more like 100+; I do not steal any music"
  • "The music industry can at times be its own worst enemy."
  • "This survey is going to be a bit biased because a big perk about being in the music industry is that you get music and concert tix for free!"


Now here's the main chart that compares album purchases, concert tickets, and illegal downloads across everyone who answered the survey:

Main-chartclick on image to enlarge

Labels:  In regards to label folk not buying music, I went into the raw data and found out that 70% of label surveyors bought 2-5 albums and 30% bought 10+. In addition, The polar album purchases lead me to two interesting thoughts:

A. A % of the 2-5’s are actually lying. They’re saying 2-5 when it’s really 0 or 1 and they’re ashamed of it because their life is selling music (in some shape or form) to others. Most of those same people give me funny looks when I say I paid for this album or that concert (especially with concerts).

B. 10+ are probably telling the truth and they’re proud of it because all of them (and I mean all) answered the optional questions and listed karma and/or supporting art as their answers for why they pay for albums.

In addition, Only 4 people paid for premium accounts (2 rdio, 1 Daytrotter, and 1 Mog), but 70% of them admitted to using Spotify frequently. The truth is that the publishing for streaming services doesn't pay much forward to the artists. However, I can't say for sure whether or not that has something to do with their usage or premium purchases, but these % do seem to be in line with greater societal adoption of these services.

What is Illegal:  As I mentioned earlier, I should have asked about acquiring music through illegal means instead of just downloading illegally. There is a clear difference between the two; the latter is obviously worse. People will usually see the legal gray area in anything and give themselves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to what constitutes legal and illegal. However, I won't deny that I broke the law this year. I could make excuses, but at the end of the day, I have music I didn't pay for that didn't come directly from the artist, label, or management. This broader definition of my initial question leaves me to believe that 90% would be a more accurate % for the people who answered the survey that have illegal music.

Albums vs Concerts:  As the chart indicates, people were extremely polar for albums purchases, but more evenly distributed for concert purchases. In regards to concerts specifically, there is stigma towards buying tickets. However, more often than not, I'll pay for a concert before I buy an album and the industry chart seems to agree with me (because for every person who paid for 0 shows, there is 1 people who paid for 20). For me, concert is the true test of an artist and I value it more, so it's completely ridiculous ideology that the industry has perpetuated. However, I won't deny asking to be added to the list more often than not, which leads me to my theories on…

Optional Questions:  75% of surveyors answered the optional questions. However, it is my theory that the most honest people were the ones who not only answered the optional questions, but how they answered it. An easy answer was to say that you want to support the artist. People who said karma, owning music for a collection, helping professional musicians continue making music (or something similar to that), or impulse buying (which was what lead me to my "Inni" purchase), were probably telling the truth and most likely are more conscious of the toxic relationship the industry has with itself.

Also, the funny thing about paying for concerts, is that 41% of people said they paid because they didn't get on the list. On the hand, 20% of the people said they didn't ask to be on the list to begin with because it was just easier to pay. I definitely believe this is accurate. More often than not people in the music industry will try to get on the list because it a testament to how connected and influential they are. Also, there is a ridiculous stigma towards paying for concerts.

My Answers:  I paid for 6-10 albums this year and 10+ concerts. I use Spotify on my computer, but don't pay for premium. I use Pandora and Daytrotter on my iPhone. I've downloaded well over 10 albums, but that has curbed since Spotify launched over the summer. I pay for these things because I believe in what a musician creates, want them to continue doing so because it's special (to me), and I saw the value in the price. Examples of my purchases this year were: Sigur Ros album, Tom Waits album, Bela Fleck concert, and a Stephen Malkmus concert.

(Stop being) Your Worst Enemy aka Conclusion : The industry should be supporting each other. Similar to a good chunk of people in the survey, I believe that there is a karmic aspect to the world, so the industry shouldn't expect consumers to spend money on anything that they don't pay for themselves. You don't see painters asking for free sculptures or chefs asking for free dinners; both of those industries gladly pay and respect innovation and skill of the craft.

I'm not saying that everyone in the world should be paying for 10+ albums/concerts. That'd be ignorant and naive. However, the music industry economy could be healthier if the industry itself honored the art more with their own wallets.

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