Music Needs Better Metrics

I’m not sure if people are really aware of how poorly the music industry works with metrics. While I’m sure major labels do provide revenue projections and other similar corporate goals, I’m also sure a major label does not consider all the available data before making a decision.

The argument might be that there is some “it” or “X” factor that makes something work, but that is simply not true.

Beyond making decisions, often times people in music turn to the charts for their sign of how an artist is doing. For those that don’t know there is a company called Soundscan that handles tallying up the albums purchased. They weigh the values in some cases depending on the music store, so something that sells well at Amoeba Records is going to have a bigger impact than if sells well in Boise. Presumably, this is a pretty decent metric based on actual sales. The problem is that it is easy for a label or band to take a few hundred copies to record stores, put them on consignment and immediately purchase them back. The seemingly quality metric of records sold is actually rather inconsistent because it doesn’t take in account the time or situation.

What I wish would happen is that bands could keep excellent records of everything they are doing. Everything could be recorded. At the end of the night some clubs give a rundown of who paid, guest list, expenses, advertising, hospitality, etc. All this kind of information should could end up in this system. It could also be cross checked by the venues and bookers putting on the shows. Then, you’d tie in the record store sales along side the time/date when the sales took place. You could also allowed weighting based on certain factors like the number of shows going on in town (if all the bookers used the system, this would automatic), other competing events, extreme weather, etc. If you were to analyze all these details I think they would reveal a much better picture of what a band is really doing in terms of getting new fans.

The nice thing about it is that with the right data, you could see a band doing well regionally and predict how they might do nationally. For example, if a band played 2 shows in an area and made a ton of sells, it might be an indicator the band has the chance to explode. Similarly, if the numbers reveal a slow build for a band, you could assume it might take longer to develop an artist, but that it is worth it for a long term market. When you have this sort of information, you might think twice about advancing the band hundreds of thousands of dollars to record a new record. You’d have a chance to establish a more realistic budget for where to spend money. It might be worthwhile to keep a band on the road and focus on tour press because they get fans playing live.

Other bands might be blog darlings where keeping a band in the studio is more beneficial. The metrics would never be 100% accurate by a long shot, but at the very least you could try.

The lack of bad metrics has surprisingly gotten worse with social media. Having a “fan” on Facebook is meaningless in terms of turning that relationship into something valuable, yet the number of likes is often considered a critical measure of an artist. The same situation happened with MySpace and the number of plays you had. The result is that you cheat. It is easy to find services to game the social networks and give yourself the best numbers. The sad thing is that the opportunities you get from positive social metrics are only going to result in false positives. The band with a million hits on their viral YouTube video might be given a large guarantee for a show, but if their “fans” that clicked a thumbs up don’t want to pay $12 to see some band play one song that was in a video on YouTube. You’re not getting “fans”, you just getting a click.

The online advertising business has started recognizing this problem and has turned to metrics to help argue the case that ads on the web do make sense. They are proving their value and providing a picture of what it takes to go from random stranger to customer. I don’t see why the music industry doesn’t take the same tact. Instead, it is as though they would prefer to fail over and over until they get that one “hit” rather than do a bit of research and see if their first impressions really do equate to value. It is sad really because it wastes the talents and hard work of a whole industry.

This is all not to suggest having fans on social networks is not important. I hope to use social networks to connect with our fans whenever possible. Social networks are a great medium to communicate things the band is doing or to spread new music. That doesn’t mean every click we get is a dollar in the bank. It is nothing more than a click.

But the 10 CDs sold at the show with 20 kids on a weeknight in Boise, ID? That might be a good sign the band is worth the time and money to support.