Drowning? The iTunes Store Now Has 28 Million Songs

The content glut keeps getting worse, not better, and this is now a very serious challenge for artists of all levels.

Because even musicians that make incredible music are finding themselves drowned, undiscovered, and frustrated by statistics like these.

“We now have a catalog of over 28 million songs and 45,000 movies…”

Apple chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer during the company’s quarterly earnings call on Tuesday.

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A figure like 28 million is almost impossible to conceive.  But it would now take a human being more than 266 years to complete the entire iTunes collection front-to-finish, or approximately three lifetimes.  Of course, very few music fans are plunging the depths of obscurity to this level, meaning that the winners are typically those that have the luck, resources, and talent to land plum promotional slots on the iTunes splash page (or pages).  Or, more likely, the blessings of a broader push that includes things like major terrestrial radio (yes), a major artist collaboration, or a great touring slot (festival or otherwise).

Which of course means that most artists are not cutting through, based on simple mathematics.  But while most musicians lose money on iTunes, Apple is now generating mini-ransoms on the service.  “The iTunes Store generated all-time record results with revenue of almost $1.9 billion in the March quarter, an increase of 35 percent year-over-year, thanks to continued strong sales of music, video and apps,” Oppenheimer continued.

But this also represents a huge challenge – and opportunity – for music startups and services.   Because there’s simply way too much stuff!   Which starts to explain Spotify’s push towards app-based curation, Pandora’s insistence on limited collections, X5’s clever approach towards SEO and digital packaging, and constant angling by discovery-oriented startups like Moodagent and Soundrop.

But perhaps artists are struggling with the most complicated riddle of them all.  And the sad reality is that the next Jimi Hendrix is probably now buried in a pile of 28 million, statistically doomed to a life of obscurity.

Written while listening to The White Album.

31 Responses

  1. Simple math?

    I will never really listen to country, rap, folk, oldies or classical. That’s got to be at least one lifetime worth of music. If everything goes into different buckets based on genre it may not feel like drowning so much.

  2. Really?

    I’m confused. Was this article written to complain about there being too much accessible music on iTunes? Or that only certain artists get the chance to be promoted on the platform?

    I may just be tired, but this seemed like a waste of words.

  3. Why

    Why can’t iTunes be more like Target or WalMart? Just a shelf or two of THE HITS. You don’t need any more music to buy.

    No, iTunes should be more like Best Buy! With 10,000 copies of Chinese Democracy gathering dust on an endcap!

    Actually, iTunes should be more like your local record store, if you still have one. Full of hipster losers hawking seven inch vinyl singles by bands you’ve never heard of because they suck.

  4. Big Swifty and Associates

    A person could use his own judgement and opinion (or maybe the opinion of a friend that hasn’t steered them wrong in the past) to determine which product to buy. But that is so old technology.

    Or, they can let marketing firms tell them which product best reflects their “individuality.”

  5. madktc

    Its going to be simply impossible to get any type of exposure without a multi-headed major label approach.

    Even with a wildy successful single (Midnight City), a-basically-sold-out world tour, two huge syncs, 400,000 fans on facebook (a 100% increase over a year ago) and widespresd critical acclaim the band M83 still stands on the outside of mainstream music.

    Paul is right, the ocean is vast and a lot of this has to do with Garageband and Logic over distribution solutions like iTunes.

  6. Bruce Willis

    Oh. My. God. Someone please call the UN and ask for an urgent conference this week. There is too much music on iTunes. Too much music on a dedicated music store with a dedicated backend and infastructure.

    The irony of the tech blogs supporting the piracy industry with the moto “there is not enough music available in the stores”…

  7. Wampus

    “Buried in a pile of 28 million”? That’s better than being lost in the middle of nowhere (see 20th century) with no hope of reaching a global niche. Much better.

  8. Colorado Goat

    we are certainly fast approaching the era when we will each listen to a unique soundtrack for our lives, with little or no overlap. I bought 2 non-Colorado full length releases last year. I attended exactly 1 show of a non-Colorado act. Of course, I’m different … My business model is built on specializing in the music that comes from Colorado. Easier to deal with 500 releases a year from one of 3500 acts, than the long tail of iTunes.

    Long live local music

    • Tone

      Not all the time but I definitely buy albums for artists that need the support. I’m happy to shell out $9.99 for an awesome album by an indie artist.

      • PointMisser

        You should endeavor to buy it directly from the artist if you want to support the artist – most artists makes pennies from iTunes.

        • Versus

          Indeed. As I recall, Bandcamp is the “store” which gives the largest cut to the artist…


    • Colorado Goat

      I just bought a 1964 live recording of the Astronauts on iTunes this morning … not available on Amazon.

  9. ZOG

    From a pure business view point, $ 1.9 billion is more then some majors make in a year and artist get paid.

    For all the flax Apple has taken for the last 10 years concerning I-Pods / ITunes it has been successful on creating a platform for artist to get there music out there.

    Now Apple only has to work on the sound which sucks!!!!!!!!!!

  10. WILL

    Getting on a premium promo page would be akin to getting your single on the shelf of HMV or Tower 15 years ago. In effect there is some form of gatekeeper still in play here and only a song with buzz around it will get there.

    Being able to port your music across multiple stores with an aggregator means absolutely nothing. It’s no achievement as any band can do it. I’d say one lifetime would go on the DIY longtail alone.

  11. dangude

    People who care about music will find it, those who don’t care will buy guided there by marketing people. Meanwhile, I still can’t buy Mahavishnu live in Cleveland ’72 thanks SONY!

  12. Anon

    I’m completely disagree with this premise. The next Jimi Hedrix will not toil in obscurity because iTunes has too many songs. Great art is undeniable, and ultimately finds it’s audience.

    • Soniquarium Muzika

      I agree!

      All this site does is bash digital this and that. Most the people who post on this site are non-selling artist and wana be Artist/labels.

      Itunes is the only true store for digital download on the level of “top notch”. Their world wide presence, their credable products, from Iphones, to Ipads, to Computures, et all who make it easy for one to click, review and download.

      So far, no one has been able to compete with Apple. I’m all for free market competition, so bring it on. Show me a product that is better than Itunes with world brand reconigtion.

      At one time I sold tracks on 100 plus digital stores world wide. Now I only sell on Itunes. There are plenty of reasons why.

      And I shall stay exclusive to Itunes until something worth wild comes along.

  13. @katonahdc

    As if cutting thru the clutter weren’t hard enough already.

  14. @ScottLeGefre

    Whoa. Is saturation a challenge (and hidden opportunity) or dispiriting?

  15. @OllyJRobinson

    “It would take a human being more than 266 years to complete the entire iTunes collection front-to-finish”

  16. Soniquarium Muzika

    My catalog does well on Itunes. It is a little different than when we pressed vinyl years ago, a release a month 12 release with two tracks on them. I say we will break about 30 releases this year.

    Sales are increasing month over month.

    So, it’s all in building a fan base. Google music is allowing anyone to release their tracks, all you have to do is pay 25 bucks to open your account.

    At least when Itunes signed me as an artist and Label owner, they had quality control. I signed directly to Itunes so pay out is far more than what Tunecore, Ingrooves et all pay their “clients”.

    Problem is, anyone can sign up for Tune Core and get the music out. No quality control.

    Rumors are, soon, Itunes will be removing labels who do not sell. Just like Beatport did when they removed 1000s of labels and artist from their site.

    I’m for this move on Itunes behalf. Let Spotify take the left overs…and removed labels.

    • wallow-T

      On the suggestion that Apple/iTunes might remove music from the store if it “doesn’t sell”: what’s the threshhold for “doesn’t sell?”

      Back in the day, the Velvet Underground sold something like 5000 copies of their albums, but as the saying goes, everyone who bought one started a band.

      (But I’m happy, I wallow in classical/folk/roots/world and those fields have adequate curation. Generic rock/pop bands, not so much…)

  17. Just A Fan

    Its absolutely relevant that theres all this content that is so accessable because it has totally changed how the average person consumes and values music. The reality is there are lots of people who are willing to create and sell new music with f*&k-all hope of turning a profit. And its not just new music competing with new music… nostalgia, retro, oldies and ‘collectible’ recordings can be had with the click of a mouse instead of driving around town looking thru stores. In the world of supply and demand, supply has exponentially exploded and that means something to the economics of selling music.

  18. Remove Labels?

    I doubt iTunes will ‘remove labels that do not sell’ I doubt, in fact, that there are any ‘Labels’ that have not sold one download on iTunes.

    iTunes may (and should) remove releases that have never sold, in the past 5 years or whatever, that would make sense.

    My label has over 70,000 tracks on iTunes and a big chunk of those (70-80%) have sold at some point in the last 5 years.

    Some albums sell one track a month and some do 50-100 a day.

    If the entire 28 million behave like my catalogue, then iTunes should continue as they are and head towards 50 million…

  19. Versus

    It’s the old quality vs. quantity debate, only more so. Find the happy balance between variety and the deeper relationship to your favorite music that only comes from repeated listening.

    – Versus

  20. @jacksontalent

    This is why curation is so important when it comes to music online!

  21. @wmpstudios

    “It would now take a human being more than 266 years to complete the entire iTunes collection..”

    That’s a great fact! Love it!