The Average Person Can Only Name Between 10 and 20 Artists

Actually, people aren’t listening to more music than ever before in history, at least according to these experts.  Which is strange, because there’s more music available to more people, through more channels and at a cheaper price than ever before.  “In reality, people aren’t spending more time or more money on music than they used to,” said Live Nation Labs head of product, technology, and design Ethan Kaplan during the opening panel at SF Musictech Summit on Tuesday.

“So it’s trending lower.”

Ty Roberts, chief technology officer at one of the largest companies in digital music, Gracenote, took things a bit further.  “We do have an issue, in America and the world, which is that the average person today knows a lot fewer artists,” Roberts assessed. “The average person knows between 10 to 20 artists, that’s it.  There used to be a time when that was 40 artists.”

This isn’t based on a statistical sample, and Roberts noted that this is more anecdotal than scientific data.  Then again, consider the source: this is a music technologist who’s been monitoring endless streams of usage, data, behaviors and stats since the 90s.

“The message of ‘lots of different artists’ is lost upon [today’s listener], and they’re losing track of what artists are important to them faster.”

But how could there be more music flooding our ears, yet suddenly less engagement in that music?  Kaplan took things a step further by pointing to, well, everything else that’s also flooding us.  “Think about it logically,” Kaplan told Digital Music News.  “In 2013, the difference between a friend and a band is inconsequential in terms of how it’s represented on your screen.  So, if you look at the media landscape in terms of how we engage with media, it’s all self-normalizing at this point. Friends on Facebook, music, something on Reddit, a video, it doesn’t have any difference.”

“It’s harder to drive loyalty to anything that isn’t differentiated from anything else.”

Which means, more stuff and far shallower engagement with that stuff.  “It’s an issue just because of the exponential growth of media at your fingertips,” SoundHound vice president Katie McMahon told us, while pointing to the relative non-use of endlessly-downloaded apps on our phones, iPads, or whatever as one example.

The same seems to apply to all that music we could easily listen to, but don’t.

18 Responses

  1. Visitor

    I agree with much of this but I am calling BS on the 10-20 artists statistic.

  2. Seth Keller

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve always said the industry needs to differentiate between music fans and people who like music. Most fall into the latter category. The true “music fans” who seek out new music and new channels to find it are a small sliver of the overall population.

    With a wife, extended family and a lot of friends not in the music business, I have plenty of anecdotal evidence to back this up. The most recent example is a friend who said after watching the Grammys: “I like Fun. I didn’t know who they were but knew their songs [from radio/pandora]. What’s their story.?”

    Pretty typical. Most casual music listeners know songs but not artists.

  3. @mattadownes

    We have more choices than we had even 10 years ago. Some kids only listen to the music that’s put on their video games. I imagine if they went to all library music some kids would listen to almost no music at all.

    More sports, more movies, more entertainment optins than ever and not enough hours in the day to possibly consume it.

    I can’t imagine what will happen in 10 years when we have more options and the artist pool is even deeper.

  4. n' Stuff

    Ty is dead on and I’d say 20 is generous. Step outside of the bubble, ask yourself:

    how many beers can you name?

    how many wines can you name?

    how many designer brands do you know?

    how many TV channels do you know about?


  5. Punctilious Contrarian

    Ethan, please build something.

    Thank you.

  6. Live Inflation

    Ethan seems like the worst example of a pontificator who has somehow talked his way into a senior postition with no real accomplishments. Perhaps his REM blog (from many years ago) qualifies him for something, but I don’t get his supposed relevance.

  7. Visitor

    “There used to be a time when that was 40 artists.”

    Anything to back that up or is it just wild speculation?

  8. lifer

    Geez, You can’t just throw out specific numbers and then say but it’s just anecdotal and it is ok cuz he “be da man.” He has experience so he can make shit up? WTF. Same with the Dead Kennedy’s guitarist.

  9. advertising

    …and the result is, it all comes down to big budget promotional ability. Ironic that the so-called superfan actually enabled the sucess of the necessary push of big-grossing music. Can’t make money on a smaller new-music act (remember punk? early hip hop? electronica? etc), but if you scale it up, you can still make bank.

    Same thing for movie sequels, huge hollywood 3D Imax explosion fests…

    Everything, everything has become big business — music, art, books, coffee shops, yoga, radio…

  10. hippydog

    Quote :” “The average person knows between 10 to 20 artists, that’s it. There used to be a time when that was 40 artists.””

    I have no clue if the numbers are even close to reality, as others have said “anecdotal”


    I do agree with the idea..

    We all know, once a label and radio finds a hit artist, they will attempt to reproduce that “sound” again and again until its run into the ground.. The big culprits used to be country music, but now I see the same thing has happened across all genres..

    There is a ton of great new music out there.. its just not being found by the public.. the most likely thing to blame is ‘radio’.. it just plays the same five artists again, and again..

  11. Older music vet

    I have been in radio professionally since 1976 as a program director, music director and on-air announcer. I have been a professional musician (meaning I’ve gotten paid .. somtimes enough to live on) since 1970. I have been a talent consultant and/or buyer, as well as a venue manager and soundguy since 2000. I either produce or help produce three music festivals and I’ve spoken the university level on these subjects and more. I also currently am a regional record promoter and artist consultant/manager. I hope that is enough cred to substantiate that I agree with the premise as stated. I’ll say that most people cannot name 20 acts, that most people prefer classic rock/classic hits cover bands to original acts, and that the market valuation for live music is about 1% of local population.

    I write a monthly live music promo for a local venue. I’ve been doing this sort of thing since 2001 on contract for various venues in my area. In the promo material when I list a band I typically list also an “If You Like” section. I’ve asked many patrons the past year about that and with the exception of established nationally/internationally well known acts, most people say they know no more about the acts I list in the “If You Like” section than they do the local act performing.

    I don’t have scientific data to back up what I see – but being in the business and making my sole living at it for as long as I have I think I have a pretty good grasp of what people know etc. Fact is, most people know almost nothing – and it’s getting worse the more music we have in the system.

  12. Jeff Robinson

    ‘Self-normalizing’ is a dead-on concept. Hilarious reality.

    How many of you also drool when you use your computer?

    The internet lobotimizes the masses. McLuhan anyone?

  13. Z Curtis

    This story does not reconcile with my listening habits of the past several years at all.

    I listen to more music from a more diverse array of artists. Sources include the much-vilified Pandora, Spotify, and Facebook … soundcloud, twitter, etc. blogs …

    rarely do I consult MTV, which came as close as anyone to being able to dictate tastes … must say I *still* miss the MTV of the 80s, 90s …..

  14. Visitor

    It was wildly inappropriate to make the assertion that the average person only knows 10-20 artists, yet have no source to back that up. If he had said “the average person knows fewer artists today than they knew 20 years ago,” fine. Ty (and the other panelists) should have done research before making these statements at a Music Tech conference.

  15. Danwriter

    As the owner of one of the 60 or so recording studios in Williamsburg once told me, bands used to come in every few months to cut new tracks. Now, he say, the musicians come in every month and they’re all in different bands every time. It’s hard to ask fans to keep score when the teams keep changing.

  16. jw

    What’s beautiful about this modern age is that people can choose what they’re into & they can be as into it as they want. If you’re into sports, you can get more news and numbers and history than you could ever consume. Same with music, same with movies, same with video games, books, politics, etc. Everything is niche, in the sense that you pretty much have to make choices now. And people within those niches are more knowledgable than they ever have been because they have more access. And people outside of those niches are less knowledgable than they ever have been, because they don’t make the choice to navigate what’s out there, & things are no longer fed into a single stream.

    So what you’re saying here isn’t the whole story. People are both listening to more music and less music than ever before.