Bad data

I apologize in advance if my argument here is less cogent than it could be: I’m under extreme time constraints to crank out this post. That said, this is something I just can’t leave alone.

“The album is dead!” people seem to be lamenting. What people? Well, Nate Anderson at Ars Technica for one, and he comes bearing graphs.

But how useful are these graphs? Not very. As one (or more, actually) of the comments on the article notes, comparing singles to albums (to streams, even!) in terms of units is useless, since an album is typically made up of approximately 10 tracks. Meaning, buying a single vs. buying an album is not the equivalent of buying a Mac instead of a PC, or buying an apple instead of an orange. It’s buying one song instead of buying ten songs. But you’re still buying songs.

So… the chart showing 1,138 million singles, vs. a paltry 76 million albums, sold in 2009 — a harrowing comparison — would more accurately be represented as 1,138 million songs purchased as singles, vs. (approximately) 760 million songs purchased as albums, in 2009. Singles are still more popular than albums are, but the number of songs acquired as singles vs. as parts of albums is less than double.

Or another way to look at it, if you don’t like thinking about songs, is dollars. Most popular singles are selling on iTunes these days for $1.29, vs. $9.99 for albums. So you’re looking at $1,468 million in single sales, vs. $759 million in album sales. Again, about twice as many dollars spent on singles as opposed to albums. Maybe not good news for albums (I don’t know; it would be helpful to see what the trends in singles-vs.-albums sales have been over time), but certainly not the catastrophic disaster the Ars charts suggest.

One aspect of the story that is perhaps worth evaluating is how much of the concept of the album as an art form is being lost here. But again, honestly, the 3-hit-singles-and-7-tracks-of-crap model for pop albums has been around since (based on anecdotal evidence from my mom) at least the 1960s. That doesn’t mean all music follows that model, though, and it doesn’t mean that the fans of longer-form compositions or concept albums aren’t still buying albums.

Omphaloskepsis of the day: what have I been listening to?

There’s no surer way of driving away visitors than to spend too much time contemplating one’s navel. And yet, here I go…

I realized a few minutes ago that I had left iTunes turned on most of the day, even though I wasn’t around, playing through four “Rhino Hi-Five” greatest hits EPs, including three I had just purchased today: Gordon Lightfoot, Christopher Cross, Seals and Crofts, and the one I already owned, The Cars. (One of these things is not like the others.) Yes, that’s a triple dose of yacht rock. And I missed it.

Anyway, that realization led to another: that all of these excess plays that I hadn’t actually been listening to have ticked up both the songs’ play count in iTunes and their “scrobbled” totals on my profile. Oops. But contemplating that, I became interested in checking out a little bit more of the data has been compiling about my listening habits. In the beginning I only signed up with to handle automatic scrobbling, so my playlist could show up in real-time on this site. Cool, but the details you can dig up on the site itself go way beyond that.

The statistic I found the most interesting was the total number of plays of a given artist over various periods of time. And so, with that thrilling introduction, here are screenshots of my personal listening charts for the past 12 months, the past 3 months, and the past week.

Last 12 Months

Scrobbles - 12 months
What did I say about navel gazing? I’ve listened to my own music more than I’ve listened to artists #2 through #8 put together. Granted, that’s in large part because when I’m working on new music I tend to listen to the rough mixes over and over and over again, making adjustments, making new mixdowns, lather, rinse, repeat. But still… I listen to myself a lot. The rest of the list… yeah… those are the bands I thought I’d listened to the most, although I’m a bit surprised Genesis is so high up there.

Last 3 Months

Scrobbles - 3 months

And The Beatles take the lead! Not entirely surprising, given the intense interest generated by the new boxed set. I’ve listened to Beatles tracks 757 times in the past 3 months, but had only listened to them 17 times in the 9 months prior. The boxed set came out two months ago.

Then, of course, there’s good ol’ #14: Bobby (Boris) Pickett. The one-hit wonder who produced “Monster Mash” and an album full of other songs that all sound exactly like “Monster Mash.” I picked up that album for Halloween. I’m pretty sure all 48 of those scrobbles are from a 48-hour time period. No, I didn’t listen to a song an hour.

Also surprising on this list is #17: The Most Serene Republic. Surprising mainly because I had forgotten I even owned anything by them. This is one of the biggest downsides for me about digitally distributed music: it’s incredibly easy to acquire, and even easier to forget. I’m just lucky I haven’t accidentally double-purchased music this way. (That is, I assume I haven’t.)

And the last one worth noting: #20: Vince Guaraldi. The only album I have by him is A Charlie Brown Christmas. Is it too early?

Last 7 Days

Scrobbles - 7 days

It’s a shorter list, because apparently I’ve only listened to 17 different artists in the past week. And now, a realization, or more accurately, a recollection: scrobbles TV shows watched in iTunes or on the iPod/iPhone just like it scrobbles music. Hence The Venture Bros. tied for 15th place.

I’ve been on a Yes kick this week. I have not, however, been on a The Cars, Gordon Lightfoot, Seals & Crofts, or Christopher Cross kick. I did purchase those EPs today, but I haven’t even listened to each of them once. The scrobbles lie! iTunes was running all afternoon and early evening, but my speakers were turned off, and for much of that time I wasn’t even in the house.


Yes, there is a point! Internet log data does not equal the truth. Just because says I listened to this music, that doesn’t mean I listened to this music. What it really says is that my computer was turned on, iTunes was running, and it was processing these MP3s. Sending the music to speakers that weren’t turned on, for the benefit of ears that weren’t even in the room.

And if logs can be wrong about this, what else might they be wrong about?

At this rate, what is the RIAA going to have left to protect?

riaadevil.jpgI’ve already made my opinion of the RIAA known, but this latest development is truly unbelievable.

Apparently, the RIAA now feels that CDs you’ve ripped for your own personal use are unauthorized. What ever happened to the long-standing clause in copyright law that allows the holder of content to make up to five copies for personal use? What of the fact that it’s built right into the stupid DRM that the RIAA has forced Apple to implement on iTunes that you can put purchased music on up to five computers (and, implicitly at least, an unlimited number of iPods synced to those computers)?

It is patently absurd that any kind of legal case to this effect could be made in the current technological climate. According to the RIAA, just about everyone who owns an iPod (or a similar device) is a thief, even if they’ve paid for every single song on the device.

Well guess what: fuck you, RIAA. We are not thieves, we are your customers. But maybe we shouldn’t be.