In a recent work, we studied music listenership patterns of 1.3 million online users to measure the direct and indirect effects of live concerts on song plays. We observe social contagion for only a certain type of musician and discuss how it can affect the music market.
The Internet has fundamentally reshaped music and other cultural markets. The ubiquity of music in the digital world had been presciently predicted by David Bowie who envisioned the future of music as something akin to running water or electricity. And indeed, we are now one tap-of-the-finger away from almost any music track that we want to listen to—at almost no cost. This is a remarkable departure from a time when most music had a physical embodiment in the form of records, tapes, CD’s, or even MP3 players. Today, music is in the air.
An important question now is how does this revolutionary change affect the music market? More precisely, how are musicians supposed to make money? A rather straightforward answer is through live events and concerts, but is the revenue of a concert or tour limited to exclusively ticket sales and broadcast revenues? It has been argued that live events stimulate secondary and indirect sources of revenue by growing the musician’s fanbase, which itself leads to more sales.
In this work, however, we find evidence that music listenership can be contagious. Namely, a live event not only can increase listenership among people who attend the event, in certain cases, it can “infect” the non-attendee listeners who are in the social proximity of concert attendees. The contagion however is complex, meaning that its dynamics are not defined by the structure of the underlying social network. We show that the fame of the musician plays an important role in moderating the size of the contagion.
While the increase in listenership of fans who attended a concert is about the same no matter the type of artist, the secondary effect on non-attendees is much larger for well-known artists as compared to emerging stars (the so-called “hyped” artists).
Putting it simply: if my friends attend a concert featuring a band that I am likely to know—let’s say Metallica—it is likely to increase the number of Metallica songs I listen to just after the event. But if a band is less popular (and perhaps I have not heard of them), there is no such secondary effect.
The additional income that the social contagion can bring for a typical concert, according to our most conservative estimates can be as much as a few thousand dollars per event. But as this additional income can only be recovered by the most established artists, a rich get richer mechanism holds, further increasing the existing inequality in the market.
In the era of Myspace, it was widely believed that the Internet is democratizing the music industry. We may need to rethink such a conclusion; considering how social influence can create avalanches of attention and revenues for bigger names at the expense of other, less well-known artists, the Internet might not be so egalitarian after all. While there is certainly an unparalleled opportunity for new artists to make their work available to the world via such platforms as SoundCloud, they may have difficulty being heard over the songs of the well-established, big-name musicians.
The modelling paradigm that we adopted in this work is abstract enough to be applicable to other collective behaviour in online media. Political engagement, participation in public good actions, and the spread of (mis)information are a few examples. How social media can affect these “markets” via social influence and contagion is among the most important questions facing computational social scientists today.
A paradoxical advantage of studying online systems is that the very same technology that is reshaping our personal and social behaviour generates unprecedented amount of data that can be utilized to study the very same changes. And this may be what makes Social Data Science the fastest growing field of research today.