First Monday, a peer-reviewed Internet journal run by the University of Illinois at Chicago recently published an article entitled A Grateful Dead Analysis: The Relationship Between Concert and Listening Behavior which I found interesting.
Frequent readers will know that I’ve always believed the Grateful Dead provided a roadmap — twenty years in advance — for how the music industry should respond to the digitization of media, by changing business model emphasis from album sales to road touring, community building, and branded concessions. In fact, you could easily argue that the roadmap goes beyond music into publishing and information industries in general.
You might remember this post (Krugman on the Grateful Dead as a Business Model) where I reported with delight that Princeton’s Paul Krugman thought the same thing.
The First Monday article, however, isn’t about business models. Instead, it’s more of a study in community, comparing live concert vs. online listening behavior. Specifically, they took data from 1,590 live set lets across as 23 year period and compared it to 2.6M listening events from 2005 to 2007 on last.fm.
The extreme upper right of this plot is important as “Trucking” and “Sugar Magnolia” represent not only the most popular songs in terms of times played in concert, but in terms of times listened to on last.fm. “Trucking” is on 25 of the 90 released Grateful Dead albums and “Sugar Magnolia” is on 32 of those albums. Both “Trucking” and “Sugar Magnolia” were also well received publicly. “Trucking” reached position 64 in 1971 and “Sugar Magnolia” reached position 91 in 1973 on the Billboard pop singles charts. Also in this area is “Touch of Grey”. “Touch of Grey” was the only Grateful Dead song with an accompanying music video and in 1987, reached the top 10 Billboard single’s chart.
A fun excerpt from the middle:
It is interesting to note the songs “Saint of Circumstance”, “Victim or the Crime”, “Lost Sailor”, and “Greatest Story” in the bottom left of polygon B. All of these songs were created by the song writing duo of Barlow and Weir and sung in concert often by Bob Weir. While these songs were played extensively in concert, they received relatively little attention from last.fm users.
This is no surprise to Dead fans. I think many of Bobby’s songs — particularly the testosterone-filled ones — were viewed as a chance to give Jerry’s voice a break. I like when the data draws easily supported empirical conclusions.
Excerpt from the conclusion:
This article presented an analysis comparing the popularity of Grateful Dead songs as identified by both how many times they were played in concert and how many times they were listened to by members of the last.fm online music service. The results presented here indicate a strong, but not perfect, correlation between concert plays and fan listens. These results suggest that the music choices of its online community of listeners reflect very well the live concert tradition of the Grateful Dead phenomenon, even after their dissolution.
The complete article is here.