I moderated a panel at the Bandwidth Music Conference on Friday that had all sorts of bon mots and wisdom, but one bit in particular jumped out from my notes. Tim Quirk, the General Manager of Music Content and Programming at Rhapsody, described the three stages of figuring out what people want in music:
- Airplay Charts: "Measure what people are being fed."
- Sales Charts: "Measure what people are eating from what they're being fed."
- Usage Charts: "Measure what, from the music people can listen to, they listen to the most."
Now that people can listen to nearly anything, the third of these is the really important one. It reflects a metric that's only become available with digital distribution. What's on your iPod? What do people replay? What are they sharing? These are the metrics that really matter. Now, perhaps for the first time in history, we can measure the real shape of demand, and thus the real shape of music culture. And it turns out that it's not what we thought it was in the Top 40 era.