Positive externalities in music appreciation

Duncan Watts et al. recently described an experiment on music appreciation, to detect the influence of visible top-charts. They conclude that people declare prefering tracks when many other have appreciated it. Many things have been written about it—little that I would concurr besides the fact that Brian Arthur’s 1985 Increasing Return and Lock-in seems to apply.

Any academic is thrilled to have science featured in the New York Times, with no misquotes. I still would have prefered some comments on context, the relativity of music appreciation, etc. Without a detailed description of the experiments, one question still remains: would a track that few people like, but (falsely) marked as very successful still climb up the charts? Is the signal enough to fool many ears?

Social acceptance is probably what motivates people, so as signal and framing. More importantly, many other externalities impact music appreciation; I would like to illustrate a few:

  1. Pavlovian reflex is clearly what makes people love the summer hit which is heard 15 times a day on the radio: there must be entire neurology journals dedicated to that;
  2. Music industry is also about giving and sharing: beyond what people would have for themselves (as is measured here) more social acceptance is probably at stake during Holiday Season sales;
  3. Production externalities are strong too, and more so by dynamically shaping representation, e. g. by creating an new genre.

Radio stations control 1.; posters can clearly influence 2. too; control over 3. belongs to producers and retailers. Therefore I do not beleive that path-dependencies explain why music indstry cannot forecast a hit: they have more leverages on externalities then control over a presume intrinsic quality of the music.


About Bertil

I'm a PhD student in Digital Economics, and I love viennoiserie. Je suis un doctorant en économie (numérique) et j'aime la viennoiserie.
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One Response to Positive externalities in music appreciation

  1. bertilhatt says:

    I’ve being giving more though and a missing element appeared obvious to me in Watts description of his experiment; have they tried to split the population between a majority of followers and a minority of indie-loving, that would look for the untapped? What was their actual catalogue? Mainstream-major music that people could recognize? I guess not—for independence and copyrights reasons, probably. Therefore, wasn’t their settings pushing people into already independent-sounding music?

    Social science is a difficult business, for independence hardly reached.

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