Music absorption is the process that occurs between music discovery and the (self) conversion of an average music consumer into an active fan.
I believe the music absorption process is radically different now than it was just two years ago, and understanding how this process has changed should impact your approach to succeeding in the music industry.
The New Law of Music Absorption
Consumers are rapidly accumulating vast libraries of songs from around the globe at unprecedented rates. As a consequence, the speed (the time) that it takes the average consumer to absorb new music is increasing proportionately.
Music Absorption - From Average Consumer to Paying Fan
That rate at which consumers absorb songs varies. Absorption rates depend on the song, the song’s genre and on the song’s natural demographic.
Stage 1 - Artist Discovery: This post is about music adsorption, and not about how early adopters discover your presence on the Internet; for the sake of this discussion, they just do. For music to be absorbed, it has to be found one way or another. Create >> promote >> discover >> absorb, will become: create >> filter >> absorb. This will happen in the near future, but that’s a subject for another day.
Stage 2 - Rapid Review: Like it or not, billions of songs are being sold and downloaded by consumers that only review 20 to 30 seconds of a song. Moreover, confident music fans (they know what they like) can scrub though a song and make a consumption decision in 10 seconds or less using the scrub bar on any music player.
Stage 3 - Playlist Installation: After rapid review, songs are installed into playlists. Statistics show that music collections and playlists have grown substantially over the last 36 months, and this trend is only growing. A song may have to tumble around a playlist (set on random shuffle) for months before it moves into the next stages.
Stage 4 - The Substitution Challenge: Consumers are rapidly acquiring vast quantities of songs now - legally and not. To obtain multiple p-spins, which are spins within the portable/personal devices owned by music consumers, your song has to compete with every other song in the playlist and/or on the device. Every song is only a button press away from being substituted for another song that’s equally interesting and probably free.
Note: On my blog I have written about how vast quantities of songs coupled to recommendation engines are a far greater revenue subtraction problem than file sharing ever was. I refer to this problem as the Substitution Dilemma.
Stage 5 - Who Sings That Song? After obtaining multiple p-spins, consumers begin to connect the dots. A mental note or a physical act is made to move a song into heavy (p-spin) rotation, or to plop your song into a playlist designated as tolerable background noise, or to just trash your song all together.
Stage 6 - Public Proclamation: This is the stage where fans of new music test out their taste-making ability on friends or within a social setting (online and offline). I suspect that this stage is far more important to younger music fans than it is to confident music fans. In addition, this is the stage where others also discover new songs (go back to stage one).
Stage 7 - Imprinting: Someone said: “Songs are like memory sponges.” Memories and shared memories become forever tied to songs. However today’s consumers listen to a broad selection of music; seemingly delivered through anything that runs on electricity - from video games to mobile phones, consumers have more listening options than ever. As a consequence, imprinting is spread out over more songs, the impressions are probably shallower, the shared imprints are probably less frequent (think five friends with five iPods all in the same car), and the imprinting opportunity is spread over a longer timeline (consider today’s 15 year-olds imprinting on Led Zeppelin for example).
Stage 8 - Meaningful Patronage: Unless you have a truckload of money, you are relying on organic growth to convert numerous listeners into paying fans. Organic growth outside of the geographic areas where you perform is only going to happen (globally) when your songs have made it through the absorption gauntlet (funnel). On the other side of absorption, you should have name recognition, perhaps an email address tied to the fan or an RSS subscribe (better), the untapped willingness to attend a show, and probably even the inclination (from the fan) to purchase something that you’re selling.
Stage 9 - Rock Star Reoccurring Revenue - The music absorption process is taking longer than ever; competition (within devices) is increasing; legitimate substitution (fueled by recommendation technology) is a button-press away; and imprinting frequency is falling. It’s a lot harder to become a rock star capable of generating reoccurring revenue from music. Consumers are going to try just about every song before they buy you and/or your music. In addition, the entire process can take many years instead of a few.
Advice and Conclusion
Outside of what a smart record label with a lot of promotion money (contradiction?) can do for an artist, it seems to me that nothing can have more impact on the absorption process and the desire to achieve success, than to have an evenly paced plan and a vision to make lots of great songs over numerous years. Most artists don’t have enough money or time in the day to alter the process with DIY promotion in a meaningful (financially material) way; they have to do it with music. Even if you had the support of a label, you would flame out of the funnel if the quality and consistency of your music didn’t exceed the gravity of your promotion.
In short, you should be trying to persuade everyone around you to believe in a five to ten year plan, anything less is probably doomed to fail. If you are relying on organic growth, you have to reconcile your plan with the absorption patterns that are typical of the fans within your genre and niche.