Saturday, March 17, 2007

Red Hot top band ever?

If asked to name the most popular band in Britain, you might take a while before suggesting the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But, apparently, it's them, Snow Patrol, and then the Beatles.

This is down to something called Popscores. The Sun explains:

A POP league table rating Britain’s attitude to acts is becoming an influential tool in the music biz.

The Popscores system checks the popularity and familiarity of artists with 5,500 people every month.

Top record labels, broadcasters and advertisers are now using the service — created by Entertainment Media Research — to help reach their target audiences.

Oh, good - a service which detects what's already popular and then allows the labels and music channels to ladle up more of the same. That's what we need right now.

What the Sun doesn't tell you is that Popscores is a self-selected panel; it's not clear that it bothers to weight the results to reflect the UK population or not. Net, blogs and rock & roll has looked a little more closely at the scheme:
Unlike Last.fm, MyStrands or Flickr, PopScores aren't compiled by digital tracking but by the old-school method of surveying a sample of 4,500 people, aged between 13 and 59, and presumably balanced in terms of UK region, ethnicity, income and so on. There are three key measures at present:

* song recognition;
* artist's name awareness (have you heard of Gnarls Barkley? then they have name awareness for you);
* informed awareness (did you know Gnarls Barkley was a US duo, rather than a bloke from Chipping Norton or a band from the Adelaide? then we're talking informed awareness).
* And I read somewhere, but can't find it now, that a fourth measure — intent to buy — will be added shortly.

Name awareness figures for an artist are always higher than informed awareness, but it's suggested (according to Music Week) that the narrower the gap between the two, the greater the sales potential. I don't know the basis of that suggestion, but if it's true then presumably the chart above would encourage the industry to seek to improve James Morrison's 'informed awareness' rating to exploit untapped potential. (I've heard of him, and what I've heard, including Pete Paphides memorable description of him in The Times article as "Chris Martin in a James Blunt wig", suggests that getting better informed isn't going to persuade me to part with cash — but I'm not as representative as 4,500 people.)

Which says it all, really - this is just a focus group using the internet to make it seem a bit more relevant than it actually is. If the music industry really wants to know what sells, it already has a copper-bottomed research method, called the Top 40, which provides a nation-sized sample. If they want to predict what will sell, a survey which claims the Peppers, Patrol and Beatles are the three key sounds isn't going to help.