Survey: Measuring Success and Failure by # of Plays

edited October 2 in Diversions

How many times would you expect to play a track or an album for it to have been a good purchase? Is something you only play once or twice a failure? Is # of plays a valid metric?

It’s come up several times recently that even those who might otherwise give eMusic the benefit of the doubt are unsubscribing b/c they expect even the best of what’s left to get played “maybe once or twice.” A lot of folks apparently have copious copies of stuff in your libraries that you’ve never ever played, and I don’t really understand.

As an empirical test, how many times have you played your favorite tracks and albums? Does the # differ systematically for your all-time favorites versus the average eMusic/Bandcamp download or (god forbid,) stream? (whether exactly in iTunes or other apps that count plays exactly or a ballpark figure over your lifetime dating back to physical media)

Where do you draw the line, in terms of # of plays, for a particular download to have been a mistake?

I’m genuinely curious.  (this is from another forum, but I'd love to know your answers, too)

I remember Brian Eno citing a stat that the average CD gets played only twice, but I’ll be darned if I can find the interview, probably from the 1990s, and if it has the source in a footnote. Can anyone else update that # for the streaming and non-physical media age?

Comments

  • My OP, so I’ll go first with data but save interpretation until there’s more…

    I think I’ve listened to my all-time favorite album, “In Sides” by Orbital (1996) about fifty times. Would be more if my brothers hadn’t blasted it and made me not like it for a time in high school, but I don’t count those plays.

    I play tracks in iTunes, and nothing got played more than 15 times on my old laptop over the course of five years using it. On my new machine I’ve had for half a year, top tracks by Boozoo Bajou, Timber Timbre, Hot Sugar, NZCA/Lines and others (about half from eMusic) have been played seven times.

    As for listening habits, which I think will determine play #s more than “quality,” I always listen to everything I download from eMusic twice as a full album and then add it to a large playlist for shuffling at random. I choose albums I really want to hear a little more than half the time and shuffle the rest of the time.  I remember @confused had a very regimented protocol and would enjoy reading more.

    Even with sampling I regret downloading plenty from eMusic. It’s rare that I listen more than twice to those. I won’t provide examples unless someone is very curious.

  • An interesting question, omnifoo. I changed computers probably about two and a half years ago, and lost all play information then. The albums I play most often are artists where I've actually bought the CD, and then added to iTunes - so mainly mainstream artists like Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, David Bowie. Total plays for these are anything from a handful upto 20 plus. That total does not include CD plays either. Also high play totals are Phil Collins Big Band, Kind of Blue and some Beatles albums - again all of these I have as CDs

    Downloads get played, generally, less often. I have a large number either unplayed or with a play count of 1 or 2. This is a function of the fact that I was downloading more albums a month with a big grandfathered plan from emusic at one point than I could keep up with playing. As I am no longer buying anything form them I am trying to catch up on my backlog - as I type this I am listening to Ali Farka Toure's Savanne. Some tracks have a 1 count whilst others are zero.

    To some extent a purchase counts as a failure when it is no longer on my iPod. That has a big memory but can't cope with all I have in iTunes. Often removal from my iPod is based on a very brief sample of tracks - not good I know, but my hopwe is that I will go back one day.... I probably need to make more time for listening. Ironically that has decreased since retiring. I'd normally play music when marking, preparing, reading etc as well as driving to visit student teachers on placement for my University job. Now I do other thngs that do not allow so much listening time.

    Not a full amswer but I hope it helps
  • Interesting question! Here are my thoughts/data points:

    There are two albums (The Blue Sunshine by Mosca and 2350 Broadway 4 by Pete Namlook and Tetsu Inoue that are my tried and tested way to fall asleep with them at subliminal volume on headphones if I need a nap. I have a brain that is hard to slow down, so cues are helpful. Their play counts are 132 and 222 respectively and that seems low. (Part of the latter being higher is that I also actually listen to it at regular volume sometimes - it's a good album.)

    A few others (Rural Route No. 5 by the Gentleman Losers (41 plays + a lot more on CD), Inland by Tetsu Inoue (63 + lots on CD), and The Ground by Tord Gustavsen Trio (31 + a *lot* more than that on CD) are the high end of regular listening. I have quite a few favorites with 15-20 iTunes plays; since I often buy my favorites again on CD that's conservative. (Oh, here's another special case: one of Transatlantic's best songs is Stranger in Your Soul, clocking in at around 30 minutes. Between the original and a slew of live releases I have seven versions of it, at least 4 of which are also on CD AND on  DVD. So I've listened to that song a LOT more than the play count says.)

    I am pretty rigorous at having no unplayed music (my "Plays: Never" list currently has 6 items, and I'll get through those within a week), and even music only played once gets on another smart playlist to make sure it rotates in again before too long.

    At the opposite end of the scale are a few things that I maybe deliberately download to only play on certain occasions (e.g. something historically important that I think I should give at least one proper listen to). If I learn something, that's not a failure.

    "Failure" means I delete the album (as I've said on here before, the fun for me is in curating a collection, not just acquiring a heap). "Success" means I want to keep it in the grand rotation, even if not with high frequency. "Eureka" means I listen to it obsessively dozens of times over at least several years.

    (I'd compare it to food. Not every meal that you eat out is lifelong-memorable or eagerly repeated, but that does not necessarily mean you regret buying the decent, moderately nourishing Mac and Cheese that doesn't taste like congealed flour with a diet coke. It was pleasurable enough as life experiences go and it kept you going. And that Mac and Cheese probably cost as much as between one and two albums, even at non-emusic prices, and was evacuated from my life much quicker.)

    Thanks, that was fun.
  • omnifoo said:
    I remember @confused had a very regimented protocol and would enjoy reading more.
    I'd be interested in others' protocols also, as I am thinking of changing things up. Currently my iPod Touch contents are generated from a set of smart iTunes playlists:
    • Plays: Never (what it says)
    • Plays: New (albums added in the last 2-3 months; keeps things from rotating off as soon as I give them a first listen)
    • Rated 5 stars (rotating)
    • Rated 4 stars, play count = less than 3 (general rotation)
    • Rated 3 stars: Surprise Me (selection of the less favored, sometimes I cull from this if I am still not impressed.)
    • 9 Special lists that make sure I have a couple of Gigs each of: jazz, ambient, post-rock, classical, modern classical, prog, electronic, piano trios, albums with various artists.
    • Targets (manual list, things I decided I want to "study" for a while, e.g. before a concert.)
    • Permanent Listens (a carefully and regularly pruned list of albums I want available at all times)
    Sometimes I add:
    • 2019 Rotation (a list of what I bought that was release in the current year - useful for making end of year lists, but some of the time it takes up too much space)
    • Labels Rotation (sometimes I decide to listen to every album I have on a certain label).
    • Car (things that work well in the car for long journeys)
    That all adds up to about 55 Gigs, updated at least weekly, and usually works both to give me a broad selection, let me keep listening to favorites, and nudge me to visit everything. I only ever listen to whole albums.
    So again, success means it becomes part of the ecosystem.
  • @greg As I replied on another forum, there’s clearly an academic, anthropological yet quantitative study to find in these highly personal accounts, and I would honestly love to read a whole book-length compilation of them.  If CD players kept track of playcounts, I might dive into the data and never emerge.  The number of professors commenting here is heartening, and maybe a project for if I ever retire from precarious global quasi-adjuncting. 

    Even if I don’t like something after two plays or sometimes more, I have an aversion to deleting anything, even if the hd is getting full, for the possibility that I’ll come back to it years later and like it.  It’s happened a few times, a topic for another thread.

    Like you, staying on the main machine and making the transfer cut to the new one is my basic standard.  I hope the backlog (re-)discovery process is enjoyable for you.

    I’d appreciate knowing what you think you’ve played the most ever and whether that happens to be your all time favorite album.


  • @Germanprof ;

    I figure we’re going to get asymptotes on these forums, but I’m still impressed by your meticulous reply.  I think I’ve heard an album by Namlook once and definitely appreciate a little ambient sleep prompting.  I also know my uncle has been looping a particular space music album almost constantly in his makeshift physics laboratory for years, so I think your #s in the hundreds and regularly as much as my favorite album aren’t so atypical.  Do you see your listening habits as unusual or extreme in this regard?

    I share your commitment with @confused to make sure nothing goes unplayed and wonder how common this is.  Another poster elsewhere suggested that streaming rather than owning music completely erases this feeling of obligation, and I wonder if people who have an unappreciated “heap” as you put it, with tons of unplayed stuff, are missing out or if we’re taking our collections entirely too seriously and self-importantly.

    I would go on forever about my listening habits but get self-conscious.  I am pleased that others are happy to share theirs here and hope for similar surveys in the future, with overwhelming response rates.

    That’s some creative use of the iTunes star ratings; I was pretty annoyed by replacing them with the binary Love/Hate unless you list all songs together or get info.

    Overall, I think anyone like us who can claim with a straight face that we have a written protocol for listening to music is a far outlier, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong by more replies here.  Very interesting and impressive, again…your system puts mine to shame.

    Food-music comparisons were how I sustained a relationship for a few years with a foodie and the basis of ongoing friendship, so let the metaphors flow!

  • edited October 3
    In the early days when you had to have pen and paper to keep track of things like this, I didn't. Now that iTunes easily keeps track of those number of plays, I still don't care and, in my case, it's a bit of a moot point because most of my listening involves shuffled tune surprises which gives me the most pleasure. There's a guy on another forum that keeps such incredible detailed spreadsheets on his collection that I wonder if he has the time to actually listen during all of that categorizing!

    Over at "goodreads," every book I've rated on my page has either a 4 or 5 star rating because, maybe being older, I'm more sure of my interest beforehand in that book (or in this case, music) that I've bought. With music in most cases, it's bought after I've already listened and enjoyed it (which is a beautiful modern development - close to the old days of listening booths) and it ends up in the music library to come up again at some time in the future. This is probably why the number of listens per song is much more of a streamlined thing for me if you check my Last.FM page all-time track listing.
  • @rostasi
    That's a mighty diverse playlist, and I can't say I've heard of much of it.  Bravo for that.  Agreed that listening mostly on shuffle leads to a very egalitarian and by definition random distribution of spins ("scrobbles"?), thereby making the top tracks say less about you than the logarithm.  I get that sometimes I don't want to think about what album to play next every half an hour to 45 minutes, but I also don't like to have to skip stuff that's jarring or doesn't fit the situation.  Listening to totally new stuff on shuffle is too much adventure for me, but again, I like to hear about how everyone listens differently.
  • Yeah, I like the idea of walking into different rooms with different things playing too.
    Sometimes you can stand in the right spot in the house and get an earful of combinations that you’d not knowingly arrange yourself.
  • edited October 4
    @omnifoo said:
    so I think your #s in the hundreds and regularly as much as my favorite album aren’t so atypical.  Do you see your listening habits as unusual or extreme in this regard?

    I don't think the raw totals are necessarily unusual - I singled out those albums because it always felt weird to me (especially when I used to scrobble on last.fm) to have my most-played albums be ones that I was mostly asleep for. Perhaps I place too much value on being conscious while listening :-).

    streaming rather than owning music completely erases this feeling of obligation, and I wonder if people who have an unappreciated “heap” as you put it, with tons of unplayed stuff, are missing out or if we’re taking our collections entirely too seriously and self-importantly.

    I go back and forth on this regularly. My own approach does from time to time push me into a state where I am listening out of obligation to serve the rotation, and I have to remind myself that I can listen to whatever I feel like listening to. At least as often, though, it makes me rediscover things that I enjoy but might not have remembered to choose. And most of the time I am just having fun listening. There's definitely a spontaneity<-->intentionality dialectic going on. I can really see both sides of whether a form of listening that "erases this feeling of obligation" is a good thing or a bad thing. I lean different ways different days. I try to account for that in what rotates onto the iPod with the "surprise me" and "permanent listens" lists. But I am thinking of overhauling the system with a bent toward greater serendipity.

    ...anyone like us who can claim with a straight face that we have a written protocol for listening to music is a far outlier...
    ...or if we’re taking our collections entirely too seriously and self-importantly...
    I think we're all weird here, if weird means outside the average. (I have a colleague who is similarly music-fanatical, and we sheepishly admitted to one another recently that we both have spreadsheets to track certain artists. I currently have 367 distinct works by Vivaldi, and would have no idea whether a new purchase was a duplicate without some tracking). I am a long, long, way from a casual radio/playlist listener. And that could mean self-important (no doubt it does some days), but I don't think it necessarily does. It could just mean I am really interested in something. Or that music is important. Other people obsess about whether they caught the latest happening on social media, or whether they are up to date with their soap opera, or whether their fashions are this year, or their team's stats. I'll settle for music. There are worse obsessions.
  • Well, my short answer is no, the amount of plays doesn't determine the the success or failure of my decision to own/download it. 

    I've been collecting records (33.3,45,78) 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs and now MP3s since I was 10 in 1962 and got this album from my Grandparents for my birthday. 

     

    You can get a peek at my vinyl collection and a portion of @rostasi's in the Vinyl Solution. Now, that 1st album wasn't the best music but it certainly is a favourite because I think of my Grandparents every time I see it. I've got lots like that in my collection- so-so music with great memories attached to them. I'd have to say that I was much more connected with my vinyl than I've ever been with MP3s. Holding that square foot while listening really made the difference. I can scan through my vinyls and remember what they sound like by simply seeing the album cover spline. I just haven't found the connection with iTunes. Of course when I only had 10 albums they got played a lot and now that I have access to thousands they don't. However, I've recently retired from work and hopefully find more time to enjoy my favourite pastime. Although, I can relate to @greg when he said that ironically he finds less time since he retired. I find that out most winters when I should have more ass time to listen to music.


  • Certainly another emotional topic would be the first album we owned, the first one we bought with our own money, and whether any of them are anywhere near our favorites today.  I didn't find any results on the forum for Alan Zweig's 2000 documentary "Vinyl" https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120454/?ref_=nv_sr_6?ref_=nv_sr_6 , which we all need to see.  My own fair collection met a terrible fate at the hands of my father while I was in the Peace Corps many years ago, and I've vowed not to buy anymore until I own a house.  No greater musical sacrifice than moving large quantities vinyl, so I would hope the connection to it is stronger than any other medium.
  • @Germanprof
    Indeed I think music collectors and otherwise obsessives get an unfair shake from judgmental society...even Zweig's doc is a bit dour...whereas something I'd say much less healthy/productive that afflicts my generation and is gaining mainstream acceptance is videogame speedruns.  I see that Youtube docs on the subject are almost invariably triumphant and positive.  I look at your listening protocol and people's music collections here and say "that's an amazing accomplishment that deserves to be appreciated!"  Eccentricity should be celebrated in general, I say, and in the age of cold logarithms, I hope human curation and musical knowledge accumulated in an individual comes to be valued a lot more than it has been.
  • edited October 5
    Right, eccentricity can be pathological or constructive (it would only always be a bad thing if the trajectories of mainstream culture were all healthy and normative). This started me thinking again about symptoms of musical oddity relative to statistical averages that aren't just about the usual thing of listening to unpopular genres or obscure artists. I wonder how many folk on here can answer yes to how many of these questions, all of which I suspect point to significantly outlier behaviors:

    1. I have used a spreadsheet or other data software to track my music purchases.
    2. I have purchased additional data storage primarily because of my digital music collection AND redesigned room furnishings to accommodate my physical music collection.
    3. I have sometimes bought an album I had not heard by a band I didn't know because it looked interesting.
    4. I have taken time to read articles and researched best-of lists in genres I don't normally listen to.
    5. I debate with myself whether to buy an album containing another live version of songs that I already have in several studio and live versions (and more often than not go ahead).
    6. I commonly buy multiple versions of the same music performed by different artists to compare small differences.
    7. I often listen again to things I don't like in order to see if I might like them next time.
    8. I regularly feel that iTunes and related apps do not give me enough ways to tag, organize, and data mine my collection.
    9. I have often bought things again on CD, FLAC, or vinyl that I already owned on MP3.
    10. I regularly invent systematic listening plans (by label, alphabetical, by decade, by genre etc) as a way of disciplining my listening.

    I suspect that all of these are way outside average folk's listening habits. I made the list based on my own forms of oddity, so I score 10. I don’t think anyone else in my extended family scores above zero.
  • Well, the only thing I haven't done is make a spreadsheet (too complicated for my tiny brain), so I score 9.
  • edited October 5
    Some interesting points above. I agree with confused as I had much more connection with vinyl, and certain albums bring back memories in a way that does not happen now. That is mainly because I bought and listened to far less a range of music then. At peak, in terms of tracks, I was downloading far more per month from eMusic than I'd bought as LPs in a couple of years fifty years ago, so I invested more time into those i had. My listening now goes in spasms (if that is the right word) - I've been listening to a lot of guitar based blues over the last few days, prior to that I had a spell of Senegal/Gambia/Mali artists and so on. My first LP purchae was Beatles for Sale, can't remember first ever single, but certainly Beatles No 1 was an earlier EP purchase. I'm not a spreadsheet maker too. But I do have multiple live versiosn of some Bruce Springsteeen tracks. I've said I won't buy any more live concerts but I do, simply to get a couple of rarely performed tracks. I dare not look at the number of times I've got Born to Run, for example
  • edited October 5
    2, 3, 4, & 9.

    2: because of the wide range of good music out there, hard-drives are being filled,
    but the room furnishing part will begin to be reduced very soon as I transfer titles to Discogs for sale. 
    3: especially as a youngster, that was a way to discover new things ("who is King Crimson?")
    4: basically the reason I've read Wire magazine for decades.
    9: yes, but that's pertaining more to box sets and speciality-packaging these days.

    First record bought:


  • 1, 2 (my collection sits in storage while I'm out of the country, sadly), 3 is absolutely essential to survive on eMusic, 4, 7 frequently, 8, 10.  I understand 6 for people whose job it is to analyze, say, classical music recordings.  5&9 I see as funds that'd be better spent on 3, so they're the only ones I don't get personally.
    I'm fine if this thread gets repurposed for personal nostalgia.  Glad to be old enough to remember when vinyl was the primary medium.  I don't remember the first album I owned...was given several as a child, but the first CD I bought was at Best Buy near the end of middle school, a live album, sad to say, but it's still a favorite I've played maybe 30 times but not once in the last decade and not five times this century:  "The Yellow Shark" by FZ.  In fact, I played it in the background for public speaking in sophomore English class and was told it was too distracting.
  • Right, eccentricity can be pathological or constructive (it would only always be a bad thing if the trajectories of mainstream culture were all healthy and normative). This started me thinking again about symptoms of musical oddity relative to statistical averages that aren't just about the usual thing of listening to unpopular genres or obscure artists. I wonder how many folk on here can answer yes to how many of these questions, all of which I suspect point to significantly outlier behaviors:

    1. I have used a spreadsheet or other data software to track my music purchases.-Not yet. But don't rule it out.
    2. I have purchased additional data storage primarily because of my digital music collection AND redesigned room furnishings to accommodate my physical music collection.-Multiple Hard drives, but have not had to redesign yet.
    3. I have sometimes bought an album I had not heard by a band I didn't know because it looked interesting.-More often than I care to admit, although more when I was younger (see Trout Mask Replica)
    4. I have taken time to read articles and researched best-of lists in genres I don't normally listen to.-Trying to stay relatively current in non-mainstream releases, leaving a blind spot for current pop culture. 
    5. I debate with myself whether to buy an album containing another live version of songs that I already have in several studio and live versions (and more often than not go ahead).-Dick's Picks, Live Music Archive, Live Jazz Lounge...really, how many versions of 'China Cat Sunflower' do I need?
    6. I commonly buy multiple versions of the same music performed by different artists to compare small differences.- Terry Riley 'In C' comes to mind.
    7. I often listen again to things I don't like in order to see if I might like them next time.- I struggle with this. Despite my wide variety of musical taste, sometimes I don't get what other people are hearing i.e. why they enjoy (or not) certain music(s).  Sometimes, I'll get it on a repeat try (see Ornette Coleman), sometimes not (see Ornette Coleman).  Don't know if it's musical immaturity, taste, genetics, or whatever.  
    8. I regularly feel that iTunes and related apps do not give me enough ways to tag, organize, and data mine my collection.-Agree.  There has to be some kind of industry standard developed to address my obsessive compulsive behaviour around this.  I would be happy if album art was at least one size...
    9. I have often bought things again on CD, FLAC, or vinyl that I already owned on MP3.- And doubled-down on them.  I have owned the album, CD, mp3, and  FLAC version of 'Discreet Music'.  Repurchased the mp3 version because it was part of a hard drive crash and was lost.  Really?
    10. I regularly invent systematic listening plans (by label, alphabetical, by decade, by genre etc) as a way of disciplining my listening.-as well as mood, location, activity.

    I suspect that all of these are way outside average folk's listening habits. I made the list based on my own forms of oddity, so I score 10. I don’t think anyone else in my extended family scores above zero.
    I am convinced I am a few standard deviations off the norm, so it's nice to know that other outliers walk among us.  
    Great post GP!

  • rostasi said:

    First record bought:


    That must have been a most imaginative listen!
  • A quick response to Gp's question about other's protocols. Here's a snapshot of two different approaches I use for my "master shuffle"-type playlists. The general intent is to combine new stuff with older stuff, usually weighted by playcounts and last-played.


  • edited October 9
    Thanks, that looks like a nice setup. I'll study it a little and see what I might be able to blend into mine to improve it.
    I am particularly intrigued by the playlist "just...played". I think one weakness in my set up is that (like your second one) it is designed mostly to keep things moving off the iPod Touch once I play them. But every now and then this keeps me from binging on something I like. So I think I need to add a component that actually brings some things up again if I seem to like them. Such as added in the last XX and plays is more than XX.
  • Fwiw, that playlist's origins are a bit buried in history, but this is what it looks like. Basically, "recently" added, played quite recently but not TOO recently. :-P I guess it does try to make sure recentish music gets a higher play frequency than other things?

  • edited October 10
    The playlist-combo setup allows one to allocate weights among the categories, by limiting counts per playlist (For example, insert 50 "favorites" but not more). The all-in-one makes it easier to see the criteria, but you don't get to weight the different criteria sets.
  • So I think I need to add a component that actually brings some things up again if I seem to like them. Such as added in the last XX and plays is more than XX.
    Yeah, in general I don't play favorites, unless I do - i.e. I do mark favorite artists with 5-stars (I don't cherrypick tracks), and then use the "Favorites-subset" list to pull in a few of those preferentially into the larger list. Simple enough to do what you want *with* the extra effort of rating some. Relying on implicit metadata probably is a lot tougher to refine.

  • I use ratings pretty systematically, but my 5 star ratings don’t have a time criterion (it’s just a rotating list of what I like best). The kind of album that slips through the system right now is the one that I bought a couple of months ago and played three times and loved and now I want to hear it again while walking to work and it has cycled off the device... (most of my listening is offline). It happens just often enough to make me think I need to design a mechanism to tweak that, something like “added=last 6 months, stars=5, plays > 2, plays <5”. 
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