Who has the time to listen to 75,000 CDs anyway?

Who has the time to listen to 75,000 albums?
Who has the time to listen to 75,000 albums?

75,000 CDs.  That’s how many albums were released in 2010.  Think about that number for a second.


Now, let’s assume that the average length of the album is 40 minutes (I know I’ve read a blog post or piece that made these calculations–I can’t recall where that was so indulge me as I rehash  * ), then that’s approximately 50,000 hours of music.  It would take about 2,083 + days of continuous listening to get through that much music.  Approximately 5.7 years of continuous listening to get through one year’s musical content.

And get this, that number is down from 2009, 2008, and even 2007.  96,000 albums were released in 2009, and 106,000 in 2008.  2007 was 76,000.  In the four years from 2007 – 2010 we have about 25 years of continuous music content we could listen to.

As David Lowery stated:

Of the 75,000 albums released in 2010 only 2,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. Only 1,000 sold more than 10,000 copies. Without going into details, 10,000 albums is about the point where independent artists begin to go into the black on professional album production, marketing and promotion.

The Business Matters piece I linked to at the beginning of the post gives a bleaker picture:

Not only were fewer albums released, but the weakest sellers took up a smaller share of new release sales. The 60,000 titles that sold from 1 to 100 units represented 0.7% of all sales from titles released in 2010. In 2009, 0.9% of sales came from the 80,000 titles that sold from 1 to 100 units. So there were quite a few new albums that sold fewer than ten units.

Put another way, the 60,000 new releases that sold 100 or fewer units averaged just 13.3 units per title.

I remember when I was looking at album releases in 2003-2004 when I was relatively prolific as a noise artist releasing albums on my own label (many of the albums of which were my own recordings).  I was also actively trading albums with other DIYers.  Back then there were roughly 25,000 albums released (give or take) and I know just in the year 2003 I had collected several hundred noise and experimental underground releases which don’t figure into that number.

“Non-sanctioned” albums

So whatever numbers Neilsen gives us, it wildly underestimates the actual number of releases since most DIYers self-produce and self-release albums in numbers that, for all we know, may dwarf the actual Neilsen numbers.  The prolific Zan Hoffman and Merzbow, in their 30 years of activity have released well over a thousand albums combined (800 + for the former and 350 + for the latter).  Bands self-release demo albums all the time and as I’ve stated in the past, ethnic communities will produce and market recordings in the homeland as well as in diasporic communities in numbers that we may never be able to estimate.

Given the low entry barrier that newer technologies have created (practically anyone can burn and print their own CDs or upload MP3s) there are far fewer filters for content to the music consumers–which means there’s just far more content–which is why I asked in a previous post, “Why bother making music anyway?

It’s not better for live performers

A respected gigging colleague of mine recently told me how he lost a wedding gig to a DJ.  This has been a much more typical story since the mid 90s and has even occurred in clubs where many venue owners found that they could save money by having one DJ come in for a dance night rather than a four piece band.

The ironic thing is, my colleague had actually asked for less than the DJ asked for!  The reasoning here was that the DJ could “play” many more tunes than any four piece could ever hope to do.  Couple this with the fact that there are tons more people willing to play for nothing–and clubs willing to pay nothing and the live performing market isn’t particularly good.  It certainly isn’t better than the recorded music market.

Sadly, I think we’re well into the age where organizing content is a much more profitable direction than creating it.


*EDIT Thanks to Ian David Moss (see comment below) who was the one who posted an estimate listening time for the albums in 2008 in his post, Audiences at the Gate: Reinventing Arts Philanthropy Through Guided Crowdsourcing.

The number, 115,000, which he used in his post was from a Chicago Tribune blogpost by Greg Kot.


8 thoughts on “Who has the time to listen to 75,000 CDs anyway?

    1. I think that’s a valid, but loaded, question. I’m curious to find out how much of a relationship the “Free-Culture/Music” movement coincides with the low entry barrier for creating content. Seems like many artists who are releasing CDs who wouldn’t otherwise have gotten the opportunity in the past are also the ones who tend to feel as if they are, um, “entitled” to share their [artistic] opinion?

      Without the filters (or I guess what some folks call “Gatekeepers to Culture”) there’s more of a disincentive to create–which probably corresponds to how, say, the internet has given everyone the permission to “publish” without the older traditional media filters for information. We understand the problems with having way too much, as well as, unfiltered content and how that makes it difficult for people to sort out “truths” from “fictions” — I wonder if this decline in earning possibilities for artistic content is the structural counterpart in the arts industries.


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