WTF Is Long Tail?
Definition of ‘Long Tail’
noun: long tail; plural noun: long tails
- 1. (in retail and marketing) used to refer to the large number of products that sell in small quantities, as contrasted with the small number of best-selling products.
In business, long tail is a phrase coined by Chris Anderson, in 2004. Anderson argued that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, but only if the store or distribution channel is large enough
We are there; it’s called the internet. Most of you seem to understand that concept but still fail to really grasp what it means (crazy dichotomy right?). There is no valuable “shelf space” on the internet. So indie music currently lives and can thrive on the “long tail”.
All the music services like Spotify, Rhapsody, Pandora, Deezer, blah, blah, blah promised us EXPOSURE on the long tail through their services but failed to realize (or care) that a small percentage of consumers would try their “Techie” solution for new music discovery and those that did would be burned by shitateously written, weakly recorded, poorly marketed pieces of crap that came up because the algorithm felt it “sounded like this”. But I digress.”head” is defined as the top 20% of music sales or all the major label, major capital, major tour, major hype, major market, major brand, super popular music all of us aspire to be (those of you that say you don’t are liars, you just want to be a huge act on your terms instead of kissing ass and changing any part of your artistic approach, but you secretly want the big time all the same. I mean what a high class problem, right? Having huge success [meaning throngs of people adore you for your music] without kissing any ass?). Just own it.
The Head is Shrinking
This means that the effectiveness of a mass market, mass media pipeline, and thus mass exposure, is continually decreasing through constantly expanding channels of content; it’s fragmenting. Let me explain in terms of television fragmentation and relate it to mass exposure (from which fame is a byproduct). In 1980 there were 3 TV networks (if you were born during or after the 80’s you’re going to have to trust me on this and try to LEARN from this) they were ABC, NBC, and CBS. This means there were 3 main places for the whole country to consume popular TV shows (a.k.a. content).
1980 TV Viewership Statistics
If you look at this 1980 TV ratings chart you will see there was an estimated 79.9 million households with a TV (if you average between 1 and 2 kids per household you’ll get pretty close to the 1980 United States population of around 226 million people meaning just about every household had a TV.) I then average the estimated viewership of the top 10 rated shows to be 20.1 million viewers. If you divide that into the estimated number of households with a TV you get a statistic that says the top 10 shows enjoyed an average of 25% of the total TV viewing audience; essentially 25% of the country!
2013 TV Viewership Statistics
If look at this Nielsen Report you will see there was estimated 115.6 million households with a TV in 2013. I then averaged the viewership from this 2013 TV ratings chart show a statistic that says the top 10 TV shows in 2013 averaged 8.9 million viewers. Divide that number into the 115.6 million estimated households with a TV and you get just 7.7% of the total TV audience.
See how it’s fragmenting?
Can you see how being on a hit TV show means you are being exposed to far less people then you were in 1980?
This is what we mean when we say the head is shrinking.
Can you also understand how any “home run” makes you far less famous nowadays?
Terrestrial Radio Application
This very dynamic applies to terrestrial radio as well. With all the new “Deckless” cars and smart-phones acting as mobile internet antennae, the consumers now can choose from terrestrial radio, Satellite radio, HD radio, personal playlists on a smart phone, Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, Slacker, etc.; it’s fragmenting too. Which means the head of music marketing is shrinking too. One could argue that this means the amount of Rockstars is shrinking as well. After all what is the definition of a Rockstar but a music artist that is famous from mass market exposure, right?
The Long Tail is Growing
And so it goes, the long tail grows making it easier to be exposed but harder to get exposure. Does that make sense? The very market that would LOVE your music is so very reachable, but how do you do it?
What exactly does long tail mean for indie music? It means that because the head is shrinking making the mass market less lucrative, and the devaluation of music is making it financially irresponsible for big money to risk developing artists, any plans that rely solely on big money (a.k.a. record labels and big investors) to find you, develop you, and break you are poorly laid. You have a better chance of winning the lottery regardless of your talent. It means that you are now responsible for PROVING your music has value in the marketplace first; it means you are going to have to become a business person and learn to market yourself effectively. Commerce! Ugh…why do we despise that so much? The very term “professional musician”, regardless of the music being high brow or low brow, requires commerce! You better embrace it!
As I mentioned in my previous post, the good news is that it is easier than ever before to define and reach an audience all over the world. There are 7 billion people on this planet and many of them are connected and reachable! Surely it can’t be that hard to sell 10,000 CDs or downloads if we rethink the approach. Because of this fact, it is easier than ever to make a living as an artist. Hell, just a little business savvy and you could actually create a GROWING Business!
The long tail also means that you can make the music you want to make without interference from meddling record label suits who are trying to direct you to be more “marketable” which means “mass marketable” which means you need to fit into their business model that services only the head. It means your long tail music project could create enough business and momentum to redefine what tomorrow’s “head” will sound like. Just look at acts like The Zac Brown Band who were told by the country music labels they were too “rock & roll” and the rock labels told them they were “too country”. So they took matters into their own hands and became such a huge force to reckon with that they created their own “big break” with probably the best record deal in town. Florida Georgia Line has a similar experience; all the majors DENIED them. They hit the road and worked satellite radio enough to sell 100,000 downloads of “Cruise” which then had all the majors clamoring to sign them. Both of these bands brought their own sound to the mass market and changed the definition amongst the majors as to what the “head” should sound like.
I would also remind you that bands like Rush and Metallica took this same approach touring their asses off, constantly creating, constantly working, and growing huge followings ONE FAN AT A TIME before the internet and social media, “without the help of top 40 radio play!” If you want it, it’s yours to take!
Let’s use the long tail to DOMINATE!!!