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I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when looked at in the right way did not become still more complicated - Poul Anderson

Author Topic: Market Research in Determining What Was Recorded  (Read 601 times)

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Offline Kokomo O

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Market Research in Determining What Was Recorded
« on: March 21, 2013, 07:54:27 AM »
You know, maybe somebody said it earlier in the thread and I just missed it. But isn't the question not how did these songs get recorded, but how did they get released? I mean, it's kinda one thing in a session in the old days, the way they used to rush them through, to put something weird or off down on disk. It's another to actually go to the expense to press it and put it through the distribution chain.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2013, 01:00:44 PM by Johnm »

Offline bnemerov

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Market Research in Determining What Was Recorded
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2013, 01:09:02 PM »
Hi Kokomo,

As in an earlier post:
The record companies didn't know what would sell to blacks and hillbillies--the original consumers of this stuff. It all sounded equally weird to the white northerners running Victor, Columbia, Okeh, Brunswick, Paramount and Vocalion.

It also didn't cost much to press the records; a couple cents apiece (for the shellac mixture). They owned their own record presses and label printing equipment. So, including labor, a 78 cost the company about a nickle and sold for 60-75 cents, pre-1930.
A hell of a mark-up that allowed them to use the "spaghetti" approach--throw it against the wall and see what sticks.

78 Quarterly did a series about Paramount (and maybe one of the other companies, Victor?) based on interviews with former employees. The economics of the pre-war record biz can be dug out.

And I recall there are a couple of recent books about specific companies as well by some European researchers.
It's really a fascinating era and aspect of music business.

best,
bruce
« Last Edit: March 23, 2013, 01:01:34 PM by Johnm »

Offline Kokomo O

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Market Research in Determining What Was Recorded
« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2013, 06:37:39 PM »
Oops--sorry I missed that. Still, it seems odd from a business perspective that they would just throw stuff out there rather than doing a little market research. It's not like that whole field was completely unheard of in those days--or was it?

Well, rather than just ask a question, I thought I'd google and actually try to answer it. Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge, claims that "[m]arket research began to be conceptualized and put into formal practice during the 1920s, as an offshoot of the advertising boom of the Golden Age of radio in the United States. Advertisers began to realize the significance of demographics revealed by sponsorship of different radio programs." in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Market_research. So that explains why market research in the sector we're interested in was primitive at best.

(By the way, I just love some of the stuff you come across on the web. One of the sites I found said "The idea of marketing research was developed in the late 1920?s by a man named Daniel Starch. This is about the same time that advertising was introduced in the United States." As if there was little or now advertising in the US before the '20s.)
« Last Edit: March 23, 2013, 01:02:07 PM by Johnm »

Offline bnemerov

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Market Research in Determining What Was Recorded
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2013, 07:37:09 AM »
Hi Kokomo,
Good of you to introduce the idea of market research--hadn't occurred to me.
I think now that we should look at the record company "spaghetti" approach as market research!
Record Lemon Jefferson...he sticks to the wall....make more records.
Record J. Rodgers and the Carter Family....they stick...more records.
Certainly a direct method.
[Imagine attempting a door-to-door survey of sharecroppers in Mississippi or country-folk in the mountains of North Carolina.]

thanks for bringing this up,
bruce
« Last Edit: March 23, 2013, 01:02:34 PM by Johnm »

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Market Research in Determining What Was Recorded
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2013, 07:59:51 AM »
Actually, when (to paraphrase Dylan) the paradigms are changin', conventional market research is almost useless, because the focus groups or interviewees have only their past experiences to guide their responses. Apple, to pick the most famous paradigm shifter, used the spaghetti approach: Apple II stuck; Lisa didn't; Macintosh did; Jobs's extracurricular NeXt project didn't. I'm pretty sure they didn't do much market research for any of it, other than give beta versions to a few techies for comments.

Lyle
« Last Edit: March 23, 2013, 01:02:59 PM by Johnm »

Offline Kokomo O

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Market Research in Determining What Was Recorded
« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2013, 09:52:31 AM »
Bruce, I think with the relative cheapness of the pressing and distribution that you, or whoever you were quoting, noted above, you can certainly view the press-and-distribute approach as a crude form of market research, with the reward for good response being both more copies pressed and put into the channel and more record dates. That first part of the reward, more copies, didn't directly benefit the artist in the old days, since royalties were rare to nonexistent, but presumably the artist would get more or better tips if he, she or they played a familiar tune on the street or at a rent party or juke joint, or more and better gigs if he, she or they had a popular record out.

It does seem to me that there were other ways the record companies could have done market research back in the late '20s and '30s--in part by listening to the radio, by checking out those street singers, by attending a few rent parties and juke joints, and so on. And to a certain extent I think they did that, either directly or by consulting the well known agents down South, like HC Speir in Jackson and JB Long in Durham.

Lyle, you may well be right about Apple, but that's a different industry in a different era, selling goods at of very different cost and price point. It is no doubt a real anomaly not to do market research of a very different kind than the spaghetti approach in the modern era, particularly with expensive goods such as Apple's. I'm frankly not certain what to make of it.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2013, 01:03:24 PM by Johnm »

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Market Research in Determining What Was Recorded
« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2013, 11:37:26 AM »
My point with Apple (which I neglected to clarify) is that the record companies were in an even more confusing environment than the PC marketeers. They had no idea what their customers wanted, and, being white, would not have gained much by going to a juke joint -- assuming they'd even be able to gain entrance, you can bet everyone would stop playing.  Ralph Peer had the same problem in that he had no knowledge of traditional music, and the knowledge that was available (Child, Sharp, et. al.) was all academically oriented. Actually, that was an advantage, because, in search of an audience, they recorded all sorts of interesting artists that would have been ignored by a more knowledgeable A&R man.

Lyle
« Last Edit: March 23, 2013, 01:03:47 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Market Research in Determining What Was Recorded
« Reply #7 on: March 23, 2013, 01:06:57 PM »
Hi all,
I split off these posts and made a new thread because the thread where they originated was about a different topic--odd or anomalous recordings which were unlikely candidates for commercial release.  This thread is about the process by which such a thing might have happened.  The other thread is about performances.
All best,
Johnm

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