Home > music, music industry, new media, thought leader, web/tech > Music Half-life Shelf-life Theory

Music Half-life Shelf-life Theory

Half-life – the period of time for a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half.

Shelf-life – the length of time that a perishable item is given before it is unsuitable for sale.

Originally conceived in the 1980’s, just prior to my creating the Sony Legacy catalog division, I was noticing how different genres of music had a fairly predictable shelf-life.

For the sake of argument, the original generation of classic rock – the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Dead – had an indefinate shelf-life. Every generation of music fan would in some way respect them, and their catalogs would be valuable forever.

As we moved into the following decade, the new styles of music – metal, glam, disco, prog – would only be acceptable to ‘half’ of music fans, or, it would only be cool to every other generation – ex: Led Zep loved in the 70s, hated in the 80s, loved in the 90s, etc.  The premium sales levels peaked in half the time. The catalog had half the value.

The following generation of music – punk, dance, new wave, hip hop – continued with the ‘genre-ization’ of music, whereby now, only a quarter of fans liked, or every fourth generation accepted, their none conforming genre.  And so on.  Quick, get another record out.  Create a new sub-genre.

We are now at the tipping point of the half-life, where (except in rare instances) a piece of music is released, sales immediately peak, and it is on to the next one.  Where is the long term value now?

I have always argued that we will reach the point where the creation of music, and the performance or participation in such, is music’s lifeline.  The instant life and death of a creative piece.  Being there, experiencing it, playing it, hearing it, feeling it.  We are almost there.  The shelf-life of creative content is reaching zero.

twitter: @rich2001

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  1. December 14, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    This can now apply to most trends, fashions, electronic products and fame.

  2. December 20, 2009 at 4:48 pm


    Very interesting theory. Maybe with all the music being created today, the opportunity to catch fire and have a hit is no longer important. It is more about how many people can hear your song or experience your show as it happens. This is really more like the music business of the past, prior to stamping out plastic discs. It is more about the experience and the community than the everlasting repetition of a single work.

    Maybe more people will develop tools to support this approach. In the past technology was used to broadcast and distribute something fixed in time to the masses. Maybe now we will use technology to interact with and engage people in the creative act in real time, not worrying about trying to preserve the moment, but experience it.


    Dave Kusek


    • December 22, 2009 at 12:17 am

      You’re right Dave. It makes me think about the Carter family. Now we know they were given credit for a lot of music they didn’t write, but these songs were transferred along virally thru musicians. Would the music have been lost to history if not recorded? The convergence of real time social media with performance is interesting. But how do we get participation to be active, not passive?

  1. December 15, 2009 at 2:50 pm

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