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.