The new curse of 27? U2 in 2014 = Rolling Stones in 1995

Popular music’s famous ‘curse of 27’ makes the spooky observation that a disproportionate number of musicians have died at that age. Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix are leading members of the so-called ’27 club’.

It’s a tempting hypothesis. After all, if people over 30 shouldn’t be trusted, then 27 is as good an age as any for when people stop being cool. In an industry continuously mainlining the fountain of youth, this transition must present crippling anxiety and self doubt, and would naturally be accompanied by a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse, and general self harm, right?

Unfortunately, this myth has apparently been busted by the statistical boffins at QUT.

However I think I’ve discovered a replacement. In 1995, the Rolling Stones song Start Me Up was licensed by Microsoft to promote the launch of Windows 95. It was the first time the Stones had allowed a song to be used this way, and as much as Microsoft must have hoped that a bit of Jagger swagger would rub off on multitasking windowed operating systems, the result was unsurprisingly the opposite. Even if this kind of thing ever works (doubtful) the Stones were clearly too old to signify ‘cool’ by 1995.

I was reminded of this watching U2 perform at the Apple iPhone/WATCH (really, all caps?) launch. Both Apple and U2 seemed to come off worse from sharing a stage, with Desperation turned up to 11. It doesn’t help that Tim Cook has about the same level of cool as Bill Gates.

So here’s the punchline. The Rolling Stones’ #1 track on Spotify is Gimme Shelter (1969) although both it and Sympathy for the Devil (1968) seem to have around 27 million listens. Either way 1968-1969 seems like a fair place to mark the start of the Stones “golden age”. The time between 1968 and 1995: 27 years.

You can guess what’s coming next. U2’s #1 track on Spotify is With or Without You (1987), at 44 million listens. The time between 1987 and 2014: 27 years.

Interestingly, Microsoft in 1995 was 20 years old. Apple in 2014 was 17 years old, if we count from the Second Coming of Jobs.

So to conclude: Rockstars don’t die at 27. Bands do stop being cool by 27. And tech companies have until 20 at the latest.

Postscript stock tip: Microsoft stock peaked 5 years later, in 2000. So hang onto AAPL for another 5 years.

The Fat Lady Sings for Airplay Quotas: Cultural Protectionism Disrupted

domestic_share_of_music_onlineThe digital revolution has triggered dramatic shifts in how cultural products like music, books and film are produced, distributed and consumed. They are no longer physical items to be printed or pressed, but frictionless streams of bits. The commercial implications are now apparent to all. Less well-understood, though, is the cultural significance of this revolution. Existing research concludes that the ‘domestic share’ of music consumption (e.g. the proportion of music consumed in France that is produced by French artists) is high and has, if anything, increased since 1990. Our new research suggests that this share is lower online – particularly amongst countries with airplay quotas. Such quotas are the traditional response to concerns of cultural hegemony, but will almost certainly be futile in future: analogue policy in an increasingly digital world.

The Fat Lady Sings for Airplay Quotas: Cultural Protectionism Disrupted

This post, on the Nesta website, previews results for some work I’ve doing with Andrew Somerville (from Semetric, the company behind Musicmetric).