Making Connections: The Key to Success in the Popular Music Industry

Spurred by the question of how certain artists come to produce innovative material, Noyes, Allen, and Parise examine the social structure of the music industry to uncover precisely where innovative musicians fit in. They find that the most innovative musicians are not necessarily the most inherently talented, nor are they the ones with the most resources at their disposal. Rather, they are those who have disparate, novel artistic influences.

To explain this, the authors draw on network theory. While network theory is most commonly used in such fields as business and politics, the authors see a clear application to the arts – including the popular music industry. This art world is especially ripe for analysis because musicians are unusually open about their influences. Each artist has a unique position within an “influence network” – that is, a web of predecessors and contemporaries by whom the artist is influenced.

So what do the influence networks of innovators look like? To map this, the authors work with data that span six decades, from the years 1951 to 2008. Using the number of Grammy awards won as a metric for innovation, they find that recording artists whose musical influences are diverse and unorthodox are better positioned for industry accolades. Artists who connect otherwise disconnected areas of the network — serving as a node of musical ideas — are better able to draw from those ideas in innovative ways.

This finding contradicts some common-sense notions. The significance of influence networks calls into question the stereotype of the socially-isolated artist. Moreover, the authors muse that rather than seeking raw talent, recording companies may wish to choose artists based on their relative network positions in order to maximize the probability of future innovation (and, presumably, commercial success).

Noyes, Erik, I.E. Allen and Salvatore Parise. 2013. "Innovation and Entrepreneurial Behaviour in the Popular Music Industry." Creative Industries Journal 5(1/2): 139-150. doi: 10.1386/cij.5.1-2.139_1

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