Correlation (or lack thereof) between audio quality and sales

While it pains me to say it, based on a whole lot of years of experience, I see very little correlation between how well-recorded a record is and how well it sells.

I was talking about this with someone recently, and was inspired to draw the diagram below to try and explain it. Yes, it looks like something a convicted serial killer might scrawl on a jail cell wall, but I never said I could draw.

Essentially, it’s just stating that unless you’re 2 standard deviations (shitty sounding at the left end of the tail, and amazing sounding at the right) from the mean with respect to your sound quality, it will have little to no impact on sales. 1 standard deviation (noticeably bad on the left; noticeably good on the right) has less, and everything under the big part of the curve has zero impact.

It goes back to “remark-ability.” If your record sounds so amazingly good or bad that people are remarking on it, there’s a chance for there to be a negative or positive correlation to sales (“You gotta get this record and listen to it on headphone”; “Don’t buy it, that record is unlisten-able.”)

Yes, there is a small sector of audiophiles out there who buy things based upon what The Absolute Sound says, but ask them how well the DVD-A or SACD market is working out.

Just a thought. But keep it in mind, because unless every dollar you spend on recording correlates to attraction and retention of customers, that’s a dollar better spent on marketing.

Here’s the chart:

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  1. jp’s avatar

    compound the serial killer scrawl (which I really like btw..) with the fact that ?% of people listen to music on earbuds that make everything sound bad..

    as well as a generational divide as to what “sounds good” means.

    and in the right hand corner..a small picture of the above mentioned Absolute Sound guys commenting on the “pristine clarity of the cymbals” while listening to..Mozart? no..Trane? uh uh..billy joel.


  2. George Howard’s avatar

    excellent – thanks for these points – you're right, of course: ear buds, etc.




  3. kevin_m’s avatar

    Hey George,

    Former student here, and as a freelance audio engineer, it KILLS me to say this, but your right. I cannot stand hearing bad quality recordings, but I know I am in the minority. The good news (not for engineers) is that it is far less expensive to create “good” quality recordings, no need for the $100,000 mixing boards anymore.

    Does anyone enjoy sitting down and giving their full attention to music anymore?



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