I am always reminded how much America is fascinated by charts when I find myself reading weekend box office receipts religiously. Its odd, because I never see half those movies nor do I ever make a decisions on which movie to see based on box office tallys. I just find it interesting to track. A sort of pop culture barometer, in the vein of our mysterious but consistent compulsion to watch the weather channel. In the same way as movies, I watch record charts on a daily basis. I get (perhaps slightly skewed) through Rhapsody, which I use as a music player in juke box mode. One of the features of Rhapsody's home page is that it lists relatively real-time statistics on what is being listened to the most. Almost always you see the obvious acts - whomever has just released an album as well as some standards like Jack Johnson which seem to never go away no matter what else is going on in the world.
Well, to my shock yesterday I fired up Rhapsody and guess who was #1? Justin Timberlake, sorry, but he ain't bringing #1 back any time soon. John Mayer, nope, he'll be waiting on the charts to change. Okay, okay - that was horrible, I know. But, the winner was... Weird Al Yankovic. Yes, you read that right. The most listened to artist in the US according to Rhapsody users (which may or may not be a statistically significant sample) on Oct 2, 2006 was Weird Al Yankovic. Wow, and here is proof:
Okay - so other than the nerd's-rule factor, what is relevant about this? Well, the question I asked myself is, "How did that happen?" What I realized is that for the first time (and this is anecdote, not pure research), something that was popular on YouTube actually drove statistically relevant change in the Long Tail on a commercial site such as Rhapsody. Everyone I talked to found out about Weird Al's latest album one way - by seeing his YouTube video for "White and Nerdy". It came in email, it bubbled up on the YouTube most popular site, it was embedded in MySpace pages, etc.. Interestingly, other than being an embed in MySpace, it actually was not pushed by MySpace (Weird Al does not have a MySpace music page). And it wasn't marketed on Rhapsody. So what is this phenomenon? Well, it's Web 2.0 crossover. Popular on YouTube for free, popular on Rhapsody making money for the artist and label.