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‘What a long strange trip it’s been’

By Hamish Johnston

‘What a long strange trip it’s been’…The Grateful Dead’s famous lyric describes exactly how I feel after reading a paper on the arXiv preprint server about correlations between the band’s live performances and how many times its most popular songs are listened to online.

The paper is called “A Grateful Dead Analysis: The Relationship Between Concert and Listening Behavior“.

Marko Rodriguez at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US and colleagues have gone through over 1500 “set lists” — the names of songs played at a particular gig — from Dead concerts between 1972 and 1995 to work out the total number of times the group played individual tunes. This was possible because the band’s fans (Deadheads) are a fanatical bunch who have documented the group’s every performance and all this information is available on the Internet.

The team then compared the frequency of live performances with the frequency at which the same songs are downloaded from the website

Their conclusion — the songs most played by the band also tend to be the most downloaded tunes, with some important exceptions the significance of which is not obvious from the paper.

You are probably wondering “what possible use is this information”?

All I can think of is this: in a strange way the Dead were ahead of their time in terms of their “business model”. They did 30 years ago what some bands are starting to do today — they gave their music away for free (by allowing fans to tape-record concerts) and made their money from touring.

I suppose it’s possible that by analysing the data lovingly archived by Deadheads, a band could come up with clever strategy to give their music away on the Internet and cash in at the box office.

Or, it could just be a joke!

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