When I think of who purchases music, I admit I have a bit of a stereotype. I remember in high school going to New Jersey music stores like Vintage Vinyl and Music Staff which were chock full of mostly dudes like myself geeking out on trying to find the latest, coolest music. In my mind, it was a guy thing to do.

But in 2010, who is actually buying music? I don’t mean that to sound incredulous as in “why would someone?”…I mean it in the “what is their demographic” sense. It is a question I’ve been asking myself for several months now. If you know who has a higher chance of purchasing music, you can make more music for that audience if your aim is to increase your financial success odds. But it’s not a goal that is quickly proven. The closest I’ve seen is Russ Crupnick’s report at last week’s Leadership Music Digital Summit here in Nashville where, if memory is correct, he reported that sales is still a 50/50 split.

But I’m not sure that’s entirely the whole story. I started thinking in depth about this two months ago, when Mashable did a story on the buying habits of people online. The story was a distillation of a June white paper that the leading online measurement company Comscore put out called Women On The Web: How Women Are Shaping The Internet. And what jumped out at me was the statistic that 61% of online purchases of Books, Music & Video are made by women. That’s a pretty big skew.

I decided to dig in a bit further into the Comscore report. When you broke it down, it turns out that Online Music retails reaches more men. 5% of Men interacted with music retail in April 2010 and 4.6% of Women interacted. (I’ll ignore for the moment the 5% reach overall, which clearly has a negative impact on the business.) So maybe Russ was right and the old stereotype of dudes buying music holds up. The initial stat, after all, lumped in books and video. But that first statistic that caught my eye didn’t represent reach. It represented dollars. The report even shows that women spend more dollars on video games than men, though they attribute some of that to family purchasing.

Throughout the Comscore paper, you see a recurring pattern. Males may make up larger portions of the numbers of people who use something, but women spend far more time and dollars utilizing these things. For example, of the people online globally, only 46% of them are women. Yet these women spend on average 2 hours more online per month than their male counterparts. Women spend more time on social networks, are more likely to email, and also spend more time and money at online retailers.

But do they truly buy more music? To find out, I did a quick study of the Top 50 selling downloads from the first half of 2010. I took each artist and assigned them a “male” or “female” slant depending on the demographics of visitors to their website as shown by Alexa.com. After taking out a small number of artists who essentially had a 50/50 demographic split, I found some interesting results.

Over 2/3 of Top Single Download purchases were of artists with a female majority fanbase

Over 80% of Top Album purchases were of artists with a female majority fanbase

These are not slightly in favor of songs geared towards females. This is heavily in favor. And, quite likely, not a new thing. A quick look at the top sellers 15 years ago yields names like Hootie & The Blowfish, TLC, Alanis Morissette, Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks, Live, Boyz II Men, Beatles, Eagles and Shania Twain. While I don’t have hard data, it certainly feels to me that this list of top sellers skews female as well.

But even so, 2/3 of sales is a lot higher than the 50% or even 61% that Comscore suggests. So men must be buying a lot more somewhere to balance the whole thing out. Which leads me to my theory:

Women congregate in purchasing few hit titles
Men are diffused in purchasing ‘long tail’ titles

Men appear to be more likely to aim for musical diversity in their purchasing of music. So they may indeed purchase nearly as much music as women, as Russ said. But if they do, it’s hard to tell by the charts as those purchases appear to be diffused by innumerable titles that rarely amount to a collective agreement. Women, on the other hand, are much more likely to follow the crowds and purchase from a much smaller list of titles. Therefore, those titles gather around at the top of the charts.

Yes, this is broad generalizing, and there are guys buying Lady Gaga just like there are women buying obscure indie bands. But in playing the odds, if mass sales are what you’re after it has a higher chance of succeeding if it appeals to a female audience. It doesn’t mean that songs aimed towards men won’t sell, as they will. They just are less likely to sell as much.

Also, as we move to a streaming world…lest you think that maybe music for men will make a comeback, I point to another part of the Comscore study. Women stream more online video than men as well.


  1. Ricci Perkins May 11, 2012 at 7:40 pm # Reply

    Great article. Do you have any information on which population attends more live concerts? Curious. I have seen a recent change in the demographics of my own music and I’m trying to figure out why and how this may or may not benefit me as a result. Overall, will I need to change something or keep doing what I’m doing. thank you for your time.

  2. Eva Phanord July 13, 2013 at 2:19 am # Reply

    I really liked your article. It has given me more insight n what people are looking for in music. My interest in it to to find out which angle to take on a marketing standpoint of my music. Thank you for the information.


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