A Grateful Dead Analysis: The Relationship Between Concert and Listening Behavior

Marko A. Rodriguez, Vadas Gintautas, and Alberto Pepe

This is a postprint. This paper was published as ”A Grateful Dead analysis: The relationship between concert and listening behavior” by Marko A. Rodriquez, Vadas Gintautas, and Alberto Pepe. First Monday, Volume 14, Number 1 - 5 January 2009. Link

AbstractThe Grateful Dead were an American band that was born out of the San Francisco, California psychedelic movement of the 1960s. The band played music together from 1965 to 1995 and is well known for concert performances containing extended improvisations and long and unique set lists. This article presents a comparative analysis between 1,590 of the Grateful Dead's concert set lists from 1972 to 1995 and 2,616,990 last.fm Grateful Dead listening events from August 2005 to October 2007. While there is a strong correlation between how songs were played in concert and how they are listened to by last.fm members, the outlying songs in this trend identify interesting aspects of the band and their fans 10 years after the band's dissolution.

Introduction

The Grateful Dead were an American band which, despite relatively little popular radio airtime, enjoyed a cult-like following from a fan base that numbered in the millions (McNally 2002). The Grateful Dead originated in San Francisco, California in the early 1960s and toured the world playing concerts until the untimely death of the foreman and lead guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1995. The primary source of revenue and exposure for the band came through their concert tours. They played over 37,000 songs live, in some 2,300 concerts over their 30 years as a band (Lundquist 1996). Throughout their years together, the Grateful Dead accumulated a large repertoire that included over 450 unique songs (Lundquist 1996). The Grateful Dead’s success and continuity across multiple generations of music listeners is perhaps due in part to their fundamentally eclectic nature. The band utilized many song writers, composers and singers, and this resulted in a broad diversity in sound. Robert Hunter and John Barlow were the primary lyricists for scores written by Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, respectively (Dobb 2007). While Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir were the primary singers as well, other singers included Ron McKernan, Brent Mydland, and Phil Lesh. Moreover, their eclectic nature can be seen in the large number of graphic icons they used to represent themselves. These icons include skeletons, roses, dancing bears, terrapins, etc. Perhaps their most famous and recognizable image is the “Steal Your Face” icon in Figure \ref{fig:stealyourface} that was released as the album cover art to the live 1976 Steal Your Face album.

\label{fig:stealyourface}The Grateful Dead “Steal Your Face” icon.

The history of the Grateful Dead’s album releases (13 studio albums and 77 live albums) further reinforces the band’s emphasis on concerts. More live albums are released regularly as high quality recordings of good performances are discovered in the Grateful Dead concert archive. For the band and for the fans, the performances of the Grateful Dead were all about diversity in the live music experience. In any given show, the concert set list, the improvisations, and the mood of the band all varied. In concert, all of these factors came together to create a unique experience for their fans each and every time.

Perhaps even more astounding than their prolific concert performances is the dedication that their fans (known as “deadheads”) had to their music (Paul Grushkin 1983, Adams 1998, Sardiello 1998, Pattacini 2000). The typical deadhead was not a passive consumer of recorded studio albums, but an active concert goer that traveled with the band from concert to concert, city to city, and country to country. Some 10 years after the Grateful Dead disbanded, the band’s music is still heavily listened to as evinced by statistics gathered from the popular online music service known as last.fm.11last.fm is available at: http://www.last.fm/ The last.fm “audioscrobbler” plug-in is recommendation software that works with popular computer music players such as iTunes or Winamp. Whenever a song is played using, say, iTunes, the plug-in reports this activity to the last.fm server where it is aggregated. From August 2005 to October 2007, there were over 2.5 million Grateful Dead song usages recorded by last.fm. With 72% of the users of last.fm under the age of 3522Source: last.fm internal web statistics, courtesy Anil Bawa-Cavia., the popularity of the Grateful Dead, a generation of fans later and 10 years after the band’s dissolution, is still very strong.

This article presents an analysis of the Grateful Dead’s concert behavior and exposes a relationship between the concert song patterns from 1972 to 1995 and the last.fm listening statistics of the band’s songs from August 2005 to October 2007. First the available set list data is summarized and presented with an analysis of the concert behavior of the band. Next the usage data from last.fm is presented with an analysis of the listening behavior of last.fm members. Finally, a comparative analysis of the concert and listening behavior of the Grateful Dead is presented.