Why “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer

Posted on February 15th, 2012 by Kristin Thomson in What We're Learning. 1 Comment

As we roll out the results of our work, there’s sometimes a curious reaction to pie charts that include a significant number of musicians/composers who answered “I don’t know” to any given question. Take this one, for example:

Some think these are just disorganized musicians that aren’t on top of their game. But, after conducting many interviews, running nearly a dozen financial case studies, and testing this survey for months prior to launch, and thinking about it ourselves, we know that “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer, for at least three reasons: (1) a gap in respondent knowledge, (2) insufficient access to information or (3) a reflection of the intricacies of income transfer.

This is a complex world, full of new revenue streams with confusingly similar names. How many musicians know the difference between an interactive stream and a non-interactive stream?  Even though there is a major difference in how — and how much — musicians are paid in these two instances, the nuances and understanding of how money flows in each case is almost maddening.

When building the Money from Music survey, we wanted to gather discrete data about these different streams, but knew that musicians had a limited understanding. We struggled a lot with terminology and definitions when building the survey, and ended up including lots of references to the services in question, and points of reference about how the money might get to a person (example about royalties from the interactive streams of a sound recording: “This is money you’d receive from your label, or from an aggregator like CD Baby or Tunecore”). We also built a separate definitions sheet that people could click through to read if they were confused about terms. But, still, “I don’t know” might refer to the existing knowledge gap.  (You can see the final question set here)

“I don’t know” might also also  indicate that the respondent simply doesn’t have access to that information. Imagine a band member taking this survey. Perhaps she gets gets a check for 25 percent of whatever the band makes, including the money that flows through from their label, whether it’s from retail sales, digital sales or streams. “I don’t know” might be the answer that someone in that position might choose if they don’t spend time looking at their label’s accounting statement to them, or if they aren’t given that information in the first place.

Finally, “I don’t know” might reflect the intricacies of the payment systems and how money eventually flows down to musicians and performers.  For example, if a song is streamed on Spotify, the company has three entities to pay:

1. the sound recording copyright owner, which is usually the record label.  In many cases, this payment is made via an aggregator like IODA, The Orchard, Tunecore or CD Baby.

2. the song publisher

3. the performance rights organization, which then pays the songwriter

Ooh, where’s the musician/recording artist on this list? They’re not on it, because they are not paid directly by Spotify.  There are at least three versions of how money flows from Spotify to a musician/band:

Unsigned/independent musician, using Tunecore as its aggregator: Spotify > Tunecore > musician

Musician signed to an indie label: Spotify > IODA/Orchard > indie label > musician

Musician signed to a major label: Spotify > major label > musician

Add into this the time lag between streams and payments being filtered down the food chain, and you can see why “I don’t know” might be the answer that is most appropriate in this instance.


Stay tuned for more data releases in the next weeks and months.

One response to “Why “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer”

  1. […] Respondents who answered “I Don’t Know” and why it’s an acceptable answer […]