Like most people who listen to music I have a Last.fm page which busily "scrobbles" all of my listening habits. It's not that I'm particularly interested in giving CBS (the parent company of Last.fm) my listening habits; it's just easy to send them along via my Squeezebox, and it paints an interesting profile of me as someone who loves to listen to music.
What's really interesting is the artists that show up as my most listened artists.
I'm a huge Rush fan. I've been a Rush fan ever since high school. Any time Rush is in town, expect JoDee and I to either be in the audience, or having an existential crisis over why we can't go.
Yet if you look at my Last.fm profile, you'll notice something peculiar.
Rush is the 9th most listened band in my list, after Daft Punk, Risha, Obituary, Testament, and so on. Heck, even Claude Debussy ranks higher in total listens than Rush.
So, does this mean that Rush is not my number one band of all time? Should I instead be putting my efforts into seeing Daft Punk in concert?
Perhaps, but there's something more to that data than just number of songs played might show you.
I spend most of my working hours listening to music via the Squeezebox. And my work involves programming, which is usually best done with either extremely angry music, or with very nondescript, almost sound-track-like music.
Daft Punk released what I consider to be the penultimate developer album, namely the Tron: Legacy soundtrack.
Chances are I'll probably put this album on at least once a week, if not more.
Why not listen to Rush? Well, on occasion I do, but Neil Peart is my favorite drummer of all time, and there's a reason I keep drumsticks near my desk. (Note to current boss: the sticks in my cubicle are merely for show. Honest. :) )
But without context, and without knowing where and when I listen to this music, you might think I was full of it, and Daft Punk and Risha are my favorite artists. And while that may be true in an office context, I have far more Rush memorabilia than any of the bands in the top 20 combined. (Sorry, Claude.)
There's an old saying "you can't manage what you can't measure", but you also can't measure what you can't put into context. My musical tastes vary depending on location,and I'm sure yours do too. I'm sure you can come up with examples where context would give you a completely different answer outside of numerical counting.
(This is why I get cranky when people talk about radio ratings for an entire market. No wonder Detroit only has one under-served classical radio station, but 10 decades stations. But that's another rant for another time.)
What measurements are you taking right now that could be improved by figuring out the context?