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1999 SOS Reader Survey Results

Special Feature By Ian Gilby
Published June 1999

1999 SOS Reader Survey Results

Are you the typical SOS reader? What do you feel about the magazine? What gear will you be buying in 1999? Ian Gilby presents the results of our most recent Reader Survey.

Let me kick off this summary with a big "thank you" to the dedicated readers around the globe who took valuable time out to complete our in‑depth 1998 Reader Survey, it's much appreciated. In all, we received 1655 paper questionnaires plus (after lengthy de‑duping of multiple submissions) some 983 electronic surveys submitted via the magazine's web site, giving a total 'sample' of 2,638 — roughly 10% of our 1997/98 average circulation. What follows will hopefully provide you with a fascinating insight into your fellow readers.

Reader Profile

As expected, most of you are male (97.3%) with only 2.5% females and, interestingly, 0.2% omitting to state your gender (hmmm...). The average age is 34.4 years, with our youngest reader being 12 and oldest clocking in at a majestic 75 (see Table 1 for full age analysis).

Job occupations ranged widely from AA patrolman, airline pilot, bank manager and broadcaster, through doctor, dentist, electrician and IT technician, to wine trader, warehouse supervisor and youth worker, with the single largest concentration of respondants classing their occupation as 'musician'. In fact, our professional readership remains high, 29.2% stating that their main income was derived from music‑related activities. Talking of money, 38.5% of readers earn between £15,000 and £30,000 per annum, with 14.8% in the top income tax bracket (7.7% earn over £40,000).


Reader Income
up to £9,999

Due to its MIDI and synthesizer heritage, Sound On Sound has long been regarded as a keyboard player's magazine. However, given the wider appeal of the magazine since our merger with its sister publication Recording Musician back in 1993, only 42.4% of readers now claim their main instrument to be the keyboard, with the majority (57.6%) falling into what we might class as the 'recording musician' category. Indeed, while those who cite the guitar as their main instrument accounts for 28.6%, over half the readers (54%) own an electric guitar and 52% own an acoustic. The remainder of the main instrument category breaks down as follows: bassists 7.0%, vocalists 5.0%, drummers 4.1% and "other instruments" 8.5%. Some 4.4% claim they have no main instrument and presumably represent the (non‑musician) sound engineers amongst our readership. If we exclude MIDI keyboards, traditional instruments still dominate, with only 13.5% of readers owning some form of MIDI drum controller (not including drum machines), 6.8% MIDI guitar and 3.9% wind synthesizer.

More of you are in a band than we anticipated (39.7%) and 36.5% claim to have had your music commercially released — what a talented lot you are. Only 44.7% did not play a gig in the past year, with some 25.4% gigging regularly and 29.9% performing live at least a few times. That puts paid to the 'bedroom hero' theory then...

This time around we asked how many readers had previously attended a Music Technology (22.2%) or Recording (18.9%) course, and 37.7% said you would consider attending one (good news for educational establishments). Our belief that SOS readers prefer the DIY approach when it comes to programming and recording their music is backed up squarely by the fairly low interest in off‑the‑shelf MIDI Files, with only 4.8% claiming to use them regularly, 24.2% occasionally and a whopping 71% never touching SMFs. This is reinforced by the sample CD figures: only 3.6% of you regularly buy sample CDs, with 68% never buying them. Unusual? Not when you learn that 56.3% do not own a hardware sampler. For sampler manufacturers, solace may be found in the good news that 24.2% of you intend to buy a sampler within the next 12 months. The recent appearance of well‑specified 'software samplers' that can load samples from CD drives may well increase sample CD usage in the future. Ownership of CD‑ROM drives has increased dramatically since our last Reader Survey; up from 26.2% to 61.3% — due essentially to the fact that it's nigh impossible to buy any new computer without a CD‑ROM drive. Naturally enough, burning CDs of your own music is high on readers' priorities, with 16.7% already owning a CD recorder and 29.8% intending to buy one.

Online Growth

Given the close association of music and visuals in this MTV‑dominated age, it's unsurprising that desktop video interests 23.5% of readers, with 25.1% actually owning a video camera. Multimedia interest is even higher (48.1%) along with Internet audio (39.2%), emphasising the fact that more musicians are waking up to the inherent value of the Internet for sales and distribution of their own recorded output, instead of chasing the old 'Holy Grail' of a record deal with a major.

And what do SOS readers intend to buy? The first‑choice intended purchase is a CD recorder (29.8%)...

If the latter assumption holds true, then our Survey should equally demonstrate a growth in email/net usage amongst our readership, and this is noticeably the case. Three years ago, in our last Survey, 78.5% of you did not use email or any form of bulletin board. Today, the picture is very different: 24.2% still have no email or web access, while 26.2% already have access at home and 28.7% at work. That means just over half our readers (54.9%) are already online with an additional 20.9% stating that they intend to 'get connected' within the next year. Probably accounts for the 1.43 million hits the magazine web site (" target="_top) received in March 1999... In response to this, we introduced our regular Net Notes column earlier in the year and will be featuring more Internet‑related articles starting next month.

You can't get online without a computer, so let's investigate what platform readers prefer. Table 2 shows the full breakdown for computer ownership (along with our 1995 survey results), though we feel the results are slightly skewed because we asked you what computer(s) you own, not what you use. Remember: many readers probably still own an Atari ST, but no longer use it for music production to any great degree. Similarly with those who owned a Mac three years ago but have subsequently migrated to the PC (and vice versa).

Although PC ownership is on the up, the Apple Macintosh has remained consistent over the past three years. When asked which computer platform you are likely to adopt next, 56% of you overwhelmingly elected for the PC route, with Apple fairing better than some might have expected: 28.6% chose Power Macintosh as their intended next computer purchase (music software developers, please note). Silicon Graphics came in third with 1.1% of the votes and no other computer model was mentioned. Look behind these figures, however, and you'll discover that 14.3% of the readership does not own a computer, proving that you can make music without one!

Purchasing Power

When asked where and how you buy the majority of your equipment and instruments, 42.9% still favour your local music shop above other sources, 29.3% favour a non‑local music shop, 30.8% buy mail order within the UK, only 2.2% non‑UK mail order, 0.9% over the Internet (software and sounds) with 22.4% buying mainly second‑hand (no doubt from SOS's Reader Adverts pages and web site).

Hardly surprising, but 96.6% of you confirmed that SOS reviews influence your purchasing decisions (that's why you read them, right?) and boy, do you like shopping! Only 1.5% stated that you intended buying nothing within the next 12 months, so a staggering 98.5% are on the lookout for more hardware. And what do SOS readers intend to buy? The first‑choice intended purchase is a CD recorder (29.8%) followed closely by a signal processor (29.2%). Microphones (26.3%) and sampler (24.2%) were the next choices, with fifth place taken jointly by computer (23.3%) and keyboard (23.3%). Speakers (20.8%) and multitrack recorders (19.4%) are on some people's shopping lists for 1999, but the lure of a digital mixer (14.4%) is not as prevalent as one might have thought, with 14.0% intending to buy an analogue mixer of some description. The trend towards CD mastering on computer and high interest in CD recorders is balanced by the diminishing interest in DAT recorders; over twice as many readers intend buying a CD recorder (29.8%) in 1999 compared with DAT (12.5%). Finally, 5.9% of you expressed a desire to buy a guitar.

Here at editorial HQ, we like to think that SOS readers are serious about recording and music‑making, and this is emphatically borne out by what you stated you had spent on new hardware/software in the past 12 months (Table 3 gives the full picture). To put the percentages into true monetary perspective, the 'minimum' column translates the amount spent in monetary value if we assume the lowest ££ figure (eg. £1) was bought by everyone in that category, while the 'maximum' column assumes the upper figure (eg. £499).

Astonishingly, the 2,638 of you who submitted Reader Surveys bought between £5.39m and £9.03m million pounds worth of gear in the previous year, giving an annual average spend £2735 for each person. Extrapolate these figures across this magazine's average monthly circulation for the same period, 1997/98 (25,720) and you reveal that SOS readers bought a combined total of between 52.6 and 88.0 million pounds worth of new recording and hi‑tech gear, computers, software, musical instruments and accessories during that period. Even accounting for possible lapses of memory or over‑estimations of how much you actually spent, this still adds up to a heck of a lot of dosh!!

Magazine Content

The main raison d'être of a Reader Survey is to tell us what you think of the magazine we lovingly craft for you each month; what elements of the editorial you like and dislike, and how we can generally improve the magazine for you. Many of your best suggestions have already been implemented in the magazine, but let's start with the main reason why you buy SOS...


Retailer Ads
Readers Ads
Manufacturer Ads

So you like reading reviews, eh? I think we guessed that one already. However, 12.3% of you thought our reviews were not critical enough, although only 0.9% actually thought other magazines' reviews were better than ours.

And how often do you read SOS? Well, 62.8% buy all 12 issues either from a newsagent or on subscription (thanks!), 19.9% read between 7 and 11 issues per year, with 17.3% "floating voters" who read 1 to 6 issues. Gratifying to know that 91% of you keep your copy of the magazine after reading it each month, 6% pass it on to a friend, and 3% throw it away (how could you?). Our graphic designer will be very happy, because 96.6% of you like the designs/page layouts she employs in the mag, and an affirmative 83.8% reckon the technical level of our articles is "just right", while 10.6% find it "too hard" (don't give up) and 5.6% "too easy".

When asked where and how you buy the majority of your equipment and instruments, 42.9% still favour your local music shop above other sources...

The overwhelming impression we gleaned from your comments about the mag is that the vast majority of you like what we deliver, though a consistent 30% of you simply want more of everything! 75% of you asked us to feature readers' own studios, and our new Readerzone is a direct response to this (see p.222). As too was last month's portable digital multitracker guide — a whopping 78% of you asked for regular Buyer's Guides. Not only would you like us to tell you precisely what to buy, but 62% want extra technique/workshop articles to help you get more from your existing gear (they're in the pipeline).

Our monthly Computer columns remain popular: 54.7% read PC Notes, 28.1% read Apple Notes, 27.3% still read Atari Notes and 21.3% don't read any (obviously some read more than one column). While 49.2% find the second‑hand bargains in the Reader Ads section an essential read, only 10.3% feel the same about Demo Doctor, most citing it would appeal more if they could actually hear the reader's demos we review. In reply to this, we will soon commence posting an audio clip of the 'top tape' on our web site each month. Why not put it on a cover‑mount CD and give it away with SOS? Because we would have to increase the magazine's cover price substantially to fund the production costs and 82% of you actually do not want a CD, according to the Survey results.

Prize Draw Winner

I hope you have found this insight into your fellow Sound On Sound readers interesting, and all that is left now is for me to announce the winner of the Marantz Professional CDR630 Recorder prize draw. Well, if your name is Chris Rzuchowska and you are a teacher, living in Sutherland, Scotland then start jumping with joy.

Table 1: Readership Age Analysis

Period surveyed: 01.09.97—31.08.98. Sample size: 2,638.

























Youngest = 12

Oldest = 75

Average Age = 34.4

Table 2: Computer Ownership 1998 VS. 1995

Period surveyed: 01.09.97—31.08.98. Sample size: 2,638.

Model owned

PC Pentium II

PC Pentium I

PC 2/3/486

Apple Power Mac

Apple Mac 680x0

Atari ST/STe

Atari Falcon

Commodore Amiga


% in 1998










% in 1995


(35% shared with other PCs)

(35% shared with P1)







Table 3: Reader Spend On New Hardware/Software

Period surveyed: 01.09.97—31.08.98. Sample size: 2,638.

££ spent


£1 —£499

£500 —£999

£1,000 —£1,999

£2,000 —£2,999

£3,000 —£3,999

£4,000 —£4,999

£5,000 —£9,999

£10,000 —£19,999

£20,000 —£29,999

£30,000 or more




























Minimum Spent

£ — 

£ 366

£ 237,500

£ 638,000

£ 824,000

£ 741,000

£ 472,000

£ 895,000

£ 800,000

£ 220,000

£ 570,000

£ 5,397,866

Maximium Spent

£ — 

£ 182,634

£ 474,525

£ 1,275,362

£ 1,235,588

£ 987,753

£ 589,882

£ 1,789,821

£ 1,599,920

£ 329,989

£ 570,000

£ 9,035,474