The Ever-Changing Landscape of Music Discovery

Posted by Katherine Kim on


There’s no denying that music is an integral part of people’s lives. We may have moved on from the days of burning mix-tapes to trade with our friends but society’s hunger for new music remains strong. Digital platforms such as Spotify and Soundcloud have not only changed how we find music but they also influence the types of music we choose to listen to. In the digital era, people are redefining themselves as fans and it has little to do with genre. Consider how many different artists you listen to. Would you be able to categorize yourself using a single musical genre?

A Nielsen Music 360 report recently polled that 91% of Americans listen to music and on average 75% listen to music online in a week. Not surprising, considering how many millennials own smartphones and prefer to listen to their music on the go. One interesting finding is how millennials identify as music fans. Vevo, a multinational music video hosting service, found that a third of millennials no longer categorize themselves as fans of just one genre. Some of today’s most popular music festivals are an example of how genres may no longer matter to the individual listener. Coachella and Lollapalooza host a variety of musical artists that range from electronic to country to mainstream pop and still draw thousands of crowds to their festivals every year. Just this summer I found myself running in between Metallica, Sam Smith, and Nervo; it’s difficult to pick one stage to stay at all day.

Radio still leads the poll in how listeners find new music, but word of mouth referrals are on the rise with kids in their teens. Social media also plays a huge part in how artist’s get discovered and many times sharing platforms can lead to an artist’s success. Take Kygo’s rise to superstardom for example: Soundcloud, a free music streaming service, helped put the Norwegian tropical house DJ on the map practically overnight after remixes like Henry Green’s “Electric Feel” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” reached over a million plays. What makes a service like Soundcloud so effective is the no-cost model. Anyone can find new artists with a click of the button without the concern of excessive ads or a monthly subscription fee.

Unsurprisingly, almost half of the population that streams their music won’t pay for a service because some services are more costly than others. The corporate record companies are pulling their music off free streaming services like Soundcloud (look at what happened to Madeon’s music) and reserving them for a small fee on other platforms like Spotify. The debate of whether to “stream or not to stream” has plagued the music community for some time now and doesn’t look to be resolved any time soon. Freemium versions of streaming services have shown to work (for the end user). They don’t alienate listeners and while downloading music still exists, free services prevent even more music piracy that would take place if everyone had to pay to listen. With the birth of new streaming services every other month, freemium plans appear to be the way to attract the most users.

Music festivals account for a large portion of a fan’s music-related expenditures. When I look at my own credit card bills, there are several glaring big-ticketed items that run into the $300’s range (EDC Vegas, you were not kind to my bank account). Increasingly, we are seeing first-time festival goers attending these major festivals across the country because of our ever-changing preferences in music. The digital era we live in has made attending these festivals and discovering new artists even easier; many festivals like Coachella are enabling live streaming for those who can’t physically attend. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter make connecting with festivals a breeze and bring about major cases of FOMO.

The streaming wars seem to have just begun, with players like Apple and TIDAL making moves to push out free services that many of us know and love. The options are endless when it comes to finding new music and, in my opinion, the free models are as good as the ones you pay for. So don’t let pricing hold you back. Turn on the radio, try attending a multi-genre music festival, look to your friends for their recommendations. Music is everywhere and your hunger for new tunes isn’t going away any time soon.

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