Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Where do you go to listen to music?

It’s the question which appears to come up on an almost weekly basis in the talking-and-writing-about-music business. As the number of sources providing listeners and viewers with new music grows and grows, those whose job depends on turning interest in …

Tue, Aug 21, 2012, 09:46


It’s the question which appears to come up on an almost weekly basis in the talking-and-writing-about-music business. As the number of sources providing listeners and viewers with new music grows and grows, those whose job depends on turning interest in new music into sales and revenue for their artists or companies can only look on with bewilderment at the changing landscape in which they work. It’s not the fact that there’s no certainity any more which causes the confusion, but the fact that the velocity of change is like nothing experienced or recorded before.

Those of us tracking the changing ways people listen to and find out about music are also constantly looking hither and thither in search of clues. Just when you think it’s all blogs and social media, some new kink or trend emerges and off we go again. It’s an exhilirating, exciting, unpredictable rollercoaster ride which constantly highlights how much change is afoot. As with all kinds of disruption, it will only make sense in hindsight.

The latest paragraph in this story came with last week’s Nielsen survey which highlighted a stat that the majority of teens go to YouTube to listen to music. This will not come as news to anyone who has researched the area: teens favour YouTube for convenience (all the music you need is there), price (no need to get the folks to pay for iTunes or a decent streaming service) and peer-to-peer social engagement (it’s where your mates go to check out music too). For the music industry – despite what some might think – this is actually a fairly decent state of affairs as YouTube’s royalty returns, like those of all streaming services, are on the rise. Artists are getting paid when people type illegible comments under their YouTube videos.

Yes, it’s peanuts in comparison to the good old days when the record and retail industry made out like bandits from flogging pieces of plastic for anything from €16.99 to €21.99 a go (we really did once pay €21.99 for CDs). But those good old days are not – repeat, not – coming back no matter what anyone thinks. Time to get over it. Time to stop your industry associations lobbying for a revival of that state of affairs, time to suck it up and time to get with the project. What else are you going to do when and if HMV disappears from the High Street in the next six to 12 months, eh?

But it’s also worth looking at some of the other stats from that survey. For example, teens are still actually buying music, including CDs, which will come as news to many. And they’re also still listening to radio. It’s as if they’re ticking every box in the survey because that’s the way things are for them. You can also be sure that you’d get a similar return of data if you asked twentysomethings or fortysomethings or even fiftysomethings about their music listening habits. We take music now wherever we get it.

And that’s the real big takeaway from this and every other survey about our music finding behaviour. There’s no longer any hard and fast answer to where we go to hear music and find out about new acts. We’ve become promiscuous creatures who dip here and there when the mood suits us. Sure, we listen to radio, but we also listen to our mates. Yes, we head to YouTube, but we also have links on our many devices to Spotify, Grooveshark and the Eircom Music Hub. We browse blogs, newspaper websites and social media feeds in search of our next musical fix, but we’re also open to buying an actual CD and listening to that.

You can understand why the record industry is so often at sixes and sevens about how to progress in the midst of such often conflicting data. It brings to mind that line which is often used when change and disruption strikes an industry sector: if you were going to build a modern, streamlined record industry, you wouldn’t start from here. Like every sector, there are many legacy issues to deal with, from artist contracts to working methods which are no longer fit-for-purpose. However, the good news is that the audience are still there and still, it seems, eager to keep listening, albeit in a scatter of different ways and at a dozen different sources. Making sense of all that is going to be quite a task, but it does strike the optimist as a task worth sticking with.

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