Has digital changed music habits for good?

The Beatles became the most influential band of all time because they spent 10,000 hours practicing. Or, at least, that is what Malcolm Gladwell concluded when he coined the ’10,000-hour rule’ in his 2008 book the Outliers. This ‘magic number of greatness’ is deemed a rule of thumb to symbolise the fundamental time needed to develop expertise or skill in a certain craft. However, the music industry as we now know it no longer accommodates for such long term practice and, in turn, brand building.

McCourt (2005) states that the way in which people consume and experience music has also changed greatly, as traditional music services have transitioned into digital distribution platforms. Hence, kids no longer mull over album shelves or the poster aisle in HMV to find their favourite artist’s new and heavily awaited release.

The online music industry has adopted a long tail approach when distributing new artists, as opposed to the years of dedication and fandom that bands like The Beatles experienced. For example, anyone can now spend a day producing a TikTok which could go viral, instead of 10,000 hours mastering and investing in a high-risk album that could get lost in the noise. 

Therefore, the introduction of music on social platforms and via voice activation devices has removed the search element for young audiences, who consume the audio without any tangible devotion. We’re not saying One Direction and Little Mix don’t still have diehard fans formed from the early 2010’s; but we want to investigate how digital developments in even the past five years have reshaped the way in which kids find and connect to artists. 

Hypothesis

Kids are constantly discovering music but aren’t developing attachment to artists and this is due to where they consume music.

We looked at…

  • Music platforms in the family home
  • Where kids are consuming music
  • What these platforms have in common
  • How it is shaping fandom culture

We spoke to…

70 kids aged 6-16 years old in our Youth Trend Spotting Interviews (YTS 2021)

Music platforms in the family home

Over the last 15 years, the development of the internet and digital technologies have hugely reduced physical limitations for brands and facilitated widespread distribution of music to the family home (Rundy 2016). Gone are the days of a seven track CD on repeat in the kitchen, as smart speakers have taken a seat at the table in over 5.8 million UK households (June 2019 – Voicebot.ai).

The global music industry saw a 18.5% increase in revenue in 2021 to $16.9bn USD, thanks to the continuing growth of streaming subscriptions (Statista, 2022). Consequently, traditional retail space has been switched out for intangible portals that consumers can navigate themselves (Graham et al 2004). When asking kids (YTS 2021) how they listen to music at home, a lot of them used family member’s accounts on streaming services (such as Spotify, Apple and Amazon Music) that were synced with Alexa to freely navigate.

People are now seeking products that offer a service, and consequently value that relies on customer experience (Macdonald et al 2011). For most, this is online music streaming services creating tailor made playlists and personalised recommendations from their music tastes. ‘Average users listen to 41 unique artists per week and a third of listening time is spent on Spotify-generated playlists’ (Kommando Tech, 2022).

However, this experience of co-creation is tailored often to parents of the account with an existing music taste. Instead, kids are directing Alexa to play songs from afar and are not receiving nor developing the same attachment to artists.  Spotify’s CEO even asserts “we’re not in the music space – we’re in the moment space” (Seabrook 2014). Just last year, more than 60,000 tracks were added to the platform every single day (Music Business Worldwide, 2021) which highlights the saturation of the market and the dependence on algorithms to curate listening habits depending on themes or moods. 

For late teens and adults, this is a personalised form of co-creation generated from pre-existing music preference and experience. Yet, for kids, it is removing the journey fans go on with their favourite artists through first encounters, physical tokens and long-term commitments. This younger demographic no longer need to know who is singing the song; they simply need to listen to an original sound on the likes of TikTok and repeat the lyrics to their voice activated device to identify it for them.

Where are kids consuming music?

When speaking to kids (YTS 2021) about how they listen to music, Alexa was a standout device as a method of consumption. Voice recognition is allowing for consumers to effortlessly listen to music that fulfills their current mood or desire, with no exposure to text interfaces or even search browsers (Soundcharts Blog, 2021).  Bob Moz, MD of Techstars Music (2020), admits that his nine year old son is constantly talking to Alexa – “He has no concept of albums. He has no concept of media brands. He has no concept of playlists or groups of songs.” 

 

We asked the kids that we interviewed what it is that they play through Alexa, the majority of which couldn’t answer as they didn’t know a specific artist name. Instead, they would vaguely refer to “a TikTok song” or something they’d heard on YouTube. A YTS interviewee stated that he “like(s) TikTok because there is always something new”. Stephen Phillips, CEO of A.I. lab, discusses how both TikTok and YouTube offer creative outlets for kids who have grown up in Minecraft, transitioning ‘from mass-consumption to mass-creation’ (Soundcharts Blog, 2021). 

Although search options are available, our data suggest that: little investment is made in artist discovery on TikTok or YouTube but instead in recognition from viral videos. Contextual soundtracks have transformed the way kids discover generative music, creating an emotional attachment through social references as opposed to the passion of being a faithful groupie. Searches have been replaced with compliant scrolling and subliminal messaging.

What these platforms have in common 

TikTok and Alexa are both automated and lack traditional music discovery features, instead they play trending music without distinctly profiling or showcasing the artist. 

Although TikTok can be utilised for creators to share their music, commonly the soundtrack is duplicated along an endless thread of users in the form of a challenge or dance. When people recreate the video, the original profile is detached from the audio visually and the artist is simply recognisable from the small textbox that floats below. This online experience, centred around the homepage, operates with the knowledge that kids have short attention spans and therefore limits the artist’s opportunity to build an expressive universe for fans.

The similarity with YouTube for kids, is the accessibility of music on a platform they are already using. As opposed to parent’s or family set-up streaming accounts, social channels are a cost-free way for young children to keep up with popular tracks effortlessly, independently and often subconsciously.  Therefore, all platforms revolve around current, ever-changing songs that originate from earnt content or filtered news feeds, as opposed to artist status or OOH experiences. 

What does this mean for fandom culture?

For older demographics, a certain song can take you back to an exact moment. Remembering where you were when you first heard a song comes with a warm fondness and pang of nostalgia. However, this emotional attachment has drifted as younger audiences discover and absorb such an array of music on a weekly basis, that they do not have the time to develop deep-rooted artist relationships. 

‘The post-peak attention economy is a huge challenge for music’ and hugely responsible for the industry’s attempts to become more collaborative. By overlapping channels into gaming and video, platforms and formats can adapt to merge interests of younger audiences (Soundcharts Blog, 2021). 

Kids today do not face the difficulty that almost all of the generations before them experienced: ‘only hearing music when there are musicians around to create it’ (A Parent’s Guide to Gen Z’s Love of Music, 2019). These online channels feed music to pre-occupied kids that parallels the way in which their parents would seek new trends by religiously tuning into Top of the Pops at the end of the week. 

“I normally just search TikTok songs 2021.”

  • Girl, 15 (YTS)

The plethora and evolution of tracks on social media means kids do not seek artists who spend 10,000 hours perfecting their craft (and their brand), but instead latch onto quickfire trends and creativity.