Technology: It Really Hasn’t Changed Our Taste In Music

The past decade has witnessed the most insane upheavals in music technology.

Everything’s changed, but how much has musical taste itself changed during that period? According to data we’ve looked at, the answer is not that much, even though the ways we access, discover, and share our music have been completely revolutionized.

Of course, some things have changed taste-wise.  Over the past few years, electronic music has found its way into the mainstream, infused in pop music of all kinds. And the festival experience is changing the way fans interact with bands and live music.  People have gained unprecedented access to tools of creation, yet research finds that pop music has become more uniform and formulaic.

But these are shifts here and there, not fundamental changes.  And after breaking down the sales figures of various genres tracked by Nielsen Soundscan, the result seems to be that the types of music we love has been pretty steady.

Below is a graph of each genre’s share of the total album sales for that year.  A few notes: oftentimes, an album gets categorized under multiple genres. Electronic was introduced as a genre in 2010, and has been growing steadily since.  And for whatever reason, Nielsen suddenly reintroduced Rock as a category in 2006 (no response yet on why).

There are a number of possible reasons for this consistency.  This could indicate a widespread stagnation in musical taste, or simply that the same types of listeners are paying for music today as ten years ago, thus hiding trends.

But another takeaway is that technological and musical upheavals are largely separate animals.  Things like rock n’ roll, Nirvana, and rap do happen, but on their own cultural clocks.

– Niko Malek. 

10 Responses

  1. Callidus

    This is shows radio station data. Probably from one continent, or even 1 city.

    Radios are absolutly irrelevant in the 21th century, this is what this data shows. Check the flow on the net, or try to compare the festival visitor numbers

    • paul

      The data itself is from album sales, not radio. But, radio undoubtedly influenced the outcome to some degree.


    • Versus

      Radio is “irrelevant”?


      “Half the Entire US Population Primarily Discovers Music on Radio…”

    • Versus

      Anyway, the chart shows album sales, not radio, as stated in the text.

  2. Mike McCready

    I was involved in a lot of research about the consistency of our collective music tatses in the early 2000’s. We used computers to isolate features in music such as melody, harmony, beat, tempo, rhythm, octave, pitch, chord progression, etc.

    We discovered that there are about 60 combinations of these features that make up most hit songs, including most of the masterpieces of the classical composers. Additionally, we inferred that new genres of music (we studied those created in the 20th century including rock, hip hop, grunge, disco, & punk) do not create new patterns that a mainstream audience typically enjoys. That is especially true with hit songs.

    In other words, we (as humans) find new ways to express the same old patterns that continue to repeat throughout history, independently og genre. That could be why no matter how much technology changes, human taste will remain constant. You could probably reach the same conclusion with our other senses like smell or touch. Technology will probably not change what most of us can agree smells or feels good.

    Here is a link to a Harvard Business School case study in which I was involved on this subject:

    This is a link to an excerpt of an episode of the CBS show Numb3rs that was based on our research. It’s a quick paced, dramatized, entertaining explanation of our research:

  3. Visitor

    The terrible things is I shouldn’t even need to tell how much bullshit this chart is…

  4. Versus

    Very curious indeed how rock was simply left out as a category…and here it is now the best-selling genre.

    Any explanations would be very welcome.

    – V

  5. duh

    According to this chart, rock was invented in the late 2000’s.