Scary Question: Are Younger People Tuning Out of Music?

It seems that everywhere I go, every music executive always says the same thing…

“There’s more music being listened to by more people than every before in history.”

It oozes opportunity and hope.  And it seems to make perfect sense.  MP3-stuffed iPods are now Spotify-loaded iPhones, and everyone – all day, every day – is drowning in their soundtracks.  The Entertainment Retail Association just reported that streaming volumes last year surpassed singles purchases from the past 60 years!  Over on YouTube, one estimate pegs music video viewing north of 45 percent of total viewing volume!

But does that necessarily mean that people care more about music, and will pay more for that music, or is this just a volume surge without the complementary depth and dedication?

At SF MusicTech Summit last month, Live Nation Labs head of product, technology, and design Ethan Kaplan said something startling to Digital Music News.  He noted that bands suddenly have less meaning on the internet, simply because they’re sort of a near-commoditized nugget of entertainment next to a bunch of other near-commoditized nuggets of entertainment.

“Think about it logically,” Kaplan said.  “In 2013, the difference between a friend and a band is inconsequential in terms of how it’s represented on your screen.  So, if you look at the media landscape in terms of how we engage with media, it’s all self-normalizing at this point. Friends on Facebook, music, something on Reddit, a video, it doesn’t have any difference.”

“It’s harder to drive loyalty to anything that isn’t differentiated from anything else.”

In the same discussion, longtime Gracenote executive and metadata leader Ty Roberts estimated that the average person knows between 10 and 20 musical artists these days; about half of what it was before.  In other words, there’s less depth of appreciation.

The question is whether this unprecedented flood of entertainment, all in a stream of bits and bytes, and graying out the special differentiators of music and lowering its importance among future generations.  Among the pre-Millennials (which are most of the readers here), commoditization can only go so far: after all, most of us have experienced some level of musical scarcity; some to an extreme degree.

Yet talk to those who are engaged with the youngest listeners, and you start to here some stunning tales.  Like this comment, posted last week from ‘Nikolay G,’ a guitar and ukelele teacher in the Bay Area (who was commenting on another eye-opening letter from another guitar instructor).

  • Save
I also teach guitar/ukulele to kids and adults of all ages, in fact I make 90% of my income from music lessons and the other 10% from live shows. Almost none of my students listen to any music at all. 

Whatever is played in their parents car on the way to school and that’s it. They may have heard a Disney tune here and there and part of it got stuck in their head but for the most part they wouldn’t know anything.  Like the original author said, almost all of them have iPhones with no music.  They play a lot of games on their phones and a lot of times I end up teaching the Angry Birds song, simply because that’s the only tune that they recognize.

Here’s probably where I should mention that I have tried to educate them on different musical styles, famous bands and composers, given them tons of tips on how to listen to the different types of music, played lots of videos of legendary performances in the lessons… Still, they would rather text or play Temple Run or whatever other sh!t is popular right now.

I’m not even one of those old guys that is supposedly stuck in the past and just ranting, I’m a 27 year old (originally from Eastern Europe), I grew up with music and that’s with no effort from my parents to make me listen to anything in particular.

I currently live in the Bay Area so I teach a lot of kids from middle class families, whose parents work in the tech industry. These are intelligent people, with good education and financially better off than most people I would guess, yet they don’t teach their kids the value of appreciating art, let alone paying for it.

  • Save

Written while listening to araabMUZIK’s Electronic Dream. 

24 Responses

  1. GGG

    I think it’s worth pointing out, based on my own experience, and also asking if other’s were similar, that I didn’t really engage in music hunting/buying/etc as an early teenager. The “problem” Nikolay is pointing out seems to be focused on his youngest students. People who don’t have disposable income beyond allowance, who can’t drive, who probably don’t have unlimited internet access due to parenting, etc. I’m not sure if that has EVER been different.

    I will certainly concede a point if a ton of people on here say they were buying all sorts of music at 12 years old, but even on a site frequented probably exclusively by music nerds, I would guess most of our early music experiences was parents’ music, the radio/pop culture, and friends, who were most likely also just radio/pop culture.

    I think a real problem would be is 18-15 year olds stopped caring about music. I think you could maybe argue the apathy towards understanding music is growing in that age range, but music is still one of the driving forces of being cool and uncool in our culture.

    • Hissula

      As early as 10 I was obsessed with not only my parents record collection, but that of friends and other family. I couldn’t wait to spend my allowance on music. My own daughter has been purchasing music for several years and she’s 13. When I was 12+ hanging out at the record/CD store was the thing to do. So I do protest your argument. I have grown up in a world where music was not just entertainment, but part of the formation of my soul! My parents themselves were not big into popular music, but because of my endless hours spent with the radio on….I was! So, there you have it. Personally I think 10-12 is the perfect age for kids to get excited by music. They do have money. They have nothing to spend it on. They are on the cusp of being corrupted by their peers and replacing anything meaningful with whatever is popular. I know first hand how great the influence of music can be on children. My own daughter was moved to tears by a Nirvana exhibit at the EMP in Seattle. She became a huge fan that day. (I had not exposed her to that genre pror to this). I was overjoyed!

      • GGG

        Just out of curiosity, when were you 10 years old? I was early teens in mid-90s, so maybe it’s a generational thing, as well.

    • themicbooth dot com

      Who are younger people? Why because they don’t make cd players no more? Its not the consumer its these heads of R&D creating and dropping new products and then upgrades to that product three or four times in less than a year. Already, I see the ad for the Galaxy 4… Didn’t the galaxy 3 just catch on

      Back to the music. Youth cannot afford the latest tech that is raved about at SXSW and othe symposiums. So they go where they can still hear music. Youtube, facebook, and torrent sites. Why buy records when its not “SWAG” enough to do so. Secondly why buy something you can lose, break, or get stolen. Albeit the same thing can happen to a iPod but chances are its backed up. This debate is getting old. Someone tell Ethan to find a new job if the music industry is doing bad because of some kids not buying cds. They never did, hell my first record was a bootleg from 28th street.

  2. Zac Shaw

    Younger people are not tuning out music. A few alarmist anecdotal quotes goes a long way to making the question sound scary, but it really isn’t scary at all.

    We need to stop framing young people’s relationships as music as “worse” or “better” than ours. It’s both — it’s just different.

    I’m pretty glad to see the old model of exploitation in the music industry go out the door. Older folks cry about their Beatles and Bowies and Eagles and how there will never be a budget for another “great” album. Truth is, there are less and less people who care about that stuff because they’re starting to die… literally. These kids will outlive us both. It’s time to start taking them seriously instead of writing off how all music sounds super-compressed and amateurish and music is destroyed. Let’s just say the second you start talking about “young people”, you’re dated.
    Here are just some of the non-scary ways “young people” have changed their relationship to music:
    The semiotic jukebox – semiotic democracy in action. Listeners create their own meaning from art. They’re not consumers being fed a product. Unlike previous generations of passive consumers, today’s listeners need to participate in the creation, production and performance of the music themselves. See mashups, dubstep, remixes, YouTube remix videos, crowd funding, social networks. A boon for personal expression. They want to participate in culture, not just consume it.Lo-fi listening (not just recording) democratizes album production – boo hoo on the loss of the market for your $2000 reverb unit. “In the box” production wasn’t a democratizing powerhouse until listener’s ears adjusted to the over-compressed earbuds. That doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate hi-fi… why do you think digital downloads keep rising? It’s just that young people have learned to listen to music differently at varying fidelity and still enjoy it. I think that’s admirable. IAccess to all music — good and bad — is better than access to a sliver of really good music. This one is sure to be controversial. We’ve been born and raised to adulate musicians as creative geniuses. Look it up — this is a cultural construct from the American Romantic period. Ever wonder why the Chinese have “free-spirited” IP attitudes? They never had a Romantic period! They still appreciate that Everything is a Remix and it’s not just the author but also the shoulders of the creative giants the author stands on that is the wellspring of creativity. Thus, the old way of having a really small selection of the “best” music (both by consensus and manufactured popularity) by protecting market monopolies is less preferable to having all works available, the signal with the noise. Not being forced to let others be the judge of musical quality? Priceless. This is a generation of curators, they are their own DJs. They don’t need AM/FM/XM to tell them what’s cool, they make their own cool. Change can be scary. Embrace it.

    • Jeremy

      Zac makes some valid points. But please not the “Everything is a Remix” trope. Yes, of course, writers ‘stand on the shoulders’ of previous creators. No one creates in an absolute vacuum; duh. But a very simple mind is required to turn this nuanced reality into the reductive idea that “everything is a remix,” unless you are re-defining “remix” beyond both recognition and usefulness.

    • Suzanne Lainson

      There will always be music and there will always be people making music.
      But it doesn’t necessarily follow that there will be paying fans of musicians/bands, which means the direct-to-fan business model may not be nearly as big has some companies hope.
      And the idea that the Internet has opened up opportunities for the new age of the middle class musician (with 1000 fans willing to contribute $100 a year to support him/her) may have been wishful thinking.

      As the tools allow more people to make their own music, the less they need others to make it for them.

      Combine that with economic trends where people need to save their money to pay for the basics in life, and there just may not be much money left over to pay for music.

      • Faza (TCM)

        I have to disagree with you Suzanne, partly because the idea is based on a false premise: that making music and listening to music fulfill the same need. If that were the case, then professional musicians wouldn’t be listening to any music at all (we know the opposite to be the case, though it should be said that becoming intimately acquainted with how music is made can turn one rather sour on the standard music offering).
        I don’t think the economy is that much of a factor either, because past recessions hadn’t shown major declines (see Stan Liebowitz’s research on the matter). Recorded music has always been relatively cheap and offers at least psychological relief in hard times.
        I think that the issue is a far simpler matter: only a small proportion of people cared about music enough to pay for it prior to the rise of the internet (the Music Management Bible from 2003 gives the number as coming in around 10%) and this probably hasn’t changed. Based on pure anecdata, most of the people I know may listen to the radio, but only a fraction get visibly excited about new releases from an artist or otherwise demonstrate a developed musical taste.
        The great mistake right now is that we’re so obsessed with catering to the casual listener that we’re losing the ability to cater to (and monetize) the involved audience. With a model like subscription streaming, we lose the distinction of between someone who just flips the radio on in the office and a die-hard record collector (one who collects for the music, not the artifact). This, I think, is incredibly foolish – more so, since nobody seems to recognize and address the issue.

        • Paul Resnikoff

          It seems that we’re refocusing on the ‘superfan’ once again, for better or for worse (though I’m optimistic). I wonder just how much weight this camel’s back can hold though. BandPage wants to create a platform for dedicated experiences that tap into the most dedicated and interested fans; Amanda Palmer blazed a trail that the rest of the industry is trying to figure out, and put in a bottle. Are we all blazing in a new direction, one that truly taps the fans that care and will gladly pay more?

        • david@indigoboom

          That is one of the smartest posts I have ever seen on DMN. Everyone should read it twice and then think about it.

        • ed

          i think you make some good points – although being someone who writes, plays & produces music for 8-10 hours a day, that cuts down my music listening time dramatically compared to a non-musician.
          But I think there’s a more nuanced level of fandom than a simple ‘active/passive’ binary. Certainly there are superfans and the music as wallpaper people. But there’s also a huge body of people who, I guess, are ‘passively engaged’. These are the people who don’t buy many records (if any), but when their friends tell them how they should all get together and go see XYZ, they say “Sure, why not? I’ve heard that band, they’re pretty good” and fork out a couple of hours wages. It’s about being part of the social experience, having some beers, not missing out on a big event, yadda yadda.

          I think these people are also the reason that certain artists hit a tipping point and go stellar – get them on board and your audience will triple overnight.
          That said, I think these are also the people who would make paid music subscription a success, if we could handle it right. I still maintain that if we could easily add a charge onto your mobile phone or cable bill, of perhaps $5 a month, for which you could legally stream all music ever (hey, I know I’m dreaming here) then these people who like good music but don’t have the time/inclination/cash to spend hunting it down would sign up in droves and save us all.

        • Paul Resnikoff

          BINGO! Faza.
          HUGE point.
          And what about making music perfect too. Right now EVERY song on the radio or TV, the traditional promo points, are tuned to absilute perfection, and when that happens, it becomes less attractive because it sounds so much like everything else, it is undifferentiated. Once the perfection has cancelled the greatness it’s value is nill, and thus unattractive.

  3. Visitor

    “Yet talk to those who are engaged with the youngest listeners, and you start to here some stunning tales”
    Don’t expect ordinary children (i.e. non-musicians) to be particularly interested in music.
    Music is about sex.

  4. Hopeful

    Well, Nikolay is living in the wrong town.
    Where I live in NJ, there seem to be plenty of kids listening to music – of all kinds. Our public, yes public, high school has a symphony orchestra, a wind symphony and two jazz bands. They play big band charts, they play new and old concert music, etc. I’ve been to their dances, these kids know tons of songs, new and old. My teenage son is a Beatles fanatic and loves Maroon 5, my daughter loves CS&N and Mumford.
    They subscribe to Pandora; they listen to XM; they listen to WCBS-FM, they watch Youtube videos.
    Uh, the reason they don’t have songs on their iPhone is they can stream it at will. Why pay for a 80G ipod when you can stream legally?
    The kids are alright, calm down. I am a musician – playing piano since age 6. My parents had maybe 40 or so albums in the house. They loved music but didn’t purchase a lot. We listened to the stereo, went to concerts, I discovered music on the radio and sheet music. Learned enough to graduate from Berklee. Most kids are not tuning out. They love love love music.

  5. Suzanne Lainson

    Think about classical music, where people sit respectfully and quietly in an audience consuming the music. Now think about today’s pop/rock/indie fan. If they are in an audience, they are likely tweeting, video taping, dancing, talking to friends, drinking, and so on. It’s a different way to consume music.

    And at home they may be adding music to a video that they have made, and/or curating music, and/or using an app on a smart phone to turn their words or the sounds around them into some sort of song, and/or remixing music, and/or playing with a music making app, and so on.
    I don’t think “fans” think of themselves as “fans” so much any more. They aren’t passive music consumers there to financially and emotionally support the “artists.” They may see themselves as creative, too, making and manipulating music to share with their friends or perhaps the bigger world out there.

    Music is there, but the distinction between fan and artist is becoming less distinct.

    • Visitor

      “the distinction between fan and artist is becoming less distinct”
      No, it hasn’t changed at all.
      There will always be creators and consumers, and the hits we all love are made by professional creators.
      As for remixes & mashups — they’ve been around for decades…

      • Suzanne Lainson

        There will always be creators and consumers, and the hits we all love are made by professional creators.
        That’s the crux of the issue. What is a professional these days? And is there enough money to support many of them? Lots of people can create music, but they still depend on non-music jobs to pay the bills. How many full-time working music professionals does the system support now and will support in the future?

  6. Mike W

    Music is becoming very commoditized. There’s more options than ever before out on the internet, and music has to compete with more and more forms of entertainment. This started happening when video games rose to popularity in the 90’s.
    Plus, the removal of delayed gratification with music (and video for that matter) lessens the perceived value. The instant access, and wealth of choice makes it easy to take for granted. You used to have to travel to Tower records, get in line, rip off the shrinkwrap, and manually insert a CD into your player to enjoy it. The fact that you have to work so little to listen to a song, belittles the way a consumer values it.

    • Suzanne Lainson

      The fact that you have to work so little to listen to a song, belittles the way a consumer values it.

      Yes, I agree. The mystery of creating music has been diminshed. The process has become very accessible to lots of people. It’s like driving a car or writing text. Not everyone does it well, but so many people do it that it becomes common place.

      • Brian

        Maybe so, but, the majority of music out there made by what used to be consumers is absolutely boring.
        They don’t understand how to make great anything. so, they lose interest.

  7. Adam

    Basically, if you think about it, we are back in the times when there were benefactors who supported artists rather than the public. If the value of music is greatly decreased now to the general public, which on could argue is the case, then we will see monetary support disappear (we already have.) Its supply and demand. So naturally the reason that selling out and making corporate deals is important is because they pay. And the consumers pay through those companies. Its kind of sad to imagine a world where corporate entities are the benefactors of art, as driving forces to sales and marketing, rather than as a part of society for and by the people. But this is the way things are going. Sooner or later we’ll be at the Bank of America Museum of Fine Art, or the Wal-Mart Hall of Fame. Its not far off. We already go to Verizon Wireless Center to see bands play, and SXSW has turned into a corporate city and party heaven. Albums are dead, music is a utility like water and electricity, and yet somehow we don’t really get billed for it…

  8. me

    “In the same discussion, longtime Gracenote executive and metadata leader Ty Roberts estimated that the average person knows between 10 and 20 musical artists these days; about half of what it was before. In other words, there’s less depth of appreciation.”

    He esitmated that, but it was also untrue.

  9. Lucylu

    This seems like a user experience issue to me, though I have research to back that up. I do know that I went from being such a music fan that I produced music reviews for a major media organization, to now hardly listening at all. To me, digital music is too much of a pain. All the files look the same, and the sound quality isn’t that great. I’m sick of my computer after a day at work. I have no need to manage more files. The only thing I might do is find a stream I like and hit Play, but then I have to plug my machine into speakers.
    CDs and record albums are tangible objects that separate me from the screen and keyboard. I loved the experience of going to a record store (used stores in my case because new album prices were inflated) and discovering good stuff while surrounded by other people. The process and user experience, not just the content, need to be seen as part of the appreciation process.
    Maybe I sound old, or maybe I’m actually post-digital.