People Just Aren’t That Into Music, Study Finds…

The is a breakdown of the different types of music listeners (source: Ovum Research):

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And this is how music services often look at it:

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But most consumers don’t care if Spotify has tens millions of songs, according to the latest research.  And they aren’t fanatics trying to discover new music or research obscure bands.  Instead, the real money may be in “lean-back listening,” a less interested group that research groups Mahindra Comviva and Ovum Research say is sorely underserved and oftentimes ignored.  “The problem for the music industry is to ensure its services and features appeal to the lean-back listener, an easy-to-eat rather than all-you-can-eat approach.  Lean-backs are looking for help to discover their musical taste, and are big listeners of hit radio stations, looking to have digital music recommended, curated, themed and packaged for them.”

“Lean-backs do not want to work to set up their basic music session but do want compelling and easy to access choices.”

This is why Beats Music is so interesting, and why Pandora is crushing the competition.  It also explains why traditional radio is playing fewer songs than ever before.  Even the brainy Echo Nest seems to be learning that deep niches are mostly uninteresting to listeners.  “Successfully monetizing digital music ‘on-a-plate’ requires a sizeable audience of lean-back listeners, close management, refined programming and packaging of music and a strong connection with local culture,” the report continues.


He's Just Not That Into You
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The rest – whether Spotify, Deezer,, or – seem to be missing (or have completely missed) the memo.  “Sophisticated interactive features for experiencing music  including ‘scan and match’, ‘smart radio tools’ and ‘social integration’ re-emphasize the industry’s focus on the lean-forward core enthusiast who is engaged by interactive features, a highly active experience that is not always intuitive to the passive nature of the lean-back listener.”

According to the report, a continued over-emphasis on lean-forward fanatics could be killing the streaming industry.  “Without an appropriate model with refined focus, programming, ‘packaging’ and marketing to attract and keep the lean-back listener, the music industries expansion beyond the core listener to the mainstream majority could be weak.”

“A ‘successful’ music streamers conversion rate of around 25% leaves behind 75% of their subscribers.”


25 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    “People Just Aren’t That Into Music, Study Finds”

    People strongly disagree to studies like that, though. 🙂

  2. Anna

    While I agree that most ppl are “lean-backs”, they still require a curated experience. Unfortunately a lot of algorithm-based streaming services hit the mark, which is why they’re leaving 75% of (potential) subscribers behind. If I put want a Billy Joel station, I want classic hits. Yet, Echo Nest thinks I’ll like Lionel Richie’s newest release, when I’d much prefer his classic hits.

    • Casey

      I’ve not had a good experience yet on a radio service using the Echo Nest. Luckily a lot of services exist that do not use the Echo Nest and some of the ones that do still have human curated stations.

    • River Waters

      Yes! Curated means value-added. Most people haven’t the time or energy or interest or even the discrimination to sift through and select, and to bring context to, the playing of music. That’s what radio used to do. The playlists on Spotify can be really worthwhile, but even there, I miss knowledgeable, intelligent and brief commentary between songs. Now THAT creates fans out of mere listeners. I want more of it, but only PEOPLE can curate and machines fail.

  3. GGG

    The part of this argument I never understood is why does it matter if there’s 10 songs or 10 billion songs on Spotify or any streaming service?

    If you only want to listen to popular music go to the top lists, or playlists, or search whatever mainstream artist you want. The fact that there’s a million other more niche artists doesn’t make the service harder to use. That makes no sense. If people are having trouble understanding that it’s their own fault for not taking 10 seconds to click on like two things as much as it’s Spotify’s for not making that overly simplified.

  4. The Other White Anonymous


    For god’s sake, people. Flawed data makes flawed conclusions. A data driven approach is great but only AFTER the consumer gets a taste of what’s possible — NOT to divine what consumer taste is.

    “If I’d have asked people what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

    To go data driven too early is to corrupt the sample with asymmetric information and respondents who lack capacity. It’s why we don’t put kids on juries. It’s why innovation comes from strong visionary entrepreneurs and smaller companies. Too many big companies staffed by execs and product managers who need focus groups and market data to develop new products and services in a CYA (cover your ass) atmosphere.

    Besides, what Marc Geiger said.

    If this business is ever going to hit ≥ $100B in annual revenue, it probably won’t bear much resemblance to the landscape today. Thus the market research behind the article is, at best, a premature distraction from those in search of ‘faster horses’.

  5. Minneapolis Musician

    Things will drastically change when wireless Internet is literally everywhere and all cars can receive it, as well as your phone.

    We’re still a long way from that. Especially when you get away from major cities, it seems. Even here in Minneapolis, I find “dead spots” all too easily where the music from my smartphone just disappears. Gone.

  6. TuneHunter

    Streamer, internet Radio, normal Radio PLAY DAMN GOOD to keep them with you.

    Then do not show what you play and activate Discovery Moment Monetization with Shazam, Google lyrics or Google Music Search as a cash registers allowing you to add the tune to your play list WITH ABSOLUTE CERTIFICATE OF OWNERSHIP for just 39 cents.

    If all busy bodies tackle DMM just $.25 (quarter) will do and we will have 100 billion dollar industry before 2020

  7. A Lean Back Listener

    That’s why DJ services like Plum Radio or even 8tracks make so much sense. I’d rather let a person program my music. Algorithms are unimpressive up to this point. I agree with this study.

  8. R.P.

    stop trying to sell us on BEATS.. it sucks.

    People don’t know what they like, so we drive music their way and then we dictate every other trend that “lean-backers” follow, so it works for us… we’ve been doing it for years. Spotify is the only platform that allows us to do this without hardware.

  9. Paul Lanning

    Most people have always wanted music to be spoon-fed to them in small, enticing doses.

  10. Paul Lanning

    Most pop music listeners have always wanted their music presented in small, enticing increments.

  11. Steven Stone

    I’d love to see a link to the original article…

  12. guest

    The missing ingredient is “street level” retail infrastructure. Now that the industry has ruled compact discs unworthy of that model, there is no tactile product that people can own (and no, vinyl isn’t “set to make a comeback”). The resulting rationale in the mainstream is a “devaluing” of music as a whole. Even the high profile touring artists who used to be able to pay their mortgage on album receipts are now forced to tour as the only profit option. Meanwhile, streaming music has virtually no profit advantage the the majority of artists under current payout agreements.

  13. Willis

    Here’s an experiment – try taking music out of life completely and see how people react. No radio, no personal music players, no streaming, no elevator music, no music in film/tv/commercials – nothing. I bet people are just not aware of how important music is to a more enjoyable life.

  14. Willis

    Try this – take away all music for a period of time and see how people really feel about music. I’m talking music from tv/film/commercials, elevators, radio, streaming, personal players, cds, etc. I bet people value music more than they know.

  15. Eric Din

    Thanks for the thought provoking post, Paul. Fascinating study, ridiculous conclusion. People are into music, period. Always have been and will be until the last human heart beats its last. And duh, may I add! The problem isn’t that people aren’t into music, it’s that corporations aren’t into music, or people. It’s 2014 and they’re still trying to come up with something half as fun (fun, remember that? people are into it!) as Napster was.

  16. 40 Year+Radio+Vet

    I don’t have any data. I do have professional radio programming experience from 1977 to today. I do have a lifetime of living and working in the industry of putting music in people’s eyes and ears .. on the air, on the Internet, and on stages. As much as it pains me to say it – and it does, trust me – it is true that the average person … the AVERAGE person … wants a nostalgically romantic connection to the music that comes from the car radio, or the “transistor radio” (for us old guys) and is NOT going out in search of something new to titillate their fancy.

    • Paula Wertheim

      the AVERAGE person … wants a nostalgically romantic connection to the music that comes from the car radio, or the “transistor radio” (for us old guys) and is NOT going out in search of something new to titillate their fancy.

      RadioVet,you took the words right out of my mouth!
      I don’t have any current data either, but in 2012 Nielsen published a mini-report called, “Introducing Boomers: Marketing’s Most Valuable Generation” with some of the most compelling, crucial, life-and-death statistics on audience demographics to come out of Nielsen in years:

      Born between 1946 and 1964, the Baby Boomers are 80 million strong. Yet despite their significant size and spending power, these high potential consumers have been largely unaddressed by marketers and advertisers since they started to age out of the popular 18-49 cohort.

      It gets better:

      In five years, 50 percent of the U.S. population will be 50+. These consumers spend close to 50 percent of all CPG dollars yet less than 5 percent of advertising is geared towards them.

      Unfortunately, this obscure, forgotten study with it’s vital snippet of industry intelligence, should have been the wake up call to industry leaders to stop blowing off comments like RadioVet’s as “old school”, and take his preferences very, very seriously. We may be “old”, but as a group, we’re far from poor. Observing and listening to what really captures the hearts and wallets of us 80 million boomers should be the top priority of any music company who wants to stay in business AND make money. I suspect however, that most are doomed to go down with the ship as long as they keep singing, “What’s profitability got to do with it?” LOL

  17. EBS

    Wrong. Most people eat plastic food at McDonalds and have no idea what vegetable a French fry comes from, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t into food.

    Your title is misleading and undermines your argument, which is also BS. Whether it’s good for a corporation to promote a certain platform has nothing to do with whether “people” like music.

    Stop writing badly and go turn one person on to a great song, or better yet go practice and learn to play an instrument, it would be a better use of your time.