Earlier this week, New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones organised a discussion between three of modern music’s most respected and thoughtful players to discuss the state of their industry, and how — or if — anyone can still make money off of music in 2013.
Musicians are now in the T-shirt/Kickstarter/BandCamp/Spotify/Twitter/Facebook business. In the end, it’s not the big tech companies or the conglomerates driving this, it’s the users who tell us what they want. Spotify simply managed to find the problem and solve it, as did Apple with the iPod and iTunes.
We’d been planning to send around a survey that addressed this topic, and the post finally gave us the needed spur.
The results pretty much confirm everything Allen says.
Our office is filled with 20- to 40-something young professionals, a group who enjoy the disposable income to indulge their musical tastes.
They were asked the following questions:
1) When was the last time you bought a physical piece of music, like a CD or record?
2) How frequently do you pay to download music?
3) Do you stream music? If so what service do you use? And do you pay for it?
We also had people discuss whether they less-than-legally download music, whether via file sharing or through a Torrent site (which are basically the 2013 version of Napster).
And we invited everyone to riff on their listening habits, and we got some enlightening soundbytes.
We got 35 responses in total.
The takeaway: It is now clear that everyone listens to music in their own special way; no one person’s system is the same as the next anymore.
In fact, we had to go through multiple formulations to put together tables that accurately captured the responses we received.
That said, some clear patterns emerged.
There is one caveat: Half of America listens to music in their cars, an item no more than a handful of respondents to our survey own.
Anyway, let’s go to the charts.
Paying to download: End of an era?
The advent of the iPod and it iTunes is generally credited with ushering in a new era of music consumption, as well as pulling the music industry out of its Napster-induced tailspin.
But our survey suggests that era may already be waning: The majority of BI’ers say they hardly ever, or never, pay to download music anymore.
And here are some quotes that flesh out these results:
“I download music pretty regularly. I probably spend about $US30/month downloading music off iTunes. I like to support the bands I like by buying their albums. Torrenting isn’t worth it to me. I would rather pay and know what I’m listening to is the right version/good quality.”
“I’ve stopped buying music online, too, since I can get just about anything on Spotify. I don’t download illegally, it’s too much effort and not worth potential computer viruses.”
“I never download anymore – just invested in Spotify premium.”
Spotify versus Pandora: the Swedes have the edge
For the 32 who say they stream music, Spotify bests Pandora 14 to 10. Several respondents said they do use both, but leaned heavily toward one or the other, and in that case we scored in favour of the preference. Four individuals said they use both equally. The services in the “other” category included iTunes Match, iTunes radio, GrooveShark, and 8tracks.
“I like the randomly-generated choices of Pandora better than picking and choosing my own playlists on Spotify, when I can just use iTunes for that.”
“Spotify when I know what I want to listen to, Pandora when I feel like being surprised. I like it better than the radio feature on Spotify.”
“I go through phases. But since using Spotify, I’d say I listen to 95% of my music through that and haven’t touched my MP3s hardly at all since. Its also increased my rate of music discovery, which is great. I never listen to the radio as it sucks. “
“I use Spotify on the computer mostly, Pandora on the go.”
Paying to stream: Pandora’s free-rider problem
Not a single respondent giving a definitive answer who uses Pandora said they pay for the service’s premium version, which cuts out ads, allows for offline listening through a Desktop app, and ostensibly provides higher-quality audio.
On the flip side, among Spotify users, more said they pay for the premium version — which allows you to listen offline, on any device, and without ads — than said they stay with the free version.
And some colour:
“I no longer buy music . Spotify has everything I need, and I’m just fine ‘renting’ it all for $US10 per month.”
“Today, I think Spotify makes sense, but I’m too cheap to pay for it on my phone. I like iTunes Match because it’s all of my music on my phone. If I want to test something out, I use free Spotify on desktop and if I love it, I buy it.”
I stream, mostly using Spotify. I pay the $US10 a month for the premium, so I can listen on the computer at work and iPad/phone at home. “
“I’m using premium most of the time these days. I stream exclusively. You Tube is a close-second.”
Physical music purchases: Reelin’ in the years
You may have noticed your local Tower and Virgin records are no more.
That’s probably because, from our perspective, the last time one of us bought a CD or disc was, by median year, 2008, among those who provided a definitive answer.
Rob Wile/Business Insider
Free or less-than-legal downloading: It happens, but not in a vacuum
Most respondents also said they download music for free in some form — whether through a musician who posted a new track on their own website or a free, legal service like SoundCloud; a “social” site like DropBox; or from what we’re going to call a less-than-legal service like Pirate Bay, where users upload music they’ve already bought for others to download for free.
But rare was the case where someone procured music for free to the exclusion of everything else.
And some even said it was amoral not to pay!
There was no good way to quantify these responses, but here are some illustrative comments:
“I download mixtapes and singles that aren’t on Spotify, maybe twice a month or so.”
“A few friends and I share a Dropbox and exchange music that way.”
“I don’t file-share because I have no reason to keep files — I prefer to stream everything.”
“I Torrent, mainly Pirate Bay.” (from a Pandora user)
“It doesn’t seem right. I have only relied on it for things all but impossible to get online or in a store like international music or film. I would rather pay a reasonable subscription fee and sleep better at night.”
“I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve tried torrent, and can never get the damn things to load properly.”
Well, there it is. Please let us know if there’s anything more you think we should follow up on (except what music we’re actually listening to — some of us are a bit chagrined by that one … ).
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