Radio and Music Discovery – What it Really Means

Radio and Music Discovery

You’ve probably heard about the new Nielsen study indicating that radio remains the leading way folks discover new music.

From RollingStone.com:

Forty-eight percent of listeners discover music via FM and AM stations, according to a new Nielsen Music 360 study of 3,000 online consumers. In second place for music discovery are friends and relatives at 10 percent, followed by YouTube at just seven percent.

This strikes many folks as a surprise, but it shouldn’t.

Yet check out Rolling Stone’s incredulous tone:

Although Nielsen didn’t break down the demographics of the survey group, it almost certainly skews older, i.e. people who have the habit of relying on Top 40 DJs to tell them what’s cool or office workers who have little choice but to listen to what’s coming over the speakers. In the survey, teen listeners are far more obsessed with YouTube: 64 percent of them discovered music that way, compared to 56 percent for radio, 53 percent for iTunes and 50 percent for CDs. (Fifty percent of teens discover music via CDs? When all the music is available cheaply on Amazon or iTunes or free on Spotify? Hmm. We haven’t noticed mobs of teenagers crowding us out of record stores lately.)

What the naysayers are misunderstanding is that most folks don’t view “music discovery” the way the music nut views “music discovery.” For many, if not most, music listeners, discovery is something they’re virtually forced to do, not something they do willingly.  Indeed, “discovery” is largely the wrong term for the vast majority of music listeners – the right term would be “exposure.”

“Discovery” implies an intention to discover, like panning for gold. “Exposure” reflects being in the right place at the right time and not being averse to that which one is exposed to.

The appetite for “discovery” is vastly overstated, except among the youngest music consumers, as noted above.  Whereas “exposure” is something that happens to you, not something you seek out.

To diminish “officer workers who have little choice” as being somehow enslaved by “the man” when it comes to their music choices is naive if not downright stupid.  And it’s stupid because this idea presumes consumers are stupid, and they are not.

The fact is that Top 40 DJs do know what’s cool because they are the taste-makers and the taste-reflectors.  So take that, Rolling Stone.

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  • Dave B.

    If you’re listening to a song on Youtube it means you chose to listen to that song. I would definitely say that’s “Discovery” more than “Exposure”. The fact that the next generation is choosing that could mean that radio is in trouble, or it could mean those people will get busier as they get older and then prefer to listen to radio where they don’t have to work to choose the music. How radio serves that audience remains to be seen.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Good points.

    First, since all of us have been teenagers we can certainly appreciate the critical importance of discovery at that age. And how it wanes as the years wear on.
    That said, I do not think folks will necessarily grow into “radio,” but I do think they will grow into more passive audio experiences which may or may not be radio. After all, Pandora can be plenty passive if you want it to be.

  • Anonymous

    I fall into the “discovery is something I do willingly” camp.

    Five years ago nearly all “exposure” or “discovery” took place via traditional radio. In the last year, discovery occurred almost exclusively thru digital channels (streaming services, social media, etc.) I can choose to either be my own DJ or be spoon fed. I started out in the radio business as a DJ, so the novelty of creating stations based on any artist, album or playlist has not worn off.

    The only place I listen to terrestrial radio today is in the car – the last frontier for Internet radio. When the “connected car” transition is complete, if the average radio station has not developed a holistic solution, I just don’t see how it continues to thrive. Especially if a mostly liner reading line-up of tastemakers is still its main attraction.

  • http://www.markramseymedia.com Mark Ramsey

    Hi Gordon,

    Lots of people still point to CD’s as a source of discovery, and those were certainly all the rage five years ago. When you want one song and you get ten, discovery is bound to happen.
    I think lots of music listeners couldn’t care less about discovery. Even if I call it “exposure” to something new.

  • Robert Andrews

    Their was a recent article that sparked a fight between a lot of the NAB members and “up and coming” artist in content distribution and why terrestrial radio should not get as many perks on royaltys concerning content distribution. But it in-directly echoed this articles statement. I think its rediculous that artist point the finger at radio and ask why the stations don’t seem to be hacking it. The point if radio was to play what the community/demographic wants to hear. With prices of electricity rising in San Diego, wattage to cover a mass audience isnt cheap. The idea of radio is to give artist that play the game mass exposure. The idea of pandora, youtube, ect. Still leaves artist in a SEA of unsigned good and bad music, and to new exposure (a young audience) leaves good music, and the less known unfounded. The only hope to bring them to the surface is podcast and microcast through alternative media outlets. If anything, artist crying over royaltys is just one more road block to quality programming on the radio side. The one thing artist with a label and PRO’s fail to understand; exposure equals money from an audience during live performances. So I don’t blame radio for the lack of artist exposure. I blame the flexibility of all the variables currently around the radio industry. I do, however, blame the industry for not playing nice with all the micro media content getting popular, paying money out of pocket, and still not getting syndicated. I also do blame the areas of the industry that, despite all the technological advances, stick with their guns, the same format and attitudes used ten years ago. They shot themselves in the foot.

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