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Music: Discovery vs. Comfort

Interesting New York Times piece about “the new tastemakers” – the way technology is empowering music consumers to discover, share, and buy music.

The piece also discusses how some radio stations are dealing with the trend (which is primarily by playing listener-submitted lists of songs).

Music consumers are influential radio listeners but they are far from the norm. And even their influence is not the same across all formats.

The real danger is, of course, for the music industry:

…more than 94 percent of the recording industry’s album sales still involve pieces of plastic, not megabytes. And that leads to a central problem for makers of recommendation and sharing tools: unless consumers become more active and embrace them, these services may exist as the limited province of music geeks. The heaviest buyers of music — fans who spend more than $100 a year on new recordings — compose 10 percent of all music consumers but account for more than 40 percent of the industry’s CD sales, according to the NPD Group, a research company in Port Washington, N.Y. Most of the audience is far less engaged, and may be less inclined to rummage for recommendations.

And so this article hits on the central issue: Liking music and being “engaged” in the music process are not the same thing. Even many iPod owners are not particularly “engaged” music consumers. And the process of “discovery” is not for all tastes or even most tastes. Many radio listeners buy little or no music. For them, radio is comfort, not challenge. And that’s as they want it to be.

Still, there is a very important subgroup of music consumers for whom such technologies will be life-altering. Both for them and for the sellers of music on plastic.

Consider, too, the situation of satellite radio. XM in particular seems to be oriented towards an audience that is more musically adventurous than Joe and Jane Average. What satellite has only recently come to understand (at some levels at least) is that it will be everything BUT music that drives the bus.

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