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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.

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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