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Human beings have a complex and, usually, life long relationship to the music that they listen to.
Many of us have a sort of unofficial soundtrack to the course of our lives and Spotify wants to better understand how our interplay with music changes as we age.
Of course, the streaming giant isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart – it’s because it wants you to listen to more music, but the results are fascinating all the same.
The surprising finding from Spotify was that younger listeners tend to listen to less music and explore less content overall than older listeners. But… that those younger listeners were more inclined to listen to a wider diversity of music types than older listeners.
In their paper Dynamics of Exploration on Spotify, published by the company’s own research team, describes younger users as “generalist repeat consumers”. In that the younger generation consumes a broad and ever changing variety of music.
This, in turn, the researchers say has an impact on the “re-consumption” of music. That means young people tend to come back to more of the tracks that they listen to, than older users, and that these tracks then become “favorites” for the future.
With older listeners, things are very different, the researchers call these people “specialist explorers” and they say by the time that you reach 45 years of age, you’ve become about as specialist as you can be.
These older listeners tend to listen to a much narrower range of content than they might have as youths. This is because, by now, they know what kind of music they like and they tend to seek that style of music out.
The author can confess that as a rock/metal fan of nearly 50 years, he found himself laughing hysterically at the new Beyonce number “Heated” (which has become somewhat controversial) as it is so far away from what he’d choose to listen to that it was nearly incomprehensible as to why anyone would listen to it.
Note: This is not said to impugn Ms. Knowles verifiable talent, but simply to observe how our music tastes become more fixed over time.
This is what Spotify wants to know, so that it doesn’t serve up Heated to an older listener with no interest in it, but does serve it up to a younger more open-minded audience.
Thus, Spotify researchers say that our music taste tends to become set in stone over time.
That doesn’t mean, however, that an older person and a younger one can’t have the same playlists.
In fact, it is entirely possible for a “specialist explorer” to drill down a playlist based on the novelty that they seek within their sphere of preferred influence and for a “generalist repeat consumer” to stumble over the same tracks in their search to broaden their tastes.
This research agrees with a piece that was published in The New York Times back in 2018, “The Songs That Bind.” Where researchers suggested that we establish our musical taste in our teens and then as we progress through life, we build on those preferences.
A piece in Mic.com, entitled “There’s A Magic Age When You Find Your Musical Taste, According to Science” suggests the same thing. That you begin to develop your taste at the age of 14 and by the age of 24, you’ve pretty much settled on who you are, musically, at least.
Spotify’s researchers came to these conclusions after looking at the actions of 100,00 verified service users over a 3 year period in which they played approximately 8 billion tracks!
And, in addition to the headlines above, they also determined that youthful users tend to explore music sporadically but regularly, with even spacing between “discovery windows”.
Whereas older users tend to take much longer breaks between discovery but when they returned to seeking out new music, they did so in a much deeper and thorough fashion.
Interestingly, the researchers found that the number one time for new music discovery, in all age groups, was Christmas time. (Probably due to a quest for festive season tunes that we haven’t heard a thousand times before).
Spotify, of course, intends to use this research to improve the “stickiness” of the Spotify service for listeners both young and old.
The more they can tailor discovery to meet the needs of the user, the more likely that user is to keep on listening.
However, it probably comes as no real surprise that as we age, our preferences grow stronger and we become less likely to seek out “off the wall” music choices.
The research from Spotify only seems to confirm something that was relatively well understood within the industry already.
Of course, we can be certain that Spotify will continue to dig down into people’s listening and their music discovery phases to become even better at targeting the needs of each individual using the service.
Big data has a lot to answer for – we’ve also got some great pieces on how data science is influencing the development of the music industry as a whole as well as the most popular music genres according to big data.