Music discovery in 2023 is about the journey, not the moment
Photo: Tan Kaninthanond
Oversaturation was among the hottest music industry topics of 2022. By now, we have all read — and maybe gasped at — the recent estimate that more than 100,000 new songs hit streaming services daily. Artists new and old are struggling to reach and retain fans, major labels have begun rallying streaming services to separate their music from the “flotsam and jetsam”, and the inevitability of AI-generated music will only intensify competition.
Oversaturation is clearly causing problems for the music industry. But is it a problem for consumers? We might expect so, yet, according to our new MIDiA report, ‘Music discovery snapshot Q3 2022 | Fandom under threat’, only 15% of consumers strongly agree that they find it difficult to discover new music. This somewhat surprising statistic reflects that in the absence of consumers demanding better discovery methods, the pressure is on artists and their teams to make discovery happen. In 2023, this will mean approaching discovery as a journey, not as a moment.
Discovery is a journey
Discovery efforts often focus too much on a moment, like hearing a new song on Stranger Things or in a TikTok video. But making that moment happen is just the beginning of a long journey — one that hopefully continues with listening to the full song, researching the artist, streaming more music, eventually becoming a fan, spreading fandom, and buying merchandise and live tickets. This journey is what separates one-off song fandom from lifelong artist fandom. As consumption continues to fragment, forcing the industry to shift focus to core fans rather than pure scale, it will become even more important.
But, currently, there are few clear paths. Executives often note the challenge of getting TikTok users to search for TikTok songs on Spotify, but even users who do migrate to Spotify will find themselves with few ways to learn more about the artist beyond their bio, and an experience that focuses more on individual songs than albums and artists. While streaming services have traditionally served simply as places to consume music, their future role may be more expansive. Spotify’s new merchandise and ticketing features represent only the end of the journey — platforms must fill the gap with features that lead to artist discovery and fandom in the first place. Social features, such as the ability to share songs with other users on-platform or post to your profile, will likely play a role as well.
Not all sources have equal impact
Discovery strategy is not just about understanding where consumers are discovering music, but also the impact of those spaces. Just because a discovery source is mainstream — meaning it will reach the most people — does not mean it will have the greatest impact on time and money spending. In fact, there tends to be an inverse relationship between how mainstream a music discovery source is, and how much time and money the consumer using it puts into music.
According to our new report, the most common sources for discovering music are YouTube, followed by the radio — although for gen Z consumers, TikTok replaces radio for second place. But consumers who cite these sources score lower on time spent listening to music and money spent on live music, when compared to the rest. By contrast, consumers who discover music through niche sources, like blogs, podcasts, and magazines, score high.
A need for narrative
There are a handful of explanations for this. It is a general rule of thumb for consumer behaviour that niche audiences are typically more engaged, while mainstream audiences are typically more passive. Niche sources, like magazines, often can only cover a limited number of artists, and so they are less congested. It is also easier to present context around an artist that may lead to fandom — like their life story or aesthetic — via magazines and podcasts than something like radio.
Marketers can begin to think of music discovery sources like maps for navigating a music city. Under-the-radar paths are more likely to lead explorers to a vibrant music scene where time and money are spent supporting artists, while mainstream highways may only take tourists to the outskirts.
Shaping the next generation of fans
The need to refresh discovery strategy is even more important when we consider the next generation of music fans. Gen Z consumers struggle slightly more with music discovery: 18% strongly agree that they find it difficult to discover new music (source: MIDiA Research consumer survey Q3 2022). Although they are more focused listeners — more likely to know the names of the artists they are listening to, compared to the consumer average — they are less likely to dig deeper into artists they discover.
This is a bit unsurprising, given that gen Z consumers are coming of age during the most congested music landscape ever, and one which elevates songs over artists. Older millennials had a chance to become familiar with pre-streaming-era music and artists before everything became so congested (and song-focused). But it is imperative that this generation connects with artists, not just songs. That means treating discovery as a long-term process, rather than a momentary one.
MIDiA's new report, ‘Music discovery snapshot Q3 2022 | Fandom under threat’, is available for clients here. If you are not yet a MIDiA client and would like to find out how to access this report, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.