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February 5, 2014 | Music Notes Blog

Tribes & the Social Reasons Why We Like Streaming Music Services

Before you read any further, click this link for the blog post by the always illuminating Seth Godin (I’d also recommend this book of his expanding on the subject). What Mr. Godin understands so well is the importance of human connection and group activity for everything from art to household goods to ideas.

Maybe this can be a good context for us to think about the evolution of music?

It wasn’t so long ago that the way many people listened to music was very different from today. Of course radio was a big part, but so was the record player and the Hi-Fi, with many hours (and dollars) dedicated to finding just the right setup and pair of speakers. It was easy to listen with friends and family, picking out your favorite albums to share, or finding just the right station to hear the new song everyone is talking about.

When the cassette, and later the CD came out, the way people listened changed too. It became easier to disconnect from others and just listen alone on a Walkman. But the desire to use music to connect with others didn’t go away. Does anyone else remember looking at their new college roommate’s CD collection as their first gauge of how well you would get along? And joining other fans for a live concert might be the best example of one of Mr. Godin’s “Tribes” coming together around a shared experience.

Then came digital music and the iPod. Is there any more perfect imagery than the white earbuds to represent the ability to listen to music all by yourself? Digital music allowed people to listen to virtually whatever they want, wherever they want – but apparently was so good at isolating us that we need instruction manuals (“Avoid switching off your brain when you switch on your gadget”) on how to continue functioning like human beings while we use them. Events like the Grammys and the Super Bowl became more important and more popular as there were fewer opportunities to have everyone connect on a single point.

But now we’re seeing music at the forefront of the new ways people are connecting to each other online. On Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, music artists and videos dominate the lists of what is most popular. Virtually all of the new music streaming services (like Spotify, YouTube, and now Beats Music and others) have an online social component as part of the basic fabric of the listening experience. And fans are connecting with other members of their “tribes” in greater numbers. So even with headphones on, people are not just listening by themselves.

Joshua P. Friedlander
Vice President, Strategic Data Analysis, RIAA