There is a single statistic that should make anyone interested in building a stronger music industry stop and think: 53% of all music listening is done via headphones. Combined with the fact that the average person spends almost 4 hours every day — orone sixth of their entire lives — listening to music, and it really should give pause for thought.
Why? Because it adds fuel to the growing fire that the future of the industry is in the way it can serve up a highly personalised experience. Music has evolved from something we create together to something we listen to together to something we experience predominantly alone. The most common musical activity today is listening to recorded music. And the most common way of doing so is via headphones.
An interesting upshot of this is that the myriad social influences that cloud our decisions about what we 'want' to listen to go out the window. With headphones, we can listen to anything we like and no one else need ever know. This opens up a veritable pandora's box-worth of opportunities for personalising the experience.
Of course we don't only experience music alone, and the live industry continues to blossom. But there too there exist many ways the experience could be personalised, not least of which is the 2nd (3rd?) coming of VR. Looking increasingly likely to take hold this time, it will be interesting to see how successfully the major players in the music and tech industries can implement it for music fans. And how effectively they'll personalise the experience.
Of course, not everyone wants a tailored, convenient experience. What about the surge in vinyl sales, for example? If vinyl is your thing, go right ahead and revel in the subtle nuances of the black plastic disc, build your collection, dare to be different. I grew up on vinyl, I'm right behind you.
But keep in mind that vinyl is now, and will forevermore be a niche market. It may tap into our desire for nostalgia for both those who knew it originally and those for whom it's a hipster throwback, but it's too clumsy, too fragile, to to appeal to the average person. And even if it did make more revenue in 2015 than on-demand ad supported tiers of streaming services, such as YouTube, Vevo and Spotify’s free service, even with its recent surge it only accounts for a tiny fraction of the revenue generated by paid tiers of such streaming streaming services.
So back to the future. The concept of targeting has evolved into a highly sophisticated beast. We're living in the age of hyper targeting, with all manner of goods and services being served up according to our alleged preferences. The question of interest to me is how to get at those preferences? As I've said before, play counts and user profiles are useful, but they're not useful enough. We need to focus on how listeners experience music, then tailor that experience to precisely fit each individual.
And that's the bottom line. With over half our music listening now taking place via headphones, the time is ripe for a new hyper-personalised fan-centric model.