Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Catalogue Music’s Dominance Extends to Streaming Platforms

Ted Gioia, the Honest Broker:

I had a hunch that old songs were taking over music streaming platforms — but even I was shocked when I saw the most recent numbers. According to MRC Data, old songs now represent 70% of the US music market.

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I can understand the frustrations of music lovers getting no satisfaction from the current songs, though they try and they try. I also lament the lack of imagination on many current hits. But I disagree with their larger verdict. I listen to 2-3 hours of new music every day, and I know that there are plenty of outstanding young musicians out there. The problem isn’t that they don’t exist, but that the music industry has lost its ability to discover and nurture their talents.

Gioia explores many possibilities for why catalogue music — recordings from more than eighteen months prior — is dominating charts. Maybe big artists are delaying releases due to the pandemic, causing audiences to retreat to songs they already know and love. Perhaps TikTok is to blame for keeping tracks with endlessly reusable choruses — like Gayle’s “ABCDEFU” — on the charts, though how that explains Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” spending over a year on the Billboard Hot 100 is anyone’s guess.

But there is a simpler reason I think makes the most sense.

Ben Gilbert, Synchtank:

Kriss Thakrar, consultant at MIDiA Research, believes the answer is connected to both technology and demographics. “The audiences of streaming platforms are getting older. Most of the early adoption was from millennials who are now in their late 20s and 30s. There are twice as many people over the age of 35 as there are under 25 on streaming so the listening habits will naturally skew towards older music, coupled with younger listeners also being inclined to listen to older songs,” he told Synchtank.

“However, millennials remain Spotify’s core audience and music from this millennium (but still over two plus years old) forms the vast majority of music consumption. With catalog forming the majority of consumption on streaming, it is no wonder that the owners of that catalog are set to benefit the most. This creates new opportunities for older artists to monetise their catalog and overall it works well for labels and publishers,” commented Thakrar.

No matter how much new music I listen to, there is an ever-growing depth of stuff I have already listened to which I am able to return to. That is not to say there is only a singular factor, nor that no new stars have emerged from the music industry — Lil Nas X and Doja Cat have established their presence with aplomb. But in an aging nation (PDF), like the U.S., it surely seems like more people gravitating toward the familiar means older music has an edge.