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The Music Business Turns Into Groundhog Day: The Honest Broker

A new consumer survey measures an industry in which “time is standing still”.

Contemporary Super Study 4 Top Albums

A new report came out today on the state of contemporary music. But the only thing new is the report. When it comes to the actual music preferred by consumers, old songs are winning every battle. “The more things change,” the study’s authors admit, “the more they seem to be staying the same.”

I first covered this alarming trend, when I published my analysis “Is Old Music Killing New Music?” I won’t repeat what I said in that much-discussed article, but the bottom line was ugly: No matter what metric you picked—streams, downloads, investment dollars, ticket sales, etc.—music consumption was focused increasingly on old songs. 

Now we have more information from Coleman Insights, a media research company that periodically surveys consumers about their musical tastes, and the news is even more discouraging. Here’s how they describe the current situation in the summary of their report:

“We have yet to detect any rebound in consumers’ enthusiasm for contemporary music….It still feels like the movie Groundhog Day when it comes to contemporary music, as time feels like it is standing still.”

What exactly does ‘time standing still’ look like in music? Consider the study’s attempt to measure the most popular song right now. Here’s what they found:

Era Distribution

But the problem is much bigger than one sentimental song. The entire top ten is mostly unchanged from the last time they surveyed consumers:

Contemporary Super Study 3 and 4

No matter how they sliced and diced the data, the story was the same. Here’s the big picture—this chart measures the age of the 100 most popular songs and how it has changed over the course of four years. 

Ed Sheeran Tops Charts 3 Years in a Row

I note that this survey only focuses on songs released in the last five years. So we have no way of gauging how even older music might fare. Yet even within this small subset of recent songs, new music is losing its audience. 

This lack of interest in new offerings would be troubling in any industry. After all, innovation is the lifeblood of a business. But an obsession with the past is particularly ominous when it comes to music.

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Music has long been a leading cultural indicator. Throughout history you could predict societal changes before they happened, simply by studying what songs are climbing the charts. What does it mean when this forward-looking art form unexpectedly turns around and decides it prefers the past? 

Surely that is a sign of some broader cultural change that is coming at us. I could speculate on what it might be. On the other hand, we can just wait and find out. And unless this troubling trend reverses—an unlikely development—we certainly will.


Ted Gioia is a leading music writer, and author of eleven books including The History of Jazz and Music: A Subversive History. This article originally appeared on his Substack column and newsletter The Honest Broker.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. ORT

    May 12, 2022 at 11:48 am

    Those with out talent and a history of their own are doomed to steal the works of others in a vainglorious attempt to foist their “music” as some sort of Magnum Poopus.

    Fortunately for these fArteests, their audience is composed entirely of ‘tards like those depicted in the painfully prophetic film, “Idiocracy”.

    Adele? Sucks.

    Ed Sheeran? Sucks.

    They all suck. Think about it. WTF is a “Harry Styles” and how did that cretinous creature become the fece of poopular music. Yes, I wrote it that way on purpose, because if the shit fits, Harry wears it.

    Apparently the totally talentless want to listen to the totally talentless. Beings the likes of Dua(l) Lips and that Emo whiner, Billie Eyelash are deemed talented. FTN. I know of no one of the age which “listens” to that dross that actually BUYS that crap. No one. And “new country”? Talk about fertilizer, two days ago KSON in San Diego played a Hick Hop cRap song. They did not answer the phone as I called to inform them that they should be deported immediately to the middle of the Pacific Ocean left to see just how long they could tread water.

    To those that boo hoo my words I say this. FTN. The filth that permeates the airwaves these dats is NOT worthy of listening to let alone purchasing.

    I am certain of one thing – There is no time travel. What makes me so sure of this? Because I would have gone back and changed EVERY THING and only I would be aware of the societal crapocalypse that was avoided.

    And Karen Carpenter would still be with us.

    Lawd but I despise what passes for talent these days. I really need to find Messrs. Peabody and Sherman. Now!

    As always, all typos are my fault as I am just a toad.

    ORT

  2. Steve H

    May 13, 2022 at 1:08 am

    It could be that the people promoting new music have failed. Or that new music failed us when we needed it. I don’t remember new music that has addressed the anxiety of recent years.

    But the real reason is easier, people like music they have heard before. They like it even more if it triggers a specific positive memory. And familiar music is a more reliable way to induce good mood in themselves.

  3. ORT

    May 15, 2022 at 5:03 am

    Lawday but these so called “record” companies must have lost their A&R people to the plandemic…Since these farteets do not seem to “earn” enough from the selling of their “art” one imagines they could sign on as what I shall refer to as “Wokesperson®” for all manner of “causes”.

    I miss the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and the 80s. From the 90s on I could give the proverbial airborne intercourse for what passes for musical talent, let alone acting. I bought the first two albums by Adele when she was first “discovered”. That’s it. I have them some where and occasionally find them and put them on the CD player.

    But nothing gnu from her will I listen to let alone purchase. Years ago Elvis was being interviewed and a reporter asked him his opinion on the Vietnam War.

    The King replied (and I paraphrase), “I don’t know man, I’m just an entertainer”…I wish today’s morons would just shut down. I don’t think much of their musical abilities and even less of their opinions. They are what I call, S.N.A.G.s, Sensitive New Age Guys/Gals. The salt of the earth…You know…Morons.

    I heard something forgettable by a group called “Imagine Dragons”. It sucked. A lot. Gravity increased while the song was on. I could barely escape the room but being a far more powerful than a normal toad, I managed to leave. I am more a Tony Bennett (sans Lady Gagmee and dementia) kinda guy.

    These creatures can choke on their woke and go back to working at the Piggly Wiggly or more likely, the local Ganja Growers which is another reason I hate my state. Dope filled Commiefornia.

    If the music industry wants to turn things around, get some A&R people that can locate talent on loan from God and get them to Abbey Road.

    I can not see any cRap fans 50 years down the road reminiscing about how they recall knocking over a convenience store to a song by Kool MoFo. I have great memories that have a sound track from Sinatra, Ella, the Beatles and more. But the last couple of generations are not so much filled with memories and music as they are full of crap and themselves. Kinda sorta the same thing when you think about it. 😉

    For those crying for a new format to sell? PFffffft! It ain’t gonna happen until there is a reason for those who can afford to buy hard copies, actually have some thing they want to buy. Recall if you will that line from the first M.I.B. when K upon seeing a teensie tiny disc, says to J, “I’m gonna have to buy the White album again”…

    Sheesh…Some times I think, I’m not bitter. I’m reeeeeeeeeeeeal bitter, LOL! And in truth, with good reason. 🙂 Thank you for a good read. Keep up the good work.

    ORT

  4. AB

    December 7, 2022 at 10:18 pm

    Watch the documentary about Spotify. The new and old combined to keep the control going. It doesn’t address quality, but new music is made mostly by machines. A band like Rush could never happen again – too complicated, and can’t be “danced” to.

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