Music, tech and social media have all seen unprecedented evolution in the last decade. 

If it isn’t the advancement in our mobile phone tech that helps users Snapchat a gig to their followers in real-time, it’s the seamless way you can share your favourite Soundcloud track to your thousands (if you’re lucky) of Instagram followers through Stories

In this article, I’m going to have a look at some of the ways tech and social media are impacting the music industry and highlight how the three worlds collide.

Music consumption habits have changed

The way in which we consume music has completely shifted. Where once (in the early noughties) there was peer-to-peer sharing of music files from sites like LimeWire and high demand for MP3 players, we now have paid subscriptions to online streaming platforms on our mobile devices giving us millions of songs at our fingertips. Physical media sales have decreased rapidly – there were 132 million CDs sold in the UK in 2008, by 2018 this figure had fallen to 32 million.

This paradigm shift hasn’t happened overnight but has certainly accelerated in the last few years. Take Spotify for example, in 2016 its number of paid subscribers globally was 30 million but by 2019 it had more than tripled that figure to 100 million. Apple Music has a similar story, launching in 2015 and now boasting 60 million paid users globally

Spotify, Apple Music and their rapid growth indicate a shift in consumer expectation for music whenever and wherever.

Platforms like YouTube Music, Soundcloud, Pandora and Tidal are also heavily used and you could argue that streaming platforms have become so ubiquitous they can now be broken down by use-case – e.g. extensive catalogue, independent artist discovery, passive listening or better audio quality.

One thing these platforms all have in common is their algorithmic foundations, using machine learning to work out the music preferences and listening habits of their users. This, combined with the platforms’ optimizing and prioritizing UX, we’ve entered the new world of music discovery.

The major streaming platforms have done a great job of giving their users the music they want in the form of personalised, curated and branded playlists.

A study by LOOP in the US found that playlists account for 31% of listening time across all demographics, compared to albums which account for 22%. Interestingly, The Guardian not only reported on the shift in consumer listening habits but also commented on the way in which the streaming platforms can propel lesser-known songs or artists to mass consciousness through their personalised and branded playlists.

Weekly playlists like RapCaviar on Spotify now have over 11.7 million followers and over 340k followers on Instagram – so popular that Apple launched its own playlist (Rap Life) in 2019 to compete with its rival and meet fan demand for prepopulated curated playlists.

Albums and singles have changed significantly…especially for indie artists

Independent artists are now putting their fate in their own hands, by bypassing labels, uploading their projects to online streaming platforms and speaking to their fans directly through their social media. A report by Wintel, showed streaming revenues from the indie sector alone saw an uplift of over 46% and increased its overall music market share to 39.9% in 2017.

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ALL MAJOR STREAMING PLATFORMS

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Websites like Landr allow artists to master their own tracks (significantly increasing the sound quality), platforms like Bandcamp give artists the space to sell their music for either pre-set or donated prices, and websites like Patreon have given fans the ability to pledge a monthly fee to their favourite indie artists.

This shift isn’t only consigned to the independent music scene but also the world’s biggest artists.

Gone are the days of just focusing on traditional album promo – billboards, pressruns and interviewing – we’re in a time where the likes of Drake, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Rihanna are also turning to Instagram and Spotify to announce their latest albums.

One of the best examples of this shift is Drake’s Spotify takeover for the release of his 2018 album, Scorpion.

As reported by USA Today “As part of the streaming service’s first-ever total artist takeover, visitors to the Browse homepage were greeted with a massive grid of Drake faces, on the cover of nearly every one of the page’s playlists…all categories that could be only tangentially tied to the artist, suddenly became Drake playlists, as part of a massive ad campaign for the rapper’s new album…”.

This method had never been seen before and although it received mostly negative feedback from Spotify users, it did introduce a new way for established artists and online streaming services to work together to produce innovative campaigns.

Album runtimes and the length of singles, in popular music, have also seen a change.

In the age of online streaming, artists are no longer confined to the time limitations of a vinyl, cassette or CD which is why there has been an increase in the length of albums from popular artists like Chris Brown, Migos and Rae Sremmurd (the former released 40-track and 35-track albums, in 2017 and 2019 respectively)

Conversely, singles are getting shorter. The NME reported that the average length of a #1 song in the ’80s was close to 5 minutes, however, since 2009 we’ve seen a gradual reduction in this length, clocking in at around 3.5 minutes.

There are a few reasons for both trends happening simultaneously.

Firstly, an album with a lot of tracks increases the likelihood that one of an artist’s songs is picked up by the algorithms on online streaming platforms and placed into fan-favourite playlists. These playlists also increase artists’ chances of getting larger streaming numbers, thus improving their chart positions.

This is why we have examples like J. Cole’s ‘KOD’ and Post Malone’s ‘Beerbongs& Bentleys’ equalling and breaking Billboard’s long-standing Top 100 Singles Chart record of the most songs by the same artist to chart simultaneously in the Billboard Top 20- a record previously held by The Beatles.

Secondly, with attention spans waning shorter songs have taken priority to increase the chances that a play of an artist’s song will help them accumulate equivalent sales quicker.

It’s this combination of music being released in strategic ways on online streaming platforms, combined with how fans consume it which helps to exemplify how much of an impact tech and social are having on music.

Sharing is caring

The ability to share songs, albums and playlists on social media platforms has given people new ways to show their followers what they’re listening to.

In 2018, Facebook introduced music stickers on both Facebook, Messenger and Instagram Stories. The feature allows users to add a song to their story, putting the powers of personalisation in the hands of the users and allowing music fans to share their latest favourite tune.

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study conducted by MusicWatch shows that 90% of social media users take part in some form of music- or artist-related activity on social platforms.

Two-thirds of social media users agree that they discover new artists on social media, and nearly 60%are visiting online streaming services/platforms to listen to music after they see an update, tweet or post.

Interestingly, people are using different social platform for different music-related activity and content.

For instance, over half of those surveyed use Twitter to follow or get updates from music artists and bands, and 63%of Snapchat users are either sending or looking at photos and videos from live music events.

These stats help show the growing trend of sharing music-related content on social media both from artists and fans alike.

Live performances and festivals are becoming more immersive thanks to tech

Technology and social media haven’t only influenced the way we consume music on our personal devices but also the live show and festival circuits as well.

Artists and the brands have been keen to test their hand when it comes to music-related tech innovations. Take Kendrick Lamar and Nike’s SNKRS app for the American artist’s 2018 tour.

Lamar, who is signed to Nike as one of their celebrity endorsers, teamed up with the global sportswear giant for an activation that would take place during his live performances on his tour, primarily through Nike’s SNKRS app.

Concertgoers (who had Nike’s SNKRS app)were able to buy or reserve tour merchandise – including a pair of Kendrick Lamar’s latest collaborative pair of Nike trainers – at the concert.

Although the activation did suffer a few snags the premise of the effort and its planned execution demonstrate how technology is being used to give fans the opportunity to buy limited edition products from their favourite artists, in an innovative way.

Another example of tech innovation in live shows and festivals is virtual reality concerts. The development of more sophisticated VR headsets combined with their wider adoption has opened new doors for companies to produce products that bring concerts and shows to fans.

Live Nation’s NextVR, NEC’s Medley VR and Sony Music’s Visualise are just a few examples of music companies capitalising on virtual reality and the opportunity to bring live performances from some of the world’s biggest artists into homes around the world.

Annual American springtime festival Coachella partnered with Vantage.tv to give both festival-goers, and those that missed out completely, the ability to take a virtual reality tour of the festival site. Fans could also immerse themselves in VR experiences created by other individuals that attended the event.

The VR experience extends beyond live concerts and music festivals too. The Gorillaz famously produced a VR music video in 2017 for their song Saturn Barz which broke a YouTube VR record at the time, amassing 3 million views in two days.

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