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A recent survey conducted by the Harris Poll exclusively for Ad Age looked at how all Americans consume, discover and interact with music and brands. We found that Americans under 30 – Gen Z and Young Millennials – are driving a new wave of consuming music and being influenced by brands and music.

Listening to music remains a popular pastime, especially among young adults – however, visual entertainment, like TV and film, is a noteworthy rival

Three quarters (72%) of US adults listen to music. Of those, 77% (approximately 55% of all US adults) report listening to music at least once a day.

Gen Z and Young Millennials, categorized as adults between the ages of 18 and 29, are more likely to listen music. Seventy-six percent listen to music, compared to 72% of all US adults. Eighty-one percent of those who listen to music do so at least once a day, compared to 77% of all music listeners. Seventy-one percent of those who listen to music do so several times each day, compared to 62% of all music listeners.

TikTok and Snapchat users are among the most frequent music listeners. Approximately 90% of users on each platform listen to music at least once a day.

Compared to other entertainment options, music listenership falls slightly short of film and TV viewership.

Eighty percent of US adults watch TV shows, either on TV or using a streaming service and 74% of US adults watch movies, either on TV, using a streaming platform, or in theaters. 

The way Americans listen to music is always changing…

While radios, like in-car or in-home radios without using a CD or other device, top the list of chosen devices – 69% of music listeners use radios regularly – mobile phones are equally popular.

Among Gen Z and Young Millennials, radios are losing popularity, with usage falling behind both mobile devices and computers:

    • 80% listen to music using their mobile phone (vs 68% of all music listeners)
    • 53% listen to music using a computer (vs 43% of all music listeners).
    • 45% listen to music using a radio (vs 69% of all music listeners)

Select streaming services have surpassed public radio stations, in terms of preferred music providers, particularly among listeners under the age of 30.

YouTube’s general website – not including any paid services – is the top music provider, at 56% of all music listeners, followed by Spotify (40%) and public radio (34%). Only 18% of listeners under the age of 30 listen to public radio stations.

Nearly half (45%) of music listeners still learn about new music, like new releases or older music that is new to the listener, from public radio stations, surpassing both social media and streaming platform recommendations, at 40% and 38% respectively.

Unsurprisingly, social media plays a more important role in music discovery for Gen Z and Young Millennials. Approximately 56% learn about new music through the social platforms that they use. Among users of fast-growing social media platforms, this increases significantly. Seventy-six percent of Twitch users, 73% of Snapchat users, and 70% of TikTok users discover new music on social media. These platforms offer an interactive, video-centric experience that makes it easy for users to create and share new music.

Listeners under the age of 30 show a propensity for cross-platform discovery. For members of the music industry, this indicates that passive discovery likely plays a significant role in music adoption. Forty-eight percent learn about new music from TV shows, likes songs featured in a show or shows about music, compared to 37% of all listeners. Thirty-five percent learn about new music from advertisements, such as ads for a new release or songs featured in an ad, compared to 27% of all listeners.

…but the actual music Americans listen to tends to stay the same

Eighty percent of music listeners agree that they favor music that they’ve heard before over new music (newly released music or older music that is new to the listener), with nostalgia as a likely driver. Seventy-four percent of listeners agree that they like the music that they grew up with more than both the music that came out before they were born and more than the music being released today.

On average, new releases make up less than 20% of the music that listeners choose – a significant shift from visual content. Music listeners report that, of the music they typically listen to:

    • 69% is music that they’ve heard before
    • 18% is newly released music
    • 13% is older music that is new to them

Comparatively, newly released TV shows and movies account for well over a third – 38% and 40%, respectively – of the content that viewers typically watch.

Unsurprisingly, pop music remains the most popular genre of music, especially among young people. Overall, 83% of music listeners say they enjoy listening to pop, followed by rock and R&B at 78% and 69% respectively. Adults under 30 are even bigger fans of pop – 90% like it – with strong preferences for hip hop/rap, at 83%, and R&B, at 75%. Boomers+ (Baby Boomers and Silent Generation) also like pop music, at 73%, but show even stronger affinity for rock music, at 79%.

Perhaps given due its more diverse make up and increase opportunities for global awareness, world music like Latin, K-Pop and Celtic, is especially popular with Gen Z and Millennials at 51% – no doubt, representing new markets on which industry players can capitalize.

Among all fans of world music, Latin (61%), Caribbean music (57%), and K-pop (44%) were the most popular genres. However, for adults under 30, K-pop at 58% outshone Latin (45%) and Caribbean music (40%) while Millennials 30+ overwhelmingly preferred Latin music, at 72%, to Caribbean music and K-pop, at 60% and 58% respectively. Millennials 30+ also show a strong affinity for Afrobeat at 44% compared to 30% for all world music fans.

This doesn’t mean older Americans aren’t experienced with non-American music, though. Older generations (Gen X and above) show strong preferences for Celtic and Latin music. TikTok users show a similar interest in world music; 55% enjoy the genre. While Latin music is their favorite sub-genre (65%), K-pop remains a popular choice (57%).

Favorability – or a lack thereof – is rooted in feeling

“Vibe” and relatability most commonly determine if a listener likes or dislikes a piece of music – unsurprising, given that 85% of listeners feel that the music they listen to is a reflection of who they are.

When it comes to a listener’s favorite music, “vibe” and relatable lyrics are the most important characteristics, at 19% and 18% respectively. Listeners under the age of 30 are significantly more likely to be influenced by the overall energy of a piece of music. A quarter consider the “vibe” to be the most important part of their favorite music and another 14% favor the rhythm. Older listeners (Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation) express more loyalty toward a specific artist; 30% like their favorite music because of the performer, versus 16% of all music listeners.

On the other side, when it comes to a listener’s least favorite music, “vibe”and unrelatable lyrics are the most important characteristics, at 20% and 18% respectively. Similarly, 19% of all music listeners dislike their least favorite music most because the lyrics are explicit, increasing to 32% among Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation. This may explain one reason why Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are the least likely to enjoy genres like electronic hip hop/rap (83%), metal (76%), or alternative music (72%), which often feature explicit lyrics.

Music trends start with young people

Interest in discovering new music decreases with age. In general, 62% of music listeners agree that they like finding undiscovered music, compared to 79% of listeners under the age of 30 and 45% of Baby Boomers/the Silent Generation. Gen Z and Young Millennials are more likely than their older counterparts to keep a finger on the pulse of the music industry. As such, they’re often the first to find up-and-coming artists.

Forty percent of listeners under the age of 30 turn to industry experts – artists, record studios, trade publications – to learn about new music, compared to 28% of all listeners. Thirty-five percent use at least one of the 3 most popular streaming platforms for independent artists: SoundCloud, Bandcamp, and/or TIDAL (vs 18% of all listeners). Sixty-two percent agree that they are usually the ones to introduce their friends and family to new music (vs 51% of all listeners). Their connection to the industry, combined with their lack of affinity for any one artist or genre, means that younger listeners are equally quick to move on from an artist that they feel is played out. Half even say they stop listening to music once it becomes too popular.

TikTok and Snapchat users are ardent music fans that embrace popular music. They also embrace diverse and alternative forms of music at higher rates than the typical music listener – revealing a set of early music adopters.

TikTok and Snapchat users are the most frequent music listeners, listening to music at least once a day (91% and 92% respectively vs 77% for all music listeners). Nearly all TikTok and Snapchat users enjoy listening to pop music (93% and 91%, respectively) – but they’re also open to music that’s popular. While 54% of music listeners agree that they dislike the music that’s popular today, only 40% of both TikTok and Snapchat users feel the same way.

Tik Tok and Snapchat users are also fans of music that are less mainstream or derived from non-White ethnic groups. They especially over-index on favoring R&B (82% for both vs 69% for all music listeners), hip hop/rap (80% and 81%, respectively vs 56% of all music listeners), alternative music (67% and 68% vs 51%), world music (55% and 59% vs 40%), and jazz (55% and 58% vs 50%). Within international music specifically, TikTok and Snapchat users most over-index on favoring K-pop (57% and 54%, respectively vs 44% of all music listeners) and Afrobeat (41% and 37% vs 30%). Such trends were also common among other social media usage groups that skew younger, including Twitch, Reddit, and Twitter.

Brands can connect with consumers through music

Music listeners favor brand partnerships with musicians significantly more than partnerships with other celebrities or influencers.

Thirty-seven percent of listeners are more likely to purchase from a brand that partners with a musician that they like, while only 24% are more likely to purchase from a brand that partners with a non-musical personality that they like. Similarly, half as many listeners would be less likely to purchase from a brand that partnered with a favored musician (8%) compared to a favored non-musical celebrity (16%).

To target music listeners, advertising channel is key

Compared to TV and film viewers, music listeners follow the industry closely, increasing the points of contact between brand and consumer. A quarter (23%) of music listeners learn about new releases directly from creators, like musicians or record labels. Only 15% of film viewers and 12% of TV viewers learn about upcoming content from industry players, such as actors or production studios.

Ads on music services, like streaming platforms or the radio, may reach a limited audience: 55% of music listeners – and 69% of those under the age of 30 – are willing to pay a premium to listen to music without ads. Depending on a brand’s target audience, emphasizing music in advertising is likely still worthwhile. For example, nearly 60% of uses across some of the fastest-growing social media platform (i.e., Twitch, TikTok, and Snapchat) are more likely to shop with or use a brand that features a song they like in its advertisements.

Methodology: 

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Ad Age between October 1-7, 2021, among 1,639 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. For more information, please contact Dami Rosanwo or Madelyn Franz.

Download the full data tables here.

Annie Prunsky

Author Annie Prunsky

More posts by Annie Prunsky
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