I debated with myself over the audience for this discussion, and chose to target the general public. If you’re an avid EDM listener, or just a fan of more obscure modern acts, indie, experimental, or otherwise, this might not seem accurate. I ask you to step back and view the status of modern music from a more… average vantage point.
Have you heard of 3lau? Well, hipster jokes aside, most haven’t. Skrillex – you’ve definitely heard of him, right? Well, how did you hear about him? I’m going to guess it was through the song “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites,” and you heard from a friend who either loved it or made fun of it (“brostep” is alienating, who wouldn’t at least agree with that?). More specifically, the first time you listened to that song was most likely online – probably on YouTube. Do you think your parents did the same thing for Skrillex? Have they even heard of him?
The odd thing about the nature of music today is the presence of a multitude of channels for music promotion that simply did not exist ten years ago. Some are absolutely huge, like iTunes. Others catch on quite quickly, but aren’t necessarily household names – like Pandora or Spotify. Others are slower to propagate – like turntable.fm or SoundCloud. If we analyze the differences in the workings of these services, it becomes clear that the difference between them is their audience.
Older or less musically curious people are less likely to spend their time searching SoundCloud then browsing the iTunes top 10. And while our generation has almost unanimously used YouTube to listen to music at one point or another, the same can’t be said about our parents or grandparents. If you search through artist accounts on SoundCloud or BandCamp, it’s hard to find many with artists over 30, and the same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, with listener accounts.
Of course, this points to a larger shift in the mindset of music. Put simply – we’re experiencing a shift towards the ‘fringe’ (of course, the more the shift occurs, the less the artists seem as such). Radio is dying, and MTV is already dead. With these go the rockstars and pop icons. The new landscape is one of fractured, but profitable, niches fed by smaller, but nonetheless successful, acts. Because artists can reach fans globally as easily as posting to the web, a lesser degree of familiarity doesn’t mean what it used to.
Let’s return to those I listed above, for a few stats. ~90,000 people follow 3lau on facebook. Skrillex? Over 9 Million. The gap between the growing niche interests and the common listener can be at least a factor of 100. 3lau must have a tough time making ends meet, huh? Actually, not so much. That tiny slice of the global audience not only helps 3lau stay consistently booked across the county, but allowed him to raise over $25,000 for his favorite charity in about a month. Not bad for someone 1% as popular as someone your parents have never heard of.