There is a site called Quora where people can ask and answer questions on a variety of topics. A question similar to the one in the title was posed by a reader and answered by a gentleman named Tom Higley to whom, all credit. I found it very insightful so I am summarizing it here and if you find it of interest, suggest reading the full post here.
1. Technology, specifically, on the creation side, the availability of low-cost digital recording and distribution; and on the consumption side nearly zero cost to acquire and store content. The result is that more content is created and distributed than ever before.
2. Competition for scarce consumer attention. While content has exploded in quantity, each of us still has just 24 hours in a day, and we can listen to music for only a fraction of those 24 hours. Technology made creation and distribution vastly more efficient … but it hasn’t helped us consume songs in parallel.
But apart from mashups, we still listen to one song at a time. Consequently, while the supply of music has increased dramatically, consumer demand for music – on a per/consumer basis – has remained remarkably fixed.
3. Declining influence of mass media. In the 60s and 70s there were three television networks, and most major markets had a dominant radio station (or at most two – perhaps an AM and an FM station). If you grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, most of your friends shared your musical tastes and would cite the same top 25 artists within a 10% range.
Today? Forget about it. Pick 100 consumers in the 18-24 year old age range. There will be remarkably little overlap between them in terms of favorite artists.
4. A glut of touring artists who built their audiences before the points referenced in items 1-3 above. If you built your career as an artist at a time when media was consolidated, when content was relatively scarce, when the backing of your major label gave you manufacturing, distribution and clout, you have an advantage over most of the artists who have launched their careers during the last 5-10 years.
5. The 17-28-year-old demographic no longer generates any significant revenue for major labels. Yet there was a time – perhaps the golden era of rock in the late ’60s and early ’70s – when this demographic ruled! They mattered more than anyone else in the marketplace for two reasons.
First, they listened to more music, discovered more music – and especially more new music – than anyone else. Why? Because they had the time to listen, they were self-differentiating through music – choosing an artist they liked based on that artist’s ability to connect with who they were becoming in life; and because they hadn’t already made up settled into a listening diet that was 80% of their past favorites.
Second, they spent a lot of money on music. For many executives in the music industry, a single or “album” release is “irrelevant” if it is content that no one pays for. Never mind that it may find many listeners in the 17-28 year-old demographic. If no one is buying those tracks, the music doesn’t matter. As a result, this demographic has become largely irrelevant. (Italics mine). Labels can make money from the youth and tween market. Disney can make money. Why?
Because at that age, kids want to fit in. They tend to define themselves in musical terms that are synonymous with the mainstream.
And the older demographic – those 29 and up – what about them? Most of their listening reflects content they’ve already settled into. Therefore, they don’t have the inclination or the time to discover a lot of new music. This is why this demographic can almost never be the principal market for up and coming artists.
And I will add here that that era from 1955 – 1975 was a golden era of music, perhaps never to return. And it happened just when the baby boom happened, and rock music went from being a novelty to an art form. The audience is still there. But it’s splintered. And perhaps music isn’t as central to their lives. That I can’t answer.