Over the last year Nielsen's Music 360 Report and EMI's million fan study have reminded us that radio" is still the place where music is most likely to be discovered."
I put those terms in quotes because there is often a disjuncture between how researchers use terms and how respondents use terms. This disjuncture is not currently being adequately addressed by researchers or by bloggers, journalists and/or writers.
That said, if traditional radio is where music is most likely to be discovered, then radio is still a nut that musicians, music marketers, labels and distributors need to crack. For DIY and indie musicians, that often means focusing first on radio stations with local programming, college radio and special music shows like those of NPR.
But it also follows that research revealing shifts away from traditional radio towards other channels should be closely watched and finding a place on those channels would be a smart move in preparation for the future.
Two reports this week indicate that internet radio listening is growing, though it's unclear if discovery via internet radio is growing, that terrestrial radio listening seems to be declining among some age groups and growing among others and that AM/FM radio remains a primary form of music discovery. In addition, Pandora is reporting an increase in multiple listener metrics.
Younger People Gradually Shifting to Online Radio Even in Cars
The NPD Group released findings this week (see above thumbnail image) that indicate:
In fourth quarter (Q4) of 2012, Pandora and other subscription-based and free Internet radio services accounted for nearly one quarter (23 percent) of the average weekly music listening time among consumers between the ages of 13 and 35, an increase from a share of 17 percent the previous year."
As Internet-radio listening rose among this age group, listening to AM/FM radio, which now accounts for 24 percent of music-listening time, declined 2 percentage points."
In the 36-and-older age group, by contrast, Internet radio accounted for just 13 percent of music listening, while AM/FM radio dominated listening methods with a 41 percent share."
Roughly one in five Pandora or iHeartRadio users are also currently connecting to those services in their cars, which has in the past typically been the bastion of AM/FM radio listening."
Among music listeners between the ages of 13 and 35, Pandora has a significant lead in terms of usage [Pandora (free version) - 39%, iHeartRadio 11%, Spotify (free version) 9%]."
Six out of 10 consumers (62 percent) between the ages of 13 and 35 who used streaming services used these services more than they had in the past, and 51 percent reported that most of their music listening was in their cars."
Traditional Radio Remains A Listening & Discovery Powerhouse
A new Arbitron/Edison Research study reveals that:
Weekly online radio listeners report listening for an average of 11 hours 56 minutes per week, up by more than two hours over last year's listening levels (9 hours 46 minutes in 2012), and nearly double that reported in 2008 (6 hours 13 minutes)."
During the same span of time, Arbitron's RADAR service indicates that AM/FM Radio has grown to 243 million weekly listeners and time spent listening has remained approximately two hours a day."
AM/FM radio is an 'almost all of the times' or 'most of the times' in-car choice for nearly six in ten adults aged 18 and over; dashboard AM/FM radio (58 percent) far outpaces frequent in-car use of CD players (15 percent), portable digital audio/MP3 players (11 percent) and satellite radio (10 percent)."
Among the nearly half of Americans (45 percent) who say it is important to learn about and keep up-to-date with new music, AM/FM Radio is the top source for new music discovery at 78 percent."
Pandora is Growing & Continues to Dominate Internet Radio
Pandora announced an increase in multiple listening metrics:
Listener hours for Pandora during the month of March 2013 were 1.49 billion, an increase of 40% from 1.07 billion during the same period last year."
Share of total U.S. radio listening for Pandora in March 2013 was 8.05%, an increase from 5.73% at the same time last year."
Active listeners were 69.5 million at the end of March 2013, an increase of 36% from 51.2 million during the same time period last year."
Sorting Out The Data
These data points don't all fit together nicely. Each represents data gathered using different means, using different questions and interpreted by different researchers filtered through different PR departments.
Yet, taken as a whole, they do seem to indicate that traditional radio remains a powerhouse, even if slipping among 13 to 35 years old, and that some of the shift to online radio involves listeners who are tuning in to traditional radio streams that are now available online. At the same time, pure play internet radio listenership is growing though it's unclear how much discovery is shifting to services such as Pandora.
While online radio listenership is growing, much of radio's audience remains seated in their cars. For younger people, there is a slowly growing shift to listening to such services as Pandora while driving.
So, if you're basing your music promotion activities on broad swaths of research, it's clear that reaching AM/FM listeners remains paramount even for musicians most interested in internet-based audiences. However, making inroads into digital radio is certainly called for to keep up with ongoing shifts especially given that the pace of such shifts can suddenly speed up unexpectedly.
If you're following such trends in order to anticipate the future, you should also be looking closely at data points related to where discovery is happening, transitions by automakers to new pre-installed listening hardware and services and shifts in demographics that relate to your own listenership.
Don't Be Misled By the Aggregate, Focus On Your Fans
But despite all of the above, you should be finding out what your actual fans do and what the people you hope to attract in the future do. If you're reaching a unique segment of the population, it's quite possible that they are consciously or unconsciously working against mainstream trends.
Don't be a puppet of purveyors of the aggregate. Know yourself and know your audience if you wish to succeed in the future.
Note: Without seeing the actual questions and taking into account terms that might be used in different ways by researchers and respondents, it's difficult to evaluate research findings. In my experience many writers tend to focus on interpretations that support what they already believe and are reluctant to consider counterevidence even when confronted with relatively clear explanations of the limits of specific research studies.
Bullshit rules most web discourse related to research studies even that of respected media outlets.
If you're basing your business decisions on research, find out everything you can about how the research was conducted and remind yourself that evidence that shows your own assumptions are incorrect may well be much more valuable than interpretations that confirm your biases.