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Millennial Minded

Music taste, Spotify and Big Data: Are the oldest millennials giving up on new music?

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I was sitting on my friend’s couch having one of our winding and tangential conversations about nothing in particular when he got up, grabbed a record from a milk crate and asked, “Have you heard the new Father John Misty album yet?”

It turned out I hadn’t, so he put it on and we continued our conversation about whatever-it-was that would further be interjected with brief moments of noticing out-loud, “Hey, this music is pretty great.”

I’m glad I enjoyed that moment, even to the point of being able to stop and exclaim “if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is,” as Kurt Vonnegut would have me do, because — according to data gathered from Spotify — I’ve only got six more years of them before settling into a life of, what I can only assume based on my parents’ music consumption, Sade records.

And, it turns out, the oldest millennials might have just finished their last year of new music.

The study looked at numerous aspects of Spotify data (which, let’s be honest, is just Facebook data since your account is probably linked) including age, gender and parental status. It also took into account the popularity of the artists listened to.

Here’s what it found:

Teenagers most often listened to the most popular artists (surprise?) while music tastes shifted dramatically during people’s mid-20’s before slowly settling into a music taste as fixed as Han in carbonite.

Why is this interesting? Well, I’m the tech writer and, when I can be, our resident music writer and vinyl record aficionado. This covers all of my bases, but it’s more than that: Here is statistical proof of something my friends and I have all noticed anecdotally with our own listening habits and, of course, those of our parents.

Growing up and taking car rides with my dad, I heard Sade’s “Smooth Operator” more times than I’d like to remember. The actual amount is, I’m sure, tantamount to punishment for shoplifting in some countries. During that time, my favorite song was “1979” by Smashing Pumpkins and I would wish for anything to come through the static and block out the smooth jazz stylings of CD 101.9.

As such, it’s no surprise that our music tastes, statistically speaking, venture out into “less popular” territories as we get older. Still, there was another interesting find in the data that also accounts for the drift from popularity:

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Music listeners in their mid to late-20’s are going back to the music that was popular when they were younger and, guess what, isn’t popular now.

That fact hit me like a ton of bricks. Just the other day, I was celebrating the spring weather (the thermal equivalent of taking your socks off at the end of a long day) by creating a playlist full of “old classics”: “Till I Hear it From You” by the Gin Blossoms, “You Only Get What You Give” by the New Radicals, etc. None of that has been popular since before Y2K.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate (real) jazz music and Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” as much as any self-proclaimed music obsessive, but sometimes you just want to drive with the windows down and listen to Len’s “Steal My Sunshine.”

For me, that’s the real insight of this kind of study. Back in 2013, a study revealed that 90 percent of the world’s data had been collected in the last two years. I can’t even begin to hypothesize on how those numbers have shifted since other than saying that it’s higher, probably exponentially so.

Everything we do on the internet leaves data, from the words in your Google search to the ones in your Facebook statuses and even emails. Every video we play or song we choose creates data that can be traced back to us. And, if you’re viewing these sites with a link to one of your social media profiles (YouTube links to Google+, Spotify [and everything else] links to Facebook), that data is now coupled with our age, gender, location, etc.

A study like this, that uses data to illustrate an array of ideas and human (and, in this case, consumer) behaviors, really illustrates what’s not only possible now, but will be in the future. It might be worth pointing out that the NSA has said that it has too much data (after seeing the Academy Award-winning Citizen Four, I’m inclined to agree), so making sense of all the data and finding utility in it might present a whole new mess of issues because, well, it already is.


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