A new report is out today on the state of contemporary music. But the only novelty is the report. When it comes to consumers’ favorite music, old songs win all the battles. “The more things change,” the study authors admit, “the more they seem to stay the same.”
I first covered this alarming trend when I published my analysis “Is Old Music Killing New Music?” I won’t repeat what I said in that much-discussed article, but the bottom line was lousy: whatever metric you chose – streams, downloads, investment dollars, ticket sales, etc. – music consumption was increasingly focused on old songs. .
Now we have more information from Coleman Prospects, a media research company that periodically surveys consumers about their musical tastes, and the news is even more disheartening. Here is how they describe the current situation in the summary of their report:
“We have yet to detect a rebound in consumer enthusiasm for contemporary music… It still feels like the film groundhog day when it comes to contemporary music, because time seems to stand still.
What exactly does “stopping time” look like in music? Consider the study’s attempt to measure the most popular song right now. Here is what they found:
But the problem is much bigger than a sentimental song. The entire top ten is virtually unchanged from the last time they polled consumers:
No matter how they cut and sliced the data, the story was the same. Here’s the big picture: This chart measures the age of the top 100 songs and how they’ve changed over the past four years.
I note that this survey only covers songs released within the last five years. So we have no way to gauge how even older music might fare. Yet even within this small subset of recent songs, new music is losing its audience.
This lack of interest in new offerings would be troubling in any industry. After all, innovation is the lifeblood of a business. But the obsession with the past is particularly disturbing when it comes to music.
Music has long been a leading cultural indicator. Throughout history, you can predict societal changes before they happen, just by studying which songs are climbing the charts. What does it mean when this forward-looking art form unexpectedly turns around and decides it prefers the past?
It is certainly a sign of a broader cultural change that is coming. I could speculate what it might be. On the other hand, we can just wait and find out. And unless this troubling trend reverses – an unlikely development – we certainly will.
Ted Gioia is a leading music writer and author of eleven books, including jazz history and Music: a subversive history. This article originally appeared on his Substack column and newsletter The Honest Broker.