Has Youtube and illegal downloads broadened our listening scope?


Today, there’s no denying listening to any music is free, not just the one happening on the radio or on some tv channels. But with such freedom and diversity, has our curiosity developed as much as the musical offering?

No one can deny the best upside of technology, piracy included, has been the freedom induced by the dematerialization of music. Now available through such a variety of channels that it’s even difficult to make a count, searching your favorite tune with a few keystrokes on a search engine is very likely to give you more than a dozen’s way of listening to it. Even download it for free as an mp3, or a mp4 video if there’s a video clip made by the artist.

This has lead numerous artists to wage a war against piracy, and even voice their concern over streaming services like spotify, deezer and google music. Whereas they could get 1 to 2$ (for superstars only) from CD sales, they now get an infinitesimal amount of money per listening of one of their songs. And when that may seem unrelated, an artist explains why having a digital footprint as a fairly unknown brand matters more than anything.

According to Spotify’s statistics, of the 20 million songs they have, 80% have at least been played once, with over 4 million never been listened to. Having a digital footprint as an indie artists may not mean that much, if nobody’s here to listen to you.

Although there seems to be a certain misfortune for a number of artists, does that mean streaming services have done nothing to widen our listening scope?

Using Google Music with an unlimited account, I can pull out statistics from my own account and usage patterns. After a few months of using the service, both on desktop and mobile (as an in-car entertainment device mostly), there are more than 70% songs I only discovered through Google Music’s discovery feature : related artists, similar genre, and so on.

Although plain old regular channels (read : radio and tv) may account for 10% of what I add to my library, I feel very curious about the features that streaming service brings. The ease of use makes browsing through unknown artists very fast and in quite an entertaining fashion. I guess that may bring a partial answer, but what about the other?

Since Spotify and consorts are rather shy about opening their statistics, I’ll add a fact that I brought through personal experience (again).
As a child, I used to have those balloons-cake parties, and music was already a part of it. At the time, CD’s were quite common, but I remember never having been intrigued about a new artist playing, but rather a new track I didn’t know about. Today, most parties DJ’ing consists of a laptop connected to the internet, and YouTube being accessible to pretty much anyone who wants it, or somebody hijacking the stereo cable and connecting his iPhone for us to listen to its playlist. And, quite to my own amusement, I must confess most of the time I’m dancing to a tune I’ve never heard of. And as few may go to the extent of voicing their lack of knowledge over what’s playing, Shazam’s convenient app made a big step into adding whatever we hear to our personal playlists.

In the end, no one can deny that at least our generation has changed forever the way we discover and listen to music. Whereas most of us only had the extra tracks of an album to brag about our musical knowledge, with an almost universal access to music, those childood memories might never be the same for those born today.



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