Interesting Question: How Will Popularity Evolve Now That More People Are Streaming Music?

For many, the great hope of the original Napster and its descendents was that freed of the shackles imposed by radio, video channels and record labels, people would be free to discover good music.  Now that the masses could choose music beyond what they were fed, they’d discover that there was more to life than the mindless pop of Top 40 radio or the watered down rock of Creed.

Guess what?  Didn’t happen.  People continued to like mainstream pop and rock in roughly the same proportions as they did before the chains on their listening options were taken away.

More than a decade after Napster, the biggest selling and most traded songs on P2P networks are still mainstream pop and rock.  Only the names have changed.

“Well, then,” goes the argument, “just wait until streaming services really take off!  Then people will realize that there’s more to life than Justin Bieber!”

Er, not so fast.  Weekly data detailing what songs are streamed the most shows no change.  In fact, the situation for proponents of “good” music is even worse.  

Data from Nielsen Soundscan out this morning shows that nineteen different songs were streamed more than a million times over the past week.  Those include songs are from Justin Bieber (5.1 million streams), Carly Rae Jepson (3.5 million), Maroon 5 and Nicki Minaj (who has songs at the #4 and #5 positions).

In the UK, seventeen songs on the download Top 40 chart rate even higher on the streaming chart, meaning that pop songs are even more popular as streams.

Here’s the bottom line:  You, me and all our friends are committed to music we believe has true substance.  And yes, there are millions of us.  But there are billions of people who would rather sing along to Justin Bieber or tap their fingers on the steering wheel in time to Nicki Minaj.  

It’s always been that way.  And it’s never going to change.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “Interesting Question: How Will Popularity Evolve Now That More People Are Streaming Music?

  • May 16, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    This is where curating music comes in. We're still in the early stages of figuring out who has voices we want to hear in this new era of music, akin to early radio when no DJ yet had a personality to promote, so to speak.

    And supporting the artists whose music you enjoy. Sometimes just a donation (with no expectation of product or service in return) is very welcomed.

  • May 17, 2012 at 1:17 am

    Maybe, just maybe, despite all this downloading and streaming, the 13 year pop/rock cycle will hold.

  • May 17, 2012 at 1:45 am

    I believe that marketing and repetition work, and most people listen to the same music because that is what is relentlessly promoted to the consumer. Labels pay to have their music pushed and repeated, so it becomes familiar, and frankly, it's easier to consume. We are lazy consumers. It takes time to discover new music and attention to listen to it. It's easier just to consume what is pumped out at us. (I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I do think it's the same situation with news – most people get their news from mainstream media because it's familiar, trusted, and easy. It's a lot harder to seek diverse perspectives – more rewarding, for sure, but a lot more work).

    I don't think the music statistics you cited should be interpreted to mean that most music consumers would not listen to better or more diverse music if it was curated and they could reliably access it. I agree with nscafe in the first comment that curation is still in the early phases, like the beginning of the music DJ era. Content is king, curation is queen.

  • May 17, 2012 at 7:11 am

    The internet isn't going to have much effect on pop music, because people who listen to top 40 radio just want to have music spoon-fed to them in the first place. It's alternative/indie music that is affected the most by the internet, since people can discover some obscure band from somewhere far away that they like.

  • May 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

    The fact that mainstream pop/rock is similar in proportion–even with streaming–is actually the root of the problem. It'll just draw attention to the magnitude of whats wrong with the music industry and bam…that's when you have your pop culture earthquake.


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