Who Is Buying the Most Music? It's Not Who You Think
Justin Bieber and a boy band called One Direction are some of the biggest names in modern music. So, not surprisingly many people assume that most music buyers are tweens or teens. But the 45+ age group is actually the largest music buying demographic according to a Consumer Trends survey by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Tweens and teens are the smallest. You may think that much of that 45+ music is probably being bought for children or grandchildren. Without a doubt some is. But much of what's being purchased is called catalog music. A lot of this is music from the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's rather than newer acts. In 2012, catalog acts like Guns N' Roses, Queen, The Beatles and Whitney Houston were outselling new acts. Younger people mostly buy singles because they have far less disposable income. The Jezebel.com article "Who's Buying Music, Is It You?" points out:
"...teenagers don’t buy as many tunes as people think, accounting for only seven percent of CD sales and just 12 percent of downloads — that means adults are buying Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande albums. Also, dudes used to buy most of the digital downloads, but now women buy around 54 percent of digital albums."
You may be wondering why the recording industry largely markets music to a younger demographic (mainly 14 to 24 year olds) rather than the demographic that actually buys the most music. There are a few different reasons for this.
Adele Has Sold Millions of Albums with Music that Appeals to Older Music Buyers
Older Music Buyers Can Be Set in Our Ways
Taste in music is often established in our younger years. So, many people prefer the music that was around when they were children and young adults. It's easy to malign the likes of One Direction and Justin Bieber today. But many highly respected acts like The Beatles and Elvis started out doing music with mass appeal before producing great works like Hey Jude and Suspicious Minds.
The fact is many older music buyers don't actively go out looking for new artists. Older people are far less likely to listen to the radio, where most new artists are broken.
Take someone like Katy Perry who is best known for her bubble gum pop songs. A lot of her music is actually aimed at an older, twenties and up audience (check out songs like Brick by Brick, Lost, I'm Still Breathing, Cup of Coffee, I Think I'm Ready, Not Like the Movies, Playing House, It's Okay to Believe and Thinking of You if you don't believe me). She simply was never marketed to an adult audience because record companies assumed it would be too hard to break her as a new artist. Serious music buyers often complain about the decline of modern music but most aren't actively looking for new, young artists who do create music that would appeal to them.
Perry's reward for attempting to be different with her early pop rock sound was getting dumped by two labels and being thousands in debt to friends just to make rent and car payments. It's not surprising that she put down her acoustic guitar and turned to candy themed concert sets. All three of her albums have been commercial successes but critical failures.
Kesha is an example of how talented young artists are often horribly marketed and artistically oppressed by their record labels
Another example is Kesha who desperately tried to move away from dance pop to return to her rock and country roots on her 2nd album. Her label didn't want her to make the change and there are allegations she was bullied and verbally abused during the recording of the album. Unlike Katy Perry, Kesha has been a success with critics, which surprises many people who think all her music consists of meaningless party songs.
You wouldn't know it by what gets released on the radio but several tracks on Kesha's albums and EP's would appeal to older buyers, such as the nostalgic country ballad Wonderland, the folk pop track Last Goodbye, the heartbreaking The Harold Song (Deconstructed), the ethereal ballad Past Lives, the Phil Collins inspired Love Into the Light and her melancholy cover of the country classic Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You. Kesha has since walked away from her record label in frustration and has filed a lawsuit to break her contract. She released this song snippet about taking on her record label in a legal fight.
I'm not afraid to die,
Not afraid to cry,
I'll learn to fight,
Because I've lived and learned,
I gotta sing tonight
Again, if older music buyers don't support these talented young artists, we have no right to complain about modern music. Record labels won't cater to us if they think we aren't interested in buying new music.
However, the success of Adele may have labels rethinking their assumptions about who will buy new artists. Adele's music is aimed at older music buyers. Yes, older music buyers can be very set in our ways and we often don't actively go looking for new artists. But it is likely that older people will buy the music of younger artists if the record companies can just find a way to reach us. However, that also proves to be a challenge.
It's Easier to Market to Younger People
It's much easier for record labels to target younger audiences than older audiences. Older people are busier with jobs and families. They have a wide variety of interests and listen to less music radio. Younger people can easily be targeted through pop radio stations, entertainment shows, advertisements during television shows aimed at teens, online sources aimed at teens, and teen magazines. Labels can target a large youth audience through limited media outlets. This isn't possible with older audiences. It's much harder to pinpoint the best way to target music to older listeners. Younger people are also more susceptible to marketing techniques than older people. Again, the success of Adele would prove that it's not impossible to market music to an older demographic.
Younger People Attend More Concerts
Younger people are much more likely to attend concerts, so record labels aren't as dependent on record sales to make money from artists that are popular with younger audiences. They can make money from artists in many different ways. Younger people are more likely to purchase merchandise like posters, t-shirts, books and other products.
Risks for the Music Industry
Many record labels have done away with artist development departments as they have focused more on creating acts aimed at tweens and teens. There is a concern that newer artists won't have the longevity that many earliers acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and Madonna have had. If record companies don't invest more in developing their acts and ensuring they stay for the long haul, there might not be a big catalog market in the future to keep the music industry afloat.
A group like One Direction may never get to create their own Hey Jude (assuming that they have that creative ability in them) if they can't grow up with their fans. Kesha, who is one of the more talented people in pop right now, was having her career destroyed by a label that forced her to release generic tracks like Die Young and Crazy Kids rather than more grown up tracks like Last Goodbye and Love Into the Light.
As people get older they want quality. Labels need to ensure that artists grow and mature with their audiences by moving them away from bubble gum mainstream music to more meaningful songs. The Beatles quickly moved from mainstream songs like Love Me Do to more grown up songs like Eleanor Rigby. If artists don't do that, they will likely fade away as their fans grow and mature. Considering the demographics that actually buy music, artist development needs to once again become a priority.