Survey: Soul Music Fans Defy Media Expectations -- and that's Good News

(September 2, 2019) Musical artists and labels today are constantly trying to figure out how best to reach fans, and to better understand what fans want. The narrative in much of the music media seems to be that everyone is listening to music via music streaming on services like Spotify and Apple Music, and that those fans find their music via social media apps like Instagram and TikTok.

Well, the hype isn’t necessarily the same as the reality, especially when you’re talking about mature audiences. Our recent survey of more than 1,000 SoulTracks readers provides illuminating answers that contradict much of the popular narrative and, in the process, may provide artists and labels hints to a path of success that differs from what everyone else is doing.

(September 2, 2019) Musical artists and labels today are constantly trying to figure out how best to reach fans, and to better understand what fans want. The narrative in much of the music media seems to be that everyone is listening to music via music streaming on services like Spotify and Apple Music, and that those fans find their music via social media apps like Instagram and TikTok.

Well, the hype isn’t necessarily the same as the reality, especially when you’re talking about mature audiences. Our recent survey of more than 1,000 SoulTracks readers provides illuminating answers that contradict much of the popular narrative and, in the process, may provide artists and labels hints to a path of success that differs from what everyone else is doing.

Now, we have to issue a disclaimer of sorts: SoulTrackers are not representative of all music fans. They aren’t teenagers (a majority of our readers are age 35-55), they have higher than average disposable income, and they are more than simply casual fans. They care deeply about music and about the artists making it. Consequently, they are also the types of fans that artists crave: fans who attend live shows and for whom music is a vital part of everyday life. 

So…what did we find out from our survey? First of all, at a time when every article seems to be about music streaming, more than three quarters of SoulTrackers said they still buy music, with a full 60% still buying CDs. This is great news for adult soul artists, whose recording bread and butter is CDs and who arguably have the deck stacked against them when it comes to the streaming services, which skew their payment formulas to reward artists who appeal to glued-to-their-phone teenagers.

We’re proud that SoulTracks came out well in the survey, with more than 80% indicating that we serve as a primary way for them to discover new music, and virtually all who are Spotify subscribers indicating that they “follow” our playlists there. But adult readers also still listen to radio, and they read about music constantly, both online and offline.

Perhaps the most revealing question we asked was “How do you listen to music?” And the answer was a resounding EVERYTHING. Check out the chart below, which shows that more than 2/3 of respondents are listening to CDs, with YouTube not too far behind. Mp3 downloads, the still growing vinyl craze, and radio (both broadcast, internet and satellite) all serve a large chunk of our readers, and even Music Choice and Pandora appeal to a sizeable group.

Streaming services have certainly grown in popularity with our readers since we last polled them 3 years ago, but neither Spotify (32%) nor Apple Music (20%) has taken a dominating role with SoulTrackers. To give perspective, there are as many vinyl record buyers as Spotify users. 

There are two major conclusions we've reached from our survey: The first is that adult soul fans want variety and they want their music the way they want it. And our guess is that similar results would be found for fans of jazz, blues, and other formats that appeal to more mature audiences. So, those who proclaim that the more profitable physical music media such as CDs are dead are doing so at their own peril. Our readers remind us that mature artists and labels will be rewarded financially when they provide their music to fans in a variety of methods (typically balancing sound quality, convenience and portability), and not simply assume that fans simply want everything for free. 

The second conclusion is that traditional ways of reaching adult fans are far from dead. The too common advice that artists must overweight their marketing dollars on the newest social media platforms tends to be a waste of resources when it comes to mature music audiences. Email, traditional media, news stories and good old word of mouth continue to be extremely effective. Our readers consistently tell us that artists and labels should creatively reach those adult fans where they are – and that’s not on TikTok.

By Chris Rizik

 
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