Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Survey Results: This is How We Consume Music

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been conducting a survey that I hoped would reveal a little more about the way we consume music here in the UK. The survey is now closed, and I'm pleased to report that I received a total of 217 responses from music fans in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

First of all, I'd like to say a massive 'Thank you!' to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey and submit it to me - your input is very much appreciated. Before we get stuck into the results, I should point out that this survey won't be 100% representative of the UK's music consumption habits, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Self-selection bias. Everyone who responded to this survey did so voluntarily, presumably because they were interested in the topics concerned. For this reason, it's probably safe to assume that respondents generally had a greater interest in music than the average UK resident. Please bear that in mind as you read the survey's findings.

  2. Location bias. I shared this survey on my personal Facebook page a couple of times, and I know that many of the people who filled out this survey are people I know personally who live here in Cardiff. This means that a disproportionately large segment of the total response came from people in Wales, while Scotland and Northern Ireland were somewhat under-represented.

With those two caveats in mind, let's tuck into the results. Some are completely unsurprising (I didn't need a survey to tell me that not many people use Tidal), but others were a little more unexpected...

Which format(s) do you use to listen to music?

Key Points:
  • CDs are more popular than vinyl
  • Lots of people still listen to music on the radio, but video sites like YouTube aren't far behind
  • More people use paid streaming services (e.g. Spotify Premium) than free services
  • Most people would buy a physical version of their favourite band's new album

This part of the survey consisted of three questions. The first (above) was a simple 'tick all that apply' affair; lots of people said that they listen to music on the radio, but only 11 fewer people stated that they 'frequently listen to music on video sites', suggesting that music fans will soon be just as likely to open up YouTube as to switch on the wireless.

The 'vinyl revival' has been a hot topic of late, and I was expecting 'I buy vinyl' to be a far more popular option than 'I buy CDs' in this bit of the survey. Surprisingly, it went the other way, with more people claiming to buy CDs on a regular basis than vinyl or digital albums or (less surprisingly) cassette tapes. In fact, just over half of all respondents stated that they frequently buy CDs. For all the hype currently surrounding vinyl - just look at all the articles and thinkpieces that were published in the run-up to Record Store Day last month - it seems like people still consider compact discs to be the more convenient, appealing option.

Another thing that surprised me a little: more people ticked the box saying 'I pay for a music streaming service' than the box saying 'I use them for free'. I think I assumed that only a few hardcore listeners would bother to pay for Spotify Premium, but having heard some of the adverts they're running on the free version of Spotify right now, I can't say I blame the 40.5% of respondents who stump up the cash for Premium every month.

These two questions were intended to find out what people do upon learning of an album they want to hear. It was encouraging to see the majority of respondents stating that, if their favourite band released a new LP, they would still be keen to buy a physical version right away; people are understandably a little more cautious when it's a band they've never heard of before, but the fact that most people would start by listening to a single track online rather than listening to the whole album suggests that lots of people still want to preserve the full-blown album experience for after they've bought it.

In case you're interested, the 'Other' responses included "Listen to a borrowed copy", "Usually hear it on 6Music", and simply "YouTube" (which I feel counts as 'Listen to one of the tracks online', but there we are).

Where do you buy music?

Key Points:
  • Independent record shops are more popular than high street stores and supermarkets combined
  • Lots of people use Amazon (no surprises there!)
  • Bandcamp now appears to be more popular than the iTunes Store...
  • ...but people may be more likely to buy music directly from a band's website than from Bandcamp

This question was pretty straightforward - respondents were asked to tick all of the places they had purchased music (CD, vinyl, digital, whatever) in the past year. I was very happy to see 'Independent record shop' emerge as the clear victor here; Amazon was a strong second, suggesting that the ecommerce giant poses more of a problem to HMV and other high street chains than to local indie stores, which presumably inspire fiercer loyalty in their customers than any nationwide retailer.

I was also pleased to see Bandcamp edging ahead of the iTunes Store in this poll; I'm a big fan of Bandcamp and the way it puts artists in the driver's seat, and I hope its star continues to rise. That said, I was interested to see more people ticking 'Band's website' than 'Bandcamp' - perhaps people feel more confident when they're buying direct from the artist rather than purchasing via a third-party platform?

What hardware do you use to listen to music?

Key Points:
  • Computers and phones are the most popular music-playing devices
  • Vinyl turntables are now more widely-used than iPods

Even with so many respondents citing CDs, vinyl, and the radio among their preferred musical formats, it does seem that fancy hi-fi systems are out and computers, smartphones, and other internet-capable doodads are in. Even the iPod - an all-conquering giant among lesser hardware not so long ago - received markedly fewer nods than the 'mobile phone' option; after all, who needs an iPod when you've got an iPhone that can do all the same things and more besides?

The vinyl turntable of course received lots of ticks, with just over half of all respondents stating that record players were crucial parts of their music-listening arsenals. More people are using vinyl turntables than are now using iPods, which feels like at least a small win for people and businesses who still rely on physical sales to survive.

How do you discover new music?

Key Points:
  • Word of mouth is king - most of us rely on recommendations from friends
  • Social media comes a strong second, ahead of radio and live shows
  • Co-workers give better recommendations than family members and record store staff

This was an interesting one. 'Recommendations from friends' was comfortably the most popular option, which suggests that - for all the effort bands and their PR representatives put into courting bloggers and social media 'influencers' - an enthusiastic word from a trusted pal can still do far more to sell an album. And if there aren't any trusted pals available, a co-worker is apparently the next best thing; I was very surprised to learn that more people rely on recommendations from colleagues than from relatives and record store staff. I guess those respondents' co-workers must be far more music-savvy than mine.

All of this having been said, new media such as blogs and social media do seem to be more popular than traditional sources of music discovery such as radio stations and live shows. So don't sack your PR people just yet, struggling rock bands!

Record Store Day

Key Points:

  • Record Store Day doesn't matter to as many people as you might expect

Less than 14% of respondents bought a limited edition record on Record Store Day this year. More than a dozen respondents had never even heard of Record Store Day. These results are really making me question whether the vinyl revival really is as big a deal as it's cracked up to be.

How much would you pay for a new album?

Key Points:
  • Most people will pay £10-15 for a CD they want
  • Majority would pay up to £10 for a digital album
  • Nobody can agree on how much vinyl should cost

This trio of questions aimed to establish how much people think albums are worth in different formats.  We managed to achieve something resembling a consensus on two out of three fronts: most people agreed that they'd be prepared to pay anything up to £10 for a digital album, while CDs were valued at around £10-15.

As you can see, however, the vinyl pie chart is far messier. 32% of respondents said that they would be prepared to pay up to £20 for their favourite act's new record; 20% said they'd be prepared to pay even more. This means that the majority of respondents wouldn't be put off by a price tag of £20 for a single album. However, 18% of respondents said they wouldn't pay a penny for a vinyl record, suggesting that this format is somewhat more polarising than the other two: if vinyl is worth anything to you, it's probably worth quite a bit more to you than CDs and downloads, but there's also a stronger chance that you won't want anything to do with it whatsoever.

Which albums have you heard?

Key Points:

While, as an R.E.M. fan, it's gratifying to see that more people have heard Green than Thriller, the main point of this pair of questions was to suss out how many people actually own the albums they've heard, and whether there's any variation in that figure between different genres and eras. With that in mind, the graphs above are only half the story - here are the all-important percentages:

  • Bloc Party - 71% of those who have heard it also own it
  • The Velvet Underground - 68%
  • Wilco - 67%
  • R.E.M. - 65%
  • Santana - 54%
  • Metallica - 53%
  • Queen - 51%
  • Michael Jackson - 50%
  • Kendrick Lamar - 50%
  • Dead Kennedys - 46%
  • Christina Aguilera - 44%
  • HAIM - 37%

I was surprised to see Bloc Party's Silent Alarm (released in 2005, if I remember correctly) at the top of that list - I expected the older albums like A Night at the Opera and Thriller to have the highest heard:own ratio, with the percentages slowly dropping the closer I got to the present day. But Thriller (1982) had exactly the same percentage as To Pimp a Butterfly (released last year), while Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was way ahead of both Queen and Metallica.

There doesn't really seem to be a sweeping statement I can apply to this part of the survey. The list is all mixed up; the albums with the two highest percentages came out nearly 50 years apart, and there's very little to separate hip-hop, pop, classic rock, and heavy metal in the middle of the board. If anyone has any theories about why Silent Alarm is the most-owned of these twelve albums, do let me know!

Favourite indie store

Of my 217 respondents, 111 (roughly 51%) named a favourite record shop, although quite a few of those people opted to pay tribute to shops that are now closed (such as Spinadisc in Northampton). The full list of nominated stores is far too long to publish here, but the most popular choices were Spillers (Cardiff), Rough Trade (various locations), Rise (Bristol), and Banquet (London).

Recommend an album I've never heard before.

148 people recommended albums - that's just over 68% of all respondents. 6 of those 148 people failed the test I set them by recommending albums I've already heard:
  • Separation Sunday by The Hold Steady
  • Square Moon by The Crimea
  • My Love is Cool by Wolf Alice
  • When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired by Mothers
  • 2013 by Meilyr Jones
  • American Interior by Gruff Rhys
That leaves 142 albums for me to check out, which - if nothing else - should give me plenty to blog about over the months to come.

Huge thanks again to everyone who filled out the survey - hope you found these results as interesting as I did!

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