For Teens, Music Is Mobile and Context is the New Genre

Music matters just as much for today’s teens as generations gone by. But how they consume, discover and influence (and be influenced) is changing through the latest changes in technology.

MTV Knowing Youth recently analyzed a variety of research sources from around the world to summarize what’s happening at the intersection of teens, music and mobile usage.

Here are some key findings from this inquiry:

Music is young people’s “go-to” activity—and mobile phones are the device of choice for listening. Listening to music is the least boring activity among people 12 to 24*, according to a recent MTV Knowing Youth study. It’s also the top activity they turn to in moments of boredom. When teens do access music, mobile phones are by far the most preferred device versus tablets and desktop/laptop computers.

Teens—girls especially—love chart music. Teens aged 14 to 15 almost exclusively listen to artists in the charts. In their late teens and early twenties, their taste diversifies. Males move away from mainstream music sooner, typically around 18 to 20. Teen girls graduate out of popular music later, at around 20 to 22. Additionally, teen girls are more powerful fans,

Listening with others in-person is the most common way teens discover new music. Interestingly, when listening in a group, teens often use generic playlists of pop music to satisfy different musical preferences. However, when in the company of their outer circle of people (not necessarily close friends) they’re most interested in developing their music passions with those of similar tastes. Apart from these face-to-face interactions, music discovery also happens via radio charts, MTV or other music video channels, affiliated content from playing (e.g. related artists on YouTube) and manually sharing screenshots from YouTube on platforms like FaceBook, Whatsapp or Messenger.

When it comes to playlists, context is the new genre. Teens turn to music for entertainment when they engage in a range of activities: when they’re bored, commuting, relaxing, going to sleep, at the gym or doing chores. When they choose playlists, they tend to select those that fit the moment rather than playlists focusing on particular genres. A recent Spotify analysis showed that 41 of the top 100 playlist names were context-related, with names like Chill, Party, Workout, Gym, and Roadtrip. Only 17 were genre-related (Rap, Country, House, etc.).

Their app choices are driven by word-of-mouth recommendations from friends. They perceive external invites from apps (like emails, SMS messages, social) as spam and generally see links from unknown sources as untrustworthy. App ratings are still important though, and have to be 3 out of 5 stars or above. When searching for apps, “Top Free” is the main category they use. They tend to ignore featured or Editor’s Choice apps.

Teens do spend money on music, but they expect a lot for free. Compared with Millennials (ages 18 to 34), teens spend a comparable proportion of their disposable income on streaming services—but they generally have less money available to them. As a result, the total spend is lower than 18-34s. Many really don’t want to pay (and expect not to pay), so they don’t think twice about any income implications for their favorite artists. This attitude is made possible by a variety of semi-legal apps that allow users to download or cache songs without paying. In fact, a recent ranking of top music apps on Google Play in the UK showed that these services comprised 11 of the top 25 apps.

 

* Listening to music was tied with “hanging out with friends”