University of São Paulo: Music consumption and production transform amid streaming services

THEThe way we listen to music and the strategies used to produce them have been transformed. With the popularization of streaming services , new habits and trends emerge. This is the case, for example, of the phenomenon called anxious listening, a pattern of behavior in which people listen only to short-term music.
To understand how streaming can transform music consumption and production, the algorithms that work in these programs are essential. “The platforms store data from millions of people, with examples of the listening habits of each user in their daily lives”, says Fernando de Moraes, researcher at the Center for Studies in Music and Media (Musimid).

This data is used to map the soundscape, locations, and even users’ feelings and emotions. “Millions of songs pass through this within a listening ecosystem”, says Moraes. In this way, according to the researcher, platforms change the music market as they expand the contact between music and technology.

Streaming music consumption
With access to this data, the platforms recommend songs in a personalized way, following criteria that fit the user’s profile. The listener has a less active role in the search for new works and starts, in a more passive way, just responding to the platform’s suggestions.

Another important aspect is the digital and immaterial nature of streaming . “When I pick up a record, for example, a vinyl record, there are other material qualities that are at the level of the palpable, the sensitive,” says Heloísa Valente, a professor at the Graduate Program in Music at USP, at Universidade Paulista and coordinator of MusiMid. These qualities are only present in physical media.

According to the teacher, in these media, the consumption of music is slower and more contemplative. “We need to pick it up, feel it, the nose also responds if it’s a new or moldy record, apart from the visual qualities of the cover and booklet”, he explains. In digital media, this consumption is more immediate. “In terms of sensitivity and listening behavior, it is very different”, compares Heloísa.

Immediacy is directly related to the phenomenon of the anxious generation. Estimates from the platforms themselves indicate that, on average, users do not listen to songs that are more than two minutes and 30 seconds long. According to Moraes, this is a reflection of a new reality marked by information flows.

“We live in a space where people don’t want to waste any more time. The songs being shorter is a reflection of this time that people don’t have and the relationship of more immediate solutions for life in general”, he evaluates.

The researcher also points out that, in streaming, the user does not need to buy the content in isolation. Subscribing to the service grants access to the entire library. In this context, “the experimentation and tasting of music grows as new flavors”. It’s as if people would rather listen to multiple short tracks than listen to a single long track.

On these platforms it is also possible to assemble playlists and play the songs in random mode, outside of the album’s sequence. If, on the one hand, these possibilities allow the user to further customize their experience, on the other hand, they can de-characterize the composer’s work.

Singer Adele, for example, has requested that the shuffle of her album, “30”, be blocked. “”We don’t create albums so carefully and put so much thought into the track order for no reason. Our art tells a story and our stories must be heard as we intended”, wrote the singer on her social networks, claiming that the random mode undermines the linearity and concept of the work.

The phonographic market in streaming

To meet new demands and habits, music production also changes. The musicians and producers themselves think of ways to make the tracks more direct, objective and attractive in the midst of so many possibilities. In addition to the shorter duration, the repositioning of the chorus to the beginning of the song has been a strategy adopted to generate immediate attention from the listener.

In Heloísa’s assessment, the biggest challenge is the distribution of these works, not their production. “What happened at the label was migrated to the platform”, he explains. “The criteria are not how to produce the record, but how to make it sellable.” The very concept of an album as a set of tracks produced by the artist has been overcome. Many producers prefer to release singles or single tracks. “Maybe, if you have other pieces together in the same package, it won’t have the same impact and sales. If he launches them one by one, he can be more successful”, explains the teacher, when commenting on the distribution strategies.

Despite these transformations, the researchers emphasize that changes in music in the face of new technologies have always existed and are not exclusive to streaming . In this new reality, songs that follow the engagement criteria have a greater chance of success, but that doesn’t mean that this is the end of long and elaborate productions.

Finally, Heloísa highlights that streaming platforms are instrumental and must be used with conscience. “It’s a form of access that we have today and it’s very useful”, he says. “But pay attention to who is providing [the songs], if they are being faithful to the authors and respecting copyrights. We need to think, reflect, not readily accept what is given to us”, he concludes.

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