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Losing Touch With Popular Music

Chris A

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One thing that helps people to be moved by certain music is to know some of the history of the time, and somewhat understand the music and composers/performer's. 


I know you like pipe organ music, but you also have experience in how they work and the different types/sizes and how they sound live in different buildings. This added to your feeling about how it ties to religion does give you more appreciation and feelings toward the music than a complete stranger to it. It's just natural, with classical music I would imagine the more someone learns about it the more it can be appreciated, it can be overwhelming with the variety, people think classical but it's really very varied styles.

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One thing that helps people to be moved by certain music is to know some of the history of the time, and somewhat understand the music and composers/performer's. I know you like pipe organ music, but you also have experience in how they work and the different types/sizes and how they sound live in different buildings.


That's what makes it strange to me.  I learned what I know because when first exposed I was totally fixated.  As to the great works, they required no more understanding of the time or context than the awe of the aforementioned Grand Canyon requires an understanding of geology. 


Certain pieces, like the "Moonlight Sonata" or "Jesus, Joy of Man's Desiring" are simply utter perfection in form and beauty making context as they are heard, like the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's "David," or the Parthenon.   The Bach, in particular, brought images to my mind the first time I heard it of the cosmos as a whole as if it were the music of the universe itself, neither beginning nor ending and something you joined temporarily and then it moves on never ending. 


Anyway...getting carried away.  Music isn't a pastime for me.  I love all music that touches my soul, and enjoy anything that makes my feet tap.  Those include more music than is excluded.  And, a lot of it, I know little or nothing about.



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I am really glad you posted Michael Lavorgna's article. It is a great example of what the purpose of a great many blogs are, to sell you on something, whethet it be an idea, product or service.

Michael Lavorgna is an audio journalist, and his particular niche is blogging for Audio Stream, Stereophile, Six Moons and others as well as writing articles about streaming services he submits to a variety of magazines such as Men's Health.

What Mr, Lavorga did was to prepare a "book report" of sorts on a data report prepared by Ajay Kalia who works over at the streaming service, Spotify. Mr. KKalia's job there is to convince people that the future of music is Spotify.

His point is that as we age we listen to less and less "popular" music. He doesn't define popular music in his article, but mentions that Spotify has ranked bands and performers, and uses his "ballsack" graph to show that we are listening to "top 500" acts in our teens and 20s and by the time of our 30s we are listening to acts who are way down at 2500. (Oldtimer, is that an industry term for that graph?). He hyperlinks an article on research that takes you here


If you read that article it says that a duplication of songs on a list of a 64-year-old man will 35% of a 13-year-old kid. Their lists will have 35% in common. The author of the research article says that he expects that the 35% overlap is an overestimate due to inaccurate age reporting, that multiple users use one account, and other factors. He acknowledges that his data is suspect and then concludes as follows:

"This quick tour through the ages confirms our thinking that the age of a listener plays a significant role in the type of music that they listen to. We can use this information to find music that is distinctive for a particular demographic. We can also use this information to help find artists that may be acceptable to a wide range of listeners. But we should be careful to consider how popularity bias may affect our view of the world. And perhaps most important of all, people don’t like music from the 70s or 80s so much."

Age plays a role in the type of music people listen to, what a revelation!   This guy is a genius, what a waste of talent.  He could be selecting what music could be going with commercials, movies, etc.  Figure out the age of the target market of what you are trying to sell, select music that the target market listens to to grab their attention, and combine them.  I think he is really on to something here.

The guy at Spotify concludes by saying this:


"All this is to say that yes, conventional wisdom is 'wisdom' for a reason. So if you’re getting older and can’t find yourself staying as relevant as you used to, have no fear — just wait for your kids to become teenagers, and you’ll get exposed to all the popular music of the day once again!"

So research guy is saying people of different ages like different music, and people don’t like 70s or 80s music (without saying how he comes up with that notion). Spotify guy tells you that you are "iirrelevant" if you want to become relevant, have kids and listen to what they listen to. Spotify guy wants you to buy Spotify for your kids and you might as well have a listen too.

None of them define what "popular" music is, other than to say that Spotify ranks the popularity of performers based on its users selection data. He gives no hint as to what percentage of users are below 30, below 20, etc. More importantly, he does not say that newer acts are always most popular, nor does he say that older bands and singers are always less pooular, but he tries to infer it because his whole misguided premise rests on this notion.  He cannot say it, because in fact it is simply not true, and Spotify and Lavorgna both know that it is not true with music sales.

Lovorgna concludes his little book report by saying "I'd also recommend trying avoid "lock-in" by listening to as much new music as you can handle." Stay young, be hip, become relevant again, listen to NEW music as much as possible. Whoops, now it is new music, not popular music. Why is that do you suppose? WIth streaming services their viability depends on getting new artists to list with them so that the demand for the new stuff will increase and more subscribers can be obtained, and it gives this business model more footing. Did you see all of the advertisers Lovorgna had on his blog for hardware used in connection with streaming?

So what is popular music, is it really popular? It has to be popular with today's kids right? What else is out there, in terms of genres or classifications, and if I listen to that, how much in the minority am I? At what point am I no longer relevant?

Those really are not the right questions, the question should be is streaming relevant, do streamers, specifically Spotify customers, reflect the real musical preferences of the under 20 and under 30 American market?

The original blog post, and the "data" it was based on, are trying to sell you a bag of goods. You need to stream because it provides an easy way to stay up to speed with the popular music of today, AND, when you do stream you should do it on  Spotify because we are going to be able to tell you who the hot artists are, and their hot tunes.

The trouple is, popular music isn't what the teens and twenty-somethings are mainly listening to. AND, what America is buying does not line up with what Spotify claims are the more popular artists.

Stay tuned.


Edit:  For clarity, spelling and grammar of a late night dictated post.

Edited by dwilawyer
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There is a "Comments" section below Lavorgna's blog post and one which I thought had some good thoughts about the methodology of reaching their conclusions was this one: 

Submitted by PDQ.Bach on April 22, 2015 - 4:06pm
I am not convinced by the Kalia data.

Of course, the basic notion as such sounds plausible. Hardly new.

The same could be shown with one's vocabulary. There are periods of logistic acquisition of words and idioms in early childhood and youth, followed by what amounts largely to a plateau. So what? It's the clean-slate-effect.

Also, does the study take into account progression or retrogression in time? You could start with Joni Mitchell in 1967 and still be adventurous following her three decades later. (Or you could start with Sinead O'Connor in 1990 and, well, that's it, pretty much.) What if your interests expand sideways, from Joni Mitchell to Charles Mingus, then backwards to Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, then sideways again to Sofia Gubaidulina and Alfred Schnittke, while making a quaint ritual of listening to Gershwin or Percy Grainger every morning during your ablutions. Much of this would be pretty adventurous, though not exactly new — except to oneself. How would that play out on the Spotify scale?

Regarding this specific study, to the extent that it can be called a study, I like the quip of one of my favourite physicists, Per Bak, in regard to a mystifying, “new and improved” project of a young colleague: “Excuse me, but what is actually non-trivial about what you did?”

Methodological questions, doubts and frownings galore:

how representative is Spotify clientèle in relation to age, gender, income, education, ethnicity?
how representative is Spotify clientèle in relation to musical tastes, listening habits, width and scope of musical appreciation, and average duration and location of daily listening sessions?
what does streaming frequency actually tell about real popularity (unless it is a matter of circular definition)?
which statistical diagnostics were used? in particular, rank statistics?
I could go on and on. But to quote my favourite statistical scientist, Andrew Gelman:

“My best analogy is that they are trying to use a bathroom scale to weigh a feather—and the feather is resting loosely in the pouch of a kangaroo that is vigorously jumping up and down. … I like the weighing-a-feather-while-the-kangaroo-is-jumping analogy. It includes measurement accuracy and also the idea that there are huge biases that are larger than the size of the main effect.”

Oh, and the graphs should go straight to Dr. Edward Tufte for rehabilitation. Cute, but misguided and deeply misleading.


Edit:  For typos, etc.

Edited by dwilawyer
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Good stuff, Travis, and I agree with many of those comments.  As there are no clear boundaries to music most conclusions made from such will be made within arbitrary lines and therefore the conclusions less than good science. 


Interesting, perhaps, but not necessarily good science. 



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Nice catch, Travis.  I saw the references to Spotify in the original article but I didn't think about "conspiracy theories" in relation to it.  I was just scouring the web on audio articles not having to do with the kind of real crud that Stereophile and The Absolute Sound often put out on hardware and music (and the host of other publications and web logs/sites on the same subject). 


The article linked just above in your post did post a bar graph on the age distribution of Spotify users:




I wasn't at all surprised by this data.  If you reverse the age scale at the bottom, you're not terribly far from the age distribution of the frequent posters in this forum.  I thought about that and chuckled. 


If you're wondering, I don't own a Spotify account, and I presently don't intend to get one.  It doesn't provide anything that I want to hear above and beyond my current disc collection (...but YouTube music videos and Amazon short clips do...).  I've not been in the mainstream music scene except perhaps when I lived in a dormitory when an undergraduate in the 70s--supposedly a time period from the link you posted that people presently don't like listening to music (which is patently false: AOR was at its height in the 70s and 80s and forms the backbone of what we call rock, metal, folk rock, etc. today).


I found the original linked article that started this thread, and it scratched my itch a little bit on the more general subject of "why audiophiles typically don't talk about what they listen to".  I've got my own theories, including one that says that people don't want to appear "uncool" or out-of-step with their peers so they suppress talking about that subject on the forum to protect their image. 


I've not had much trouble with that subject.  I like accurate reproduction because I listen to a lot of music that benefits from the most accurate reproduction that I can muster--including (but certainly not limited to) classical, jazz, new age, world, etc.  Others on the forum typically have narrower tastes in music...but not shorter playlists--they listen to more of the same genre--a lot--especially if they are younger.  That is something that the article sort of confirms, but also confuses. 


I find that the people that post here typically own equipment in their rigs that correlate in ways with what they typically listen to.  Knowing what they typically listen to helps me to understand what they write and, most importantly, what they are actually asking when they post questions on this forum.  I find that most people really don't ask what they really want very well--at least on first try: typically the real question(s) have to be discovered through a predictable course of dialogue.


Did the article I posted a link to do what I intended? Well, no, these sort of threads never turn out like I envision.  But your reply Travis--fit the bill perfectly.  Thinking about these kind of subjects a bit more and a little deeper is the intent of posting them, but what I see is typically a more a cursory reaction to the overall subject--and what each person wants to say (on point or not) instead of what is actually being discussed in the linked article. 


The world isn't as it seems on the surface.  When you dig down just one layer and think about what's being said (especially in the open press nowadays) it gets interesting--like a war is being played with facts to justify certain attitudes and needs of the writers instead of conveying relevant information to the reader as accurately and concisely as possible. 


Lots of "spring-loaded writing"...everywhere...



Edited by Chris A
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