With Apple Music’s launch and services like Spotify and Pandora going strong, music streaming is here to stay. Spotify recently released data on music preferences, giving us a new look into listeners’ lives. Metal rules over pop worldwide with the highest listener loyalty, especially with a tight-knit fan community. On the other hand, rigid genre boundaries may fade away as streaming listeners feel more comfortable trying just about anything. Demographics also matter; listeners “age out” of following popular music, and they do so much faster if they have children. Genres are more than labels on the shelf, though, and have more staying power when they represent social groups. Research shows these changes aren’t just about personal taste—social structure as a stronger effect.
We still use genre preferences to mark out a range of social boundaries. Education and political tolerance relate to “musical tolerance,” but people with these broad tastes are also more likely to say they don’t like music associated with uneducated fans (gospel, country, rap and metal).
- Bethany Bryson. 1996. “‘Anything But Heavy Metal’: Symbolic Exclusion and Musical Dislikes.” American Sociological Review. 61(5): 884-899
Streaming allows more listeners to quietly cross these boundaries, but fan subcultures remain powerful social groups that encourage devotion—and sometimes deviance. Genre preferences associate with different kinds of substance use, and loyalty to a community of fans can create a strong culture of sharing and collection that sustains music file-sharing.
- Mike Vuolo, Christopher Uggen, and Sarah Lageson. 2014. “Taste clusters of music and drugs: evidence from three analytic levels.” The British Journal of Sociology 65(3): 529-554.
- Kevin F. Steinmetz and Kenneth D. Tunnell. 2013. “Under the Pixelated Jolly Roger: A Study of On-Line Pirates.” Deviant Behavior 34(1):53–67.