Ethnographic Interview: How has streaming affected the consumption of music?

Set Questions:

This interview aims to act as primary research in the study ‘How has streaming affected the consumption of music?’. It will consist of 5 set questions, with the opportunity to elaborate depending on the direction of conversation.

  • What is your earliest recollection of music and how did you consume and discover it during your childhood?
  • What is your primary method of consuming music? And are there any other secondary methods you may also use?
  • If it has, why do you think that your method of consumption has changed?
  • What is your overall opinion/relationship with streaming?
  • Do you think that streaming platforms, in particular the ease of discovering new music, is a positive or negative? And why?

My Findings:

I aimed to investigate how streaming has affected the consumption of music by collecting qualitative data through interviewing across generations about their consumption habits, and collecting additional secondary research.

The most notable pattern amongst interviewees was the transition to streaming from previous methods of consumption, a trend I had expected. A common factor discussed was convenience, “I like that all my music’s in one place” and “you can access music very easily” being two quotes collected. This pattern is supported by quantitative data collected by IFPI Global Music Report who found that in the year 17/18, there was a 41.1% growth in streaming revenue, compared with a 5.4% decrease in physical revenue.

The accompanying article goes on to say ‘Music companies have worked to foster growth in developing music markets, in particular by creating engaging ways to access music on multiple services and platforms.’ This links with a thought expressed by interviewee 3 who discussed how her change in consumption has been a forced one due to a ‘changes in media output’. Because music companies are focusing on the growth of digital platforms and services, consumers are having to involuntary evolve their method of consumption as physical copies of music become more difficult to obtain.

While this suggests that the change in consumption was less of a choice and more ‘moving with the times’, I found it interesting that all interviewees found streaming positive. The overall opinion was that it was cheaper for consumers, offers more music choice, and easier to access than previous methods.

In his analysis of a report by Datta, Knox and Bronnenberg, Doeland found that even after half a year since adoption, usage is still up by 50%. This is significant as it demonstrates that one effect streaming has had on the consumption of music is that it is encouraging consumption altogether. Because music is now easier to access, it suggests that there will be a continued growth of listening to music.

This notion is evidenced in interview 4, to which he states “if I’m walking, working, chilling, drinking, Spotify is what I’m using.” Particularly, the idea of walking with music is a phenomenon made easier with new digital methods of consumption and will contribute to higher consumption as previous methods of usage such as vinyl, CD or TV couldn’t support it.

A piece of secondary research I found particularly interesting was an article by Brian Garrity in the August 2000 edition of Billboard magazine who predicted the rise of streaming we have discussed. As part of the article, CDNow CEO Jim Olim states ‘long term, Napster-like services will replace unit-by-unit consumption that now is the norm in selling music.’ This is a trend demonstrated throughout my primary and up-to-date secondary research. The article also refers to digital subscriptions, high quality streaming and ‘music being used as a free premium to drive brand partnerships’ all of which are up-to-date topics of discussion, thus correctly predicted.

We must note the effect changing consumption has on artists, as it is discussed in both sets of research. Interviewee 1 and 5 both take differing views on this, with interviewee 1 acknowledging the advantage it gives to small artists stating ‘it also gives smaller artists a bigger reach that they may not get without these streaming sites, they can use this to push their music on social media for free helping people hear them easily and without paying.’Doeland’s research provides statistics supporting this idea, saying a typical Spotify user discovers an average of 26.7 artists per month. This is significant as it gives artists a higher possibility of being heard, and the discovery feature on Spotify encourages consumers to adopt small artists. Continuing this, the abundance of data that streaming platforms (such as exemplar Spotify) are able to provide artists is a positive change to the industry as it provides ‘fan insight’ allowing artists to ‘actively market to them’ (Popper, 2015), enabling independent artists to operate on the same level as major or signed artists.

Interviewee 5 does bring to light the other side of the coin, ironic in the fact that streaming is generating less income for artists compared with physical sales and therefore more revenue avenues are having to be created by artists and labels. In research conducted by Time Magazine, using the Spotify payout range they found that Shake it Off with approximately 46 million streams, only received a payout of $280k-$390k, significantly lower than what could have been received through mechanical royalties.

Therefore, both the primary and secondary data indicate that the shift towards streaming in terms of overall music consumption is a positive one for consumers particularly as it provides them with greater freedom over their music. However, we must still consider the room for progress in digitalization, especially in the accreditation artists get for their musical works, and we should consider the impact brands and record labels will have for this change.

Primary Data:

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Secondary Research:

  1. ‘How Consumers Adoption of Online Streaming Affects Music Consumption and Discovery’ Paper by Hannes Datta, George Knox and Bastiaan J. Bronnenberg.I have sourced key quotes from author/blogger Denis Doeland who summaries the findings on his website.

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2) Billboard Magazine – August 2000 – excerpt ‘RETAIL MUST ADAPT, SAY PLUG-IN ATTENDEES’ by Brian Garrity

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3) IFPI Global Music Report 2018

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  1. What steps can be taken to increase the revenue gained by artists from the streaming of their songs on Spotify, YouTube, and other online platforms? Refer to the work of at least one credible journalistic or industry source in your answer.

In my research task, I referred to research conducted by Time Magazine who stated, using the Spotify payout range, ‘Shake it Off’ by Taylor Swift with approximately 46 million streams, only received a payout of $280k-$390k, significantly lower than what could have been received through mechanical royalties.

However, while this statement is true it is dangerous to compare streaming revenue to mechanical as they both operate very differently. The money generated from a physical album sale is a one-off payment, and while during the era that physical CD sales boomed this often raked up big money, soon after release the revenue would begin to dry up. On the contrary, streaming offers a steady and recyclable income. While the initial revenue from a release may be lower than what could’ve been achieved mechanically, streaming allows the music to make revenue every time it is revisited. For example, Fleetwood Mac currently have 11 million monthly listeners, allowing them to make a generous cheque every month from their existing catalogue.

In order for artists to increase their revenue they must take steps to exploit the streaming system. A statement by Sahil Varma, an industry figure reads ‘almost every track we release, we then release an acoustic version a few weeks later. The acoustic version will end up on different playlists to the main version …and often it will get more streams.’

This is a step taken by big artists such as Ed Sheeran who after his release of Shape of You, released an acoustic version (74m streams), a reggaeton version (69m), a Stormzy version (50m) and a Major Lazer Version (48m). If other artists replicated this to reach multiple markets from one release, they will be able to maximize their streaming revenue

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