A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the role of serendipity in discovering a piece of music, or a new favourite artist. While compiling the BPI’s yearbook All About The Music (now published, and available here) I found myself considering the role that smart speakers – through home-based communal or ‘social’ listening – might be having in music discovery. Personal recommendations are often the most powerful: friends raving about a new release that you just have to hear, or maybe (way back in the day) a record that a sibling eulogized over and eventually let you borrow. Smart speakers may be tapping into that same vein of shared discovery – data published in All About The Music 2020 (drawn from AudienceNet’s Audiomonitor survey) reports that for almost half of those people with a smart speaker, listening to music has become more of a communal activity. That might be expected, but over a third of these respondents state that their tastes have been broadened by listening to music selected by other members of their households, be that parents, children, siblings or flat/house mates.
Not every domestically-based listening experience will be idyllic and harmonious, as any family arguing over who controls the music on a long car trip will attest. Likewise, smart speakers do give the opportunity for musical horizons to be expanded, but sometimes a member of the household will want to listen to just one song – over and over again. But the idea that people – subconsciously or otherwise – may increasingly be influencing each other’s listening is an interesting one. A recent report by MIDiA Research found that while listening during commuting was inevitably best suited to smartphones, during lockdown a significant number of people were now switching their listening to smart devices, such as smart speakers, TVs or consoles. The by-product of this could well be that, in a time of lockdown, more people are being exposed to others’ tastes in music.
Whether this will have any long-term impact will of course remain to be seen. As restrictions are eventually relaxed and commuting patterns start to change, it may be that our preference for listening to music reverts more to a more personal, insular, headphone (and smartphone)-based pattern. But there may still be a legacy from the lockdown on what is listened to, with different artists or types of music having being discovered and individuals’ tastes newly broadened in unexpected ways.