Is Your Streaming Music Playlist Guilty of Recency Bias?

It’s Advertising Week in New York City (hopefully you were aware of that, otherwise you’d have to wonder about the advertising capability of the people running the conference.)

Anyway, one of the panel sessions was “Driving the Future of Voice Activation” and one of the panel members, Barrak Moffitt, executive VP of content strategies and partnerships at Universal Music Group, shared an interesting tidbit about streaming music.

About half of all music being streamed on digital subscription services (think Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music) was recorded in the past three years. Music labels are having a hard time getting streamers to listen deep into the catalog, just one of the challenges in the digital music era. (This is referred to as recency bias; not to be confused with Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.)

I was quite surprised by this, but I guess I am not the “average” streaming music customer. In fact, I must be the exact opposite of the average customer, since I rarely listen to any music that has been recorded in the past three years.

As an example, here is the one playlist I’ve created in Spotify; there is only one song that was recorded in the past three years; there are a couple songs that are slightly over 10 years old, and the rest are from the 1970s and 1980s:

  • Peaceful Easy Feeling – The Eagles
  • Thundercrack – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
  • Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes – Jimmy Buffett
  • Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
  • Back Home Again – John Denver
  • I Got a Name – Jim Croce
  • Second Avenue – Tim Moore
  • FourFiveSeconds – Rihanna, Kanye West (or whatever his name is now), and Paul McCartney (2015)
  • Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes – Paul Simon
  • Could I Have This Dance – Anne Murray
  • Danny’s Song – Anne Murray
  • Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
  • Human – The Killers
  • All These Things That I’ve Done – The Killers
  • The Load Out and Stay – Jackson Browne

So what does this have to do with voice activation?

One of the benefits of voice-activated speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home is that they are easy to use, meaning even technically-challenged people can ask Alexa to play a song, including those more than a few years old.

However, there is also the issue that many listeners also often ask voice assistants to set the mood, not to play a specific artist, and don’t always even think about who comes on. Moffitt notes that Universal is rethinking how it inputs metadata to solve some of the problems. Songs and artists can improve their odds of appearing in a computer-generated playlist by making sure streaming services have the right keywords to go by.

And streaming music services are a key source of revenue for artists and record labels.

In 2015, Universal Music Group, the biggest player in the music industry, posted revenues of more than $5 billion, about $1 billion of which came from streaming. And earlier this year, it was announced that streaming music revenues had surpassed income from the sale of traditional formats for the first time last year.

Revenue from music fans paying for services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music surged more than 41% to $6.6 billion, accounting for more than 38% of the total global market for recorded music. The sale of physical formats, primarily CDs, fell 5.4% to $5.2 billion to account for 30%.

In addition, British music company revenues grew faster in 2017 than in any year since 1995, with labels experiencing a 10.6% rise in earnings year-on-year. British companies enjoyed a 45% increase in subscription streaming revenue in just one year – from £239m in 2016 to £347m in 2017.

So it seems critical that artists and their record companies learn how to properly market their music, both new and old, so that it gets significant play time on the streaming music services.

Reading all of this about the future of voice activation makes me wonder if there is a way to set up my blog on a streaming service so that all someone has to do is say, “Hey Alexa, read today’s post from Borden’s Blog.”

People could add it to their “Songs to Fall Asleep To” playlist.

And maybe if it was read by someone with an Irish brogue I could attract a few new subscribers.