Radio and Music Streaming: New Data on the Generational Gap and How It's Changing

Gen Z streams the most music but hasn’t completely given up on radio - Millennials plump for podcasts - Gen X top the radio charts


One of the major changes in music consumption in recent years is a switch from owning music to streaming it. Streaming allows listeners to play whatever they want, whenever they want, and as much as they want, with no need to own any files themselves. But streaming has also been shown to have the potential for widening the generational gap between those who grew up with music as something that was played on a device and those who now grow up with music as something that is played through an app. In this article, we take a look at the latest Media Consumption Report by Attest and explore the shift from owning music to streaming it and its implications for generations past and present.

The Generational Gap
What makes this generational shift interesting, and in particular makes it relevant for baby boomers, is they are music fans who grew up with records as a primary form of music. To that end, there's been a long-standing myth that once we entered the digital age, our musical tastes became more narrow and less diverse. But that's simply not the case, according to a recent article in The Washington Post: Once we hit the age of about 45, for example, we entered a period of phenomenal musical creativity and discovery, writes Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post.

One of the fundamental differences between generations has been the changing nature of how people acquire music. Until fairly recently, music was primarily acquired by playing it in the car with the radio on or through a stereo connected to a record player in the home. The prevalence of the mp3 player, Bluetooth technology, and downloadable music has changed how music is received. The generation that came of age using the mp3 player has left that phase of their lives behind. But for those who started using a smartphone or tablet when smartphones first became available, streaming music has been a ubiquitous, omnipresent element of their daily lives. Because of this prevalence of smartphones, obviously, baby boomers have adopted, are still fans and consumers of music and that gap is clearly closing and in terms of radio and streaming preferences are now considered Generation X.

Shifting from Ownership to Streaming
Although streaming music has existed for quite some time, it has been under the radar. You see, until recently, the value of owning music was hard to ignore. Just like the 20th-century consumer buying one's groceries at the grocery store, today's consumer downloads or streams the music they want. From a consumer perspective, it made sense to spend a certain amount of money on an album or song, instead of downloading an entire album. Buying the CD and then the download was a great way to buy multiple songs, even when it wasn't the artist's newest release. However, for the past few years, the value of owning a music album has diminished significantly. To be fair, streaming has contributed to this trend in a big way.

Listening habits and preferences
Millennials and Generation Xers are the primary targets for streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music, with the majority of members of each generation. An estimated 76 percent of millennials now use music streaming, up from 66 percent in 2011. Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are the most engaged streaming music listeners and are much more likely to use multiple services at once than either older generations. This generation of listeners is particularly active on social media and have a penchant for taking their music with them, listening to music on their devices on the go, and sending friends playlists or songs they love.

According to the US Media Consumption Report 2021 by Attest, Gen Z streams the most music but hasn’t completely given up on radio:

Nearly a quarter (24%) of Gen Z say they listen a few times a week and 19% listen daily (although this is the smallest percentage of daily listeners out of all the demographics). Among Gen Z, 15% say they don’t listen to the radio.

However, you’re still more likely to find Gen Z listening to streamed music than the radio – they listen more frequently than any of the other demographics, with 60% listening daily and 18% a few times a week. Spotify is their music streaming platform of choice (used by 64%), followed by YouTube Music (35%). Out of all the generations, Gen Z is the biggest adopter of Apple Music (33%) and SoundCloud (27%) but the lowest adopter of Amazon Music (13%).

Gen Z has also embraced podcasts (only 32% say they never listen to them). The single largest percentage listen to podcasts a few times a week (14%), but there remains 11% of Gen Z who listen daily.

When it comes to audiobooks, a larger 50% of Gen Z say they never listen to them. And those that do are most likely to say they listen less frequently than once a month (16%). Bucking this trend are the 18% who listen once a week or more.

Millennials plump for podcasts

It’s Millennials who lead the podcast charge, with 15% listening daily and 45% listening at least once a week. Meanwhile 34% said they never listen to podcasts.

Audiobooks are less popular, with 41% of Millennials saying they don’t listen to them. Of those that do, 29% listen at least once a week.

When it comes to music streaming, Millennials fall behind Gen Z – 43% listen every day and 25% listen a few times a week. Spotify and YouTube Music are almost neck and neck with Millennials – 43% use Spotify and 42% use YouTube Music. And it’s Millennials who fly the flag for Amazon Music – 29% use it, more than any other demographic.

Meanwhile, Millennials listen to the radio more than Gen Z (although not as much as other demographics). 36% listen every day and a further 25% listen a few times a week.

Gen X top the radio charts

Of all the demographics, Gen Xers are most likely to be daily radio listeners (41%). And with a further 35% listening to radio at least once a week, it makes it more popular than streaming music – 29% of this age group stream music daily, while 30% listen at least once a week.

If they’re listening to streamed music, it could be on a number of platforms as they show less devotion to Spotify – while 28% do use Spotify, YouTube Music is most popular, garnering 29% of Gen X listeners.

Meanwhile 25% use Amazon Music and 22% don’t regularly stream music.

Gen X is more likely to listen to podcasts than audiobooks – 61% say they never listen to audiobooks, while a lesser 51% say the same about podcasts. And they’re more likely to listen to podcasts frequently – 25% listen at least once a week versus 15% of people who listen to audiobooks weekly

As we can see the digital space is more accessible to all generations. There are more fans at this point than ever, and the potential to increase the number is greater than ever before.

As always - no music no life! Thomas


Thomas is a Co-founder of Traxfly