(Authored by Sandra Bauman and Mary Aviles, speakers at the upcoming Corporate Researchers Conference)

Recently we attended a session at the MRA’s ISC Conference called The Future of Music: Artists, Brands, and Millennials by Yvette Quiazon & Meredith Worrilow. Their overarching finding was that streaming services have changed music consumption, opening up access, but also driving curation—making musical taste a social currency. Taking mix tapes global. Their findings reflected our own experiences with Millennials we know and love so our resident Gen Xer decided to sit down with our resident Millennial music aficionado and discuss the fine art of mix making from one generational demographic to another.

Things they agree on:

  1. Mix making (which is a distinct term, a Mix is different than a Playlist…a Playlist is algorithmically generated) is highly individual. It’s much less about the social currency initially. It’s done primarily by the individual, for the individual. Social credibility is a secondary byproduct.
  2. Narrative flow is a key driver. Playlists (and even mixes from friends) aren’t as satisfying as developing a mix yourself. A killer mix has an attention-getting opener, good transitional tracks, a strong middle to retain interest, and a satisfying close. It’s a process that typically involves drafting in one sitting, but then tweaking and finalizing after the first few listens.
  3. Spotify is the preferred platform for discovery and mixing. It’s great for its portability and its integration with brands like SONOS and Honda for listening.
  4. Liner notes and inside/back cover art are crucial, often overlooked, components to the listening experience. They provide insider information and a means of connecting to the album experience and the other contributing entities like producers, other musicians, writers, etc. These factors are missing from the streaming experience today.

Corporate Researchers Conference CRC St. Louis

Things they disagree on:

  1. A mix is meant to be listened to—all the way through—in one sitting. Available time impacts the mix design. The Millennial has more available time and the Gen Xer is more time constrained. The Millennial designs for a linear listening experience, while the Gen Xer designs her mixes to be shuffled and listened to in the car with frequent interruptions.
  2. The Millennial engages in greater social sharing with vinyl and he uses the hands-on vinyl browsing experience for discoverability. This is especially useful for artists that are either not on Spotify or would never be popular enough to be discoverable on the platform. While the Gen Xer doesn’t do much social sharing of music (again largely due to time constraints), what little she does do is via Spotify or Facebook. NO vinyl.
  3. The Millennial proves Quiazon & Worrilow’s findings. He loves his vinyl collection and listening to his record player is his preferred way to consume music. He embraces the physicality of his collection. The Gen Xer, by contrast, far prefers the clean minimalism of her SONOS system and would never go back to owning physical media of any kind.

millennial vinylgen x minimalism

Implications for music streaming service providers:

Embrace and encourage mixing by continuing to serve up personalized content. For example, Spotify's Discover Weekly is the best selection of 30 new songs the Gen Xer ever listened to—rewarding her for past platform engagement. Use of the term “deep cuts” and its limited nature, “updated every Monday, so save your favorites” captured her attention. Keep rewarding and engaging, by continuing to hyper-personalize the algorithm.

Understand and respect the difference between the Mix and the Playlist. Don’t refer to a playlist as a mixtape. The Mix is all about the individual and their desired narrative flow. A Playlist cannot replicate that. It’s about more than just the mood.

Keep enhancing discoverability features. Improved access is a major benefit of streaming providers. Find ways to replicate that browsing-through-a-record-shop/treasure-seeking experience. This feature could prove a significant area of distinction. Look for branded partnership opportunities with curators/podcasters reputed for their “off the beaten path” musical content, like NPR’s First Listen or WXRT in Chicago. Their followers are loyal and far flung.

Finally, consider bringing liner notes and cover art (inside, back) into the streaming experience. This could be another opportunity for distinction. Enable full album social experiences by showcasing producers, songwriters, guest musicians, etc. in addition to the lead artists. Think about an “other albums this producer worked on” (for example) section, making it easier for super fans to find preferences based on alternative attributes.

Mary Aviles, Sandra Bauman and CRC co-presenters Jill Donahue and Stephenie Gordon, PRC are heeding their own advice and applying enlightened hospitality to insight collection and analysis. Join us at the 2015 Corporate Researchers Conference to find out why they believe delighting customers in unexpected ways is the key to inspiring word of mouth.