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The Rise of the Genre-less Music Fan

As a young person, you walked into a room and asked, ‘what kind of music do you listen to?’

If I said ‘Pop’, and you said ‘Rap’ — we weren’t friends. This just doesn’t happen anymore, says Alice Kimberley, Vice Media’s Head of Strategy and Insights.

The boundaries between genres have fallen away, and the genre-less fan has risen.

According to a Vice Magazine survey, 78% of young people said they couldn’t be defined by the genre they listened to. That’s actually a profound change, when you think about it and completely changes things.

In this article, we’ll dig into what this means for the music industry. But first, what caused this shift to happen?

“78% of young people said they couldn’t be defined by the genre they listened to”

Alice Kimberley – Head of Strategy/Insights

What Caused the Rise of the Genre-less Fan?

#1 The Streaming Psychology: Playlists Are the New Album

With popularity of streaming sites, like Spotify, the sheer volume of artists people are listening to has massively increased. Music is just so much more accessible, with tracks for millions of artists being instantly available at your fingertips.

The way people are consuming music is also completely different now. They listen to tracks within playlists, rather than albums, and in many cases, people remember or don’t even know the name of an artist they’re listening to.

The result is that their musical preferences can no longer be defined by just one genre.

This is a stark contrast to the way things used to be, which was beautifully summed up at the Music Tech Summit, when Danny Rogers, co-founder of Laneway Festival, reminisced:

“When I was a kid, you saved up and bought a CD. You went to Brash’s with your gift card, and you bought that CD you really wanted. You waved it around, and then someone stole it at a house party the next night. And you know, I still want that CD back.”

#2 Death of the ‘Uber-Fan’

Gone are the days when kids obsessed over one or two bands, knowing every word to every song on every album, and dressed in a way that clearly reflected their music preferences: the ‘uber-fan’ has died.

“When you were a young person, you were that guy who just was obsessed with one band, and you knew everything there was to know about them. That’s what defined you. That doesn’t exist anymore” says Alice Kimberley.

Crowded House played at the Opera House early this year, and Danny Rogers, who attended the concert with a friend, fondly recalls what might be one of his last uber-fan experiences:

“It was a beautiful feeling… It was a team of people, all these fans just singing their hearts out. This just would not exist today.”

Fans just aren’t as obsessed about individual artists anymore. Sure there are artists like Drake or Beyoncé that are insanely popular, but there are very few fans that are listening to the albums from start to finish.

What Does this Mean for the Music Industry?

#1 Marketing Teams Need to Take a New Approach

If an artist is no longer defining themselves exclusively as trap, rap, or anything else, then neither will their fans.

This causes havoc from a music marketing perspective, because it’s almost impossible to pigeonhole anyone anymore.

Trying to figure out who your potential audience might be, as well as the best way to reach them — it’s no longer so clear cut.

One solution lies in creating these interesting personalities, or art pieces around an artist, rather than highlighting any particular genre they may be associated with. This has lead to the shift from music criticism, to music journalism which is about attaching artists to a social issue or cause to get press and attention.

“You have to create these interesting, either personalities, or art pieces around an artist, because no one cares what genre you're part of anymore.”

Alice Kimberley – Head of Strategy/Insights

Australia’s leading music publication, Faster Louder was launched back in 2004, and was built around the fact that, in those days, genre boundaries were still very much intact.

If you went to Big Day Out, you stayed at the Main Stage, or you went the Boiler Room — you didn’t move between the two. The recent relaunching of Faster Louder as Music Junkee was motivated by a considerable amount of research, leading to the realisation that those genre divides are now gone.

According to Junkee Media’s Publisher, Tim Duggan, Music Junkee’s marketing is now focused on the idea that, “people just like music. So you can like Adele, Beyoncé, some band, and Childish Gambino.”

#2 Booking Artists for Festivals Has Become a Lot More Difficult

Unlike the crowds at Big Day Out in 2004, Gen Z festival goers rarely know the words to more than one song of an artist’s set.

They go to one stage to listen to that ‘one hit’ from the rapper of the moment, before pissing off to the next stage to sing along with their favorite, token Indie band.

From a talent booking point of view, this makes it challenging for festival directors to actually select talent. And for the artists themselves, it has become much more of a social game — where being ‘built to perform’ and ‘pulling the biggest numbers,’ have surpassed any other factors in getting the top gigs.

In today’s fickle climate, festivals are becoming more and more genre agnostic, and this collapse of genre boundaries means festival directors now need to be asking some different questions. One of the most important questions is, ‘which acts can transcend a connection to the audience from the live stage to digital channels?’

One act that has certainly been ticking all the boxes in this area is Confidence Man, where they’re almost built to perform at a festival. And another example would be Flaming Lips. And what’s really intersting is that you’re not necessarily going to listen to the album at home, but you 100% want to see them at a festival.

Thankfully there’s good news for festival directors. Fans are spending more on diverse music experiences. Festival ticket sales are increasing around the world; with Live Nation experiencing a sixth consecutive year of growth — a cool 15% increase of $8.4 billion in 2016.

We may be shifting to genre-less fans, but the overall music economy is going from strength to strength.

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