A THREE PART SERIES ON THE RESULTS OF HUNDREDS OF HOURS OF INTERVIEWS WITH ‘ACTUAL’ TEENAGERS
Written by Craig Watson and Roisin McCormack
In Part 1, we looked at general mobile phone usage patterns and overall app usage patterns amongst our interview groups of ‘actual’ teenagers. In this part, we examine some of the learnings we gained from this research including how they consume music, on what platforms and at what times of the day. Basically we wanted to discover what it is that makes them tick when listening to music on their mobile devices…
With a good grounding on music consumption habits amongst digital natives (thanks to the help of Mark Mulligan and his excellent reports and commentary), Roisin and I dove straight into our first party research. Our goal was simple — we wanted to map the day to day user journey for a typical teenager who listens to music on their phone. The results completely took us by surprise and have since made a huge impact on how we approach product development for this demographic.
Daily Music Usage Patterns
• Of the breakdown of services, the majority (around 50% were using iTube (or a Youtube wrapper equivalent app). For those of you not familiar with these types of apps, they are semi-legal products that allow users to access full content (typically breaking the terms of Youtube’s or Soundcloud’s APIs) without paying any of the costly licensing fees usually associated in hosting this content. Users can often download songs directly from these apps and cache them on their phone (storing them locally to be consumed offline).
• Simplicity is everything. iTube is the most simple app with a good universal search bar and a straight-forward favouriting feature to catalogue their favourite music. The majority of the teens we spoke with just wanted to search, find and play within as short a time frame as possible. Anything else was seen as distracting and secondary to this desired user flow.
• As a result, these apps are hugely popular amongst cash-starved digital natives and they dominate the music category charts in both stores. However, when one of these apps flies too high and lands on either Google or Apple’s radar , they are removed from the store only to be replaced by anohter illegal challenger.
• YouTube was very popular too amongst our groups but the inability to cache songs locally on the phone combined with heavy advertising and the inability to listen to music when the app was closed proved a big turnoff. Although some of our teens had heard of the ad free Youtube Music Key, which solved these problems, the thought of paying for music was generally abhorrent. Especially in light of the fact that the illegal Youtube wrappers had none of these limitations and were usually free to download.
• About 25% of our interviewees were using ‘Aficionado’ platforms (8 tracks, Soundcloud, Rdio, Spotify). This group would fit into your usual early adopter cohort where they were the first to try out new products and liked to be seen to be at the vanguard of music consumption generally. They considered themselves tastemakers and trend setters.
• The general consensus was that these platforms were overly complex but if you spent the time to get used to them, there was added functionality (besides search, find, play!) that was quite nifty. The biggest downside being that the free versions had a lot of advertising (audio ads were commonly referred to as ‘the longest twenty seconds of your life!’). Pop up ads annoyed our group but a lot less then video or audio ads.
• Despite this, it was really interesting to note that a lot had trialled these services and had paid the premium subscription price of €9.99 for a few months before reverting back to the free versions (even though this meant annoying ads and no caching). Those who were still paying €9.99 had mostly received this subscription as a present from their family and they had no hesitation in reminding their friends of their musical supremacy.
• The last 25% fitted into the late majority/laggard cohorts and they relied exclusively on either the native player or some other pre-installed native app depending on the limitations of the phone. There were of course a good sample of participants who never listened to music on their phones too.
• Native music playback (eg iPod app or android player) of mp3 files on the phone was still quite popular. This seemed to be a legacy thing as many had built up extensive mp3 collections and naturally wanted to be able to consume these songs on the go. This form of consumption was often the backup if iTube or their platform of choice was unusable for any reason.
• There was a common grievance with files that had become corrupt and then they’re sitting on the phone taking up precious memory (see Part 1 for more on this). Our teens would have loved a way of filtering out these files to free up space.
• Music discovery is ranked as follows: #1 face to face interactions playing music together #2 charts (iTube top 100 or the radio) #3 MTV or other music video channels #4 affiliated content from playing music (eg related artists on Youtube) #5 would be manually sharing screenshots, links from Youtube privately through Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp etc.
• They just don’t want to pay for music. This is not an access to a credit card issue. As mentioned, many had tried paid trials with subscription services (Spotify mostly) and had reverted back to free shortly thereafter. The reality is that there are too many free options and they have absolutely no moral hangups in using free music. There is also a clear disconnect between being ‘fans’ and realising that their favourite artist was not receiving any royalties by their actions. Ignorance is bliss!
• Before their smartphones, the majority were using iPods and illegally downloading music. This was usually an Mp3 converter as opposed to a torrent. This could potentially be why the caching of Mp3’s seems to be the natural evolution of this trend.
• We observed an interesting behaviour where they will download one file that’s an hour long and contains an entire album as opposed to downloading each song individually. They do this even though it’s very awkward to skip between songs on the album because it’s quicker and easier and they seem to think it takes up less space than downloading each song.
• Playlists overall seemed popular with specific use cases for different scenarios:-
1) A situational or context driven approach was popular (eg I’m feeling jazzy on a Friday afternoon) and our participants like the programmatic laid-back experience associated with this.
2) When looking for new music, our teens were happy to use pre-populated playlists (even those with only radio licences like 8Tracks) where they had mastered the art of skipping their way to serendipitous discovery.
3) Genre was another popular type of playlist and suited the laid-back (although somewhat less programmatic) way of listening to music. Spotify’s genres were often referred to as good sources of music.
4) The last, and arguably most important type of playlists is the one either created from scratch or ‘borrowed’ from their friends. This seemed to be a control issue as much as anything and allowed our teens to enjoy music in a siloed and comforting way, knowing what music was going to come on next. They know they can skip away as there are good songs in there (they chose them after all). They will cycle through these every month and can have 5⁄6 playlists on the go at any one time.
• When in a group they will use generic playlists (with vanilla playlist names like ‘flake’ or ‘chill’). These typically contain pop music so that people with different tastes can listen to music together. This exact use case is something we’re building for at Soundwave and we’re looking forward to sharing an innovative approach to solving this problem.
• Surprisingly, our teens didn’t necessarily care what their friends are listening to as most of them had very different tastes in music. In fact, they would pay more attention to an outer circle of people with similar music tastes (eg class mates who might not be close friends). The inverse of this of course was that if friends did share similar tastes in music, their choice of music was greatly influenced by that friend. The signal was either non-existent of very strong.
• They are generally against the idea of publicly posting their music taste. They would need to really like a song in order to share into a big group. They have stopped posting music on their Facebook newsfeed as there is more potential social downside than upside to this (see more about this in Part 3). They would infrequently share to Facebook private groups or messengers and this seemed to be a dying art form relegated to the social constructs of the web 2.0.
• They typically listen to music anytime there is a vacuum or when they’re bored, commuting, relaxing, sleeping or in the gym. The guys seemed to be fond of cycling with one ear phone in (parents take note!). Music was also used to lessen the pain of cleaning, cooking and general chores around the house. Desktop playback and radio were more commonly used in the house and car.
• They take screenshots of any music that they want to remember the name of and they will sometimes send these screenshots to each other as a way of sharing. Overall sharing music was difficult due to the fragmention of services.
• They’re happy to forget their previous music consumption habits and are in fact embarrassed by their history (especially the younger participants as their tastes are evolving so quickly).
• If they go into an app and press play on a song, they want to know the source of music explicitly (eg is it locally stored or streaming from Youtube). As noted, it’s interesting that they don’t care about the legality of the content, they do want to know how reliable a source is though.
• Free is the primary thing that matters when it comes to mobile music consumption. Although flagged as a potential reason to delete an app, there is a clear value exchange and they are willing to put up with ‘annoying’ ads if they don’t have to pay.
• There was no runaway music service and there is a lot of fragmentation amongst players in general (which inhibits sharing between services). Their choice of platform very much seems to depends on where the consumers sits in relation to the law of diffusion of innovation (innovator, early adopter, majority, laggard).
• Caching is the second most important mobile music consideration (they typically delete and replace iTube and free Youtube wrapper apps if and when those apps lose the ability to cache music). In short, cache is king! Music services and labels need to wake up to the threat that these Youtube wrappers pose and either banish them altogether by putting pressure on the app store gatekeepers (Apple and Google) or compete against them with some kind of loss leader strategy (which is much harder to do).
• Downloading music through torrents is a painful and difficult process. Mp3 converters are much more palatable. In reality, quick consumption is the end goal and they don’t get hung up on the format as long as the experience is intuitive and fast. One caveat around this is that the source of the music matters — the more context around the song the better and if possible the metadata should be clearly labelled (eg Youtube, live, full concert). App developers should bear this in mind when using third party APIs to provide content.
• Aficionado platforms like Spotify are labelled as complex and too deep. For the mass majority , iTube or Youtube contain the right amount of features and is the right type of user experience. Universal search with some generic playlists and reliable caching is all that is needed. Search. Find. Play. Less is more.
• It should be remembered that the radio is and always has been the most popular form of laid-back music consumption. On-demand services still have some way to go before they can convince teenagers that they offer the same time to value. This is what Pandora have done. This is what the rest need to do.
• Only a small number of friends in their close circle have the same music taste. Music services need to really think hard about how to surface these friends early in the user journey (if at all). They ignore (or will give a lower NPS score) if they are directed towards friends (or strangers) with different music tastes to themselves.
• They are extremely reluctant to post anything publicly when it comes to their music habits. For example, the majority of teens will go to a private session on Spotify or turn off their activity on Facebook. There was a common thread amongst the interviewees that teens are often trying to hide or remain ‘offline’ (eg turn off G Chat, Facebook Chat etc) but that becomes redundant if there is a music stream ticking away somewhere online. Cataologuing is different to publically posting — our groups liked having a record of thier listening history but wanted to keep control over what was shared (this is something that we cover in more detail in Part 3). iTube for example solves this with a history section as does YouTube which suggests new songs based on your listening history.
In Part 3 of this series, we’ll cover social app usage behaviours and our overall conclusions.
Thanks for reading — if you liked this post, please share it on Twitter or Facebook. If you’d like to hear more about this, I’m going to be on a panel at the Voxburner Youth Marketing Strategy event in London on 10–11 March and would love to see you there.
Co-founder and COO @Soundwave