Justin Bieber and a boy band called One Direction are some of the biggest names in modern music. So, not surprisingly many people assume that most music buyers are tweens or teens. But the 45+ age group is actually the largest music buying demographic according to a Consumer Trends survey by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Tweens and teens are the smallest. You may think that much of that 45+ music is probably being bought for children or grandchildren. Without a doubt some is. But much of what's being purchased is called catalog music. A lot of this is music from the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's rather than newer acts. In 2012, catalog acts like Guns N' Roses, Queen, The Beatles and Whitney Houston were outselling new acts. Younger people mostly buy singles because they have far less disposable income. The Jezebel.com article "Who's Buying Music, Is It You?" points out:
"...teenagers don’t buy as many tunes as people think, accounting for only seven percent of CD sales and just 12 percent of downloads — that means adults are buying Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande albums. Also, dudes used to buy most of the digital downloads, but now women buy around 54 percent of digital albums."
Record labels have become what the book The Song Machine calls "global hit factories manufacturing the songs that have everyone hooked." They may have a lot of younger people hooked, but older buyers are often being ignored. You may be wondering why the recording industry largely markets music to a younger demographic (mainly 14 to 24 year olds) rather than the demographic that actually buys the most music. There are a few different reasons for this.
Adele Has Sold Millions of Albums with Music that Appeals to Older Music Buyers Older Music Buyers Can Be Set in Our Ways Taste in music is often established in our younger years. So, many people prefer the music that was around when they were children and young adults. It's easy to malign the likes of One Direction and Justin Bieber today. But many highly respected acts like The Beatles and Elvis started out doing music with mass appeal before producing great works like Hey Jude and Suspicious Minds.
The fact is many older music buyers don't actively go out looking for new artists. Older people are far less likely to listen to the radio, where most new artists are broken. If they aren't willing to buy the music of younger artists, labels have less reason to appeal to a more mature demographic.
However, the success of Adele may have labels rethinking their assumptions about who will buy new artists. Adele's music is aimed at older music buyers. Yes, older music buyers can be very set in our ways and we often don't actively go looking for new artists. But it is likely that older people will buy the music of younger artists if the record companies can just find a way to reach us. However, that also proves to be a challenge.
It's Easier to Market to Younger People It's much easier for record labels to target younger audiences than older audiences. Older people are busier with jobs and families. They have a wide variety of interests and listen to less music radio. Younger people can easily be targeted through pop radio stations, entertainment shows, advertisements during television shows aimed at teens, online sources aimed at teens, and teen magazines. Labels can target a large youth audience through limited media outlets. This isn't possible with older audiences. It's much harder to pinpoint the best way to target music to older listeners. Younger people are also more susceptible to marketing techniques than older people. Again, the success of Adele would prove that it's not impossible to market music to an older demographic.
Younger People Attend More Concerts Younger people are much more likely to attend concerts, so record labels aren't as dependent on record sales to make money from artists that are popular with younger audiences. They can make money from artists in many different ways. Younger people are more likely to purchase merchandise like posters, t-shirts, books and other products.
Risks for the Music Industry Many record labels have done away with artist development departments as they have focused more on creating acts aimed at tweens and teens. There is a concern that newer artists won't have the longevity that many earlier acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and Madonna have had. If record companies don't invest more in developing their acts and ensuring they stay for the long haul, there might not be a big catalog market in the future to keep the music industry afloat.
A group like One Direction may never get to create their own Hey Jude (assuming that they have that creative ability in them) if they can't grow up with their fans. As people get older they want quality. Labels need to ensure that artists grow and mature with their audiences by moving them away from bubble gum mainstream music to more meaningful songs. The Beatles quickly moved from mainstream songs like Love Me Do to more grown up songs like Eleanor Rigby. If artists don't do that, they will likely fade away as their fans grow and mature. Considering the demographics that actually buy music, artist development needs to once again become a priority.