As part of the BPI’s new Insight Session 50 series, audio and music experts gathered at the iconic Abbey Road Studios for an event dubbed The Future of Recorded Music. In association with Bowers & Wilkins, the event commemorated 50 years of the BPI. Aptly, the focus was very much on the legacy of music – how listening habits have evolved in the past fifty years – as well as looking to the future.
In the golden age of music and with technology in a constant state of innovation, it can be hard to envision what comes next. But this event attempted to explore this mammoth question – and Futuresource was delighted to contribute to the conversation. Our Head of Personal Electronics and Principal Analyst, Rasika D’Souza, was invited to attend the event as both a presenter and panellist, to explore current trends in audio hardware and music consumption.
And what better place to discuss music than Abbey Road Studios? Inside, history presents itself freely. Artefacts and instruments, all remnants from the Beatles’ glory days, line the walls, which naturally lent the event a rich sense of heritage. Bowers & Wilkins, the event’s sponsors, had also laid out plenty of kit for attendees to interact with, contrasting to the intrinsic nostalgia of the studios.
Indeed, a lot of the event’s discussions could be summarised within this context. How can we retain nuggets from the past while still striding forward? A welcoming speech by Karim Fanous, Innovations Manager at Abbey Road Red, helped warm us to the topic. Guiding the audience through the history of Abbey Road with explanations of various instruments and recording devices, Fanous’ session highlighted the unavoidable legacy of the building, forming an ideal segue into the main event.
Of course, looking forwards also requires an examination of the present, which Rasika D’Souza dissected in her presentation. Looking at consumer listening habits – where people consume music, what devices they listen on, and what formats they’re listening to – D’Souza created a crystal-clear picture of the current audio landscape.
One key area D’Souza emphasised was the global and cultural significance of headphones. With an install base of over 1.2 billion devices, as per Futuresource’s research, headphones truly are ubiquitous. It makes sense: listening to music through headphones is a solitary act, accentuating the extremely personal nature of music. Even in the home, consumers opt to listen to music through headphones over any other device – more so than speakers, smartphones, or computers.
“Understanding the listening habits of Gen Z is instrumental in thinking about the future of music,” says D’Souza. Where older generations often rely on radio, younger generations are far more comfortable with music streaming services – which will certainly influence how music habits evolve.
Rasika D’Souza (Futuresource), Andy Kerr (Director of Product Marketing & Communications at Bowers & Wilkin), and Steven Price (Academy Award-winning film composer) dove deeper during the panel, which was moderated by Sofie Hvitved (Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies). Much of the conversation focused on audio quality. Technologically, we’re moving firmly away from the mp3 era, waving goodbye to audio losses in the process. We’re basking in a golden age of music, primarily because we can access high-quality audio so easily.
Across Futuresource’s consumer surveys, audio quality consistently ranks as the second highest criterion for purchasing headphones. Most smart speaker owners are willing to pay more for better sound – demonstrating a clear consumer willingness to invest.
This is a resounding positive for the music industry. Plus, social media gives audiences greater exposure to different genres and time periods than ever. The music industry is flourishing – from both a hardware and content perspective.
A lot has changed. Packaged music has faded in significance, and music streaming has boosted music accessibility globally. While vinyl is surging, it’s now enjoyed as a novelty, whereas before it was part of the culture. But what remains?
“The reasons we listen to music are the same,” says D’Souza. “Music is an emotional experience, connecting with people on different levels and for different reasons. It strikes a chord, and this will never go away.”
There’s so much uncertainty about how listening will evolve, a point Sofie Hvitved emphasised during her own presentation. It’s impossible to build future models when the goalposts are constantly moving. Technology is advancing, bringing consumers new ways of interacting with music (Alexa being a prime example). But voice technology isn’t a deal-breaker for consumers; if the audio quality isn’t there, they won’t reinvest. Right now, it’s quality and simplicity that sells.
For more information about Futuresource’s research into the personal electronics market, please get in touch with Leon at email@example.com. Additionally, our upcoming report Audio Tech Lifestyles will cover the entire spectrum of home and personal audio. Collaborate with our leading analysts and have a say in the questions you want answered by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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