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Lean-through listening: how does context impact consumption?

Cover image for Lean-through listening: how does context impact consumption?

Photo: KOBU Agency

Photo of Hanna Kahlert
by Hanna Kahlert

Streaming has changed music listening dramatically, turning what was once a thoughtful, attention-intensive activity to a primarily ambient background media format.

Or has it? Elevator jazz is far older than YouTube’s ‘lo-fi playlist to chill / elevator to’, and the invention of headphones and cassette players spurred the 80’s trope of angst-ridden teens escaping into their favourite mixtape long before the iPod.

Arguably streaming has had little impact on how people listen to music, albeit it may have impacted how often they do so. It also has individualised music listening to an extreme. Rather than connecting with other people over a limited number of mainstream bands, or finding a cool alternative ‘punk’-type out-group, new fans of new genres and artists can, and do, engage with music on their own, without the context of the scenes from which it used to be inextricably connected to.

This is changing, however, with the likes of TikTok encouraging creativity and community in a new type of social forum. Creator tools are bringing the social and community-oriented aspects of music back, even if they do still rely on the main streaming platforms as a backdrop for the full versions and background listening.

In video, the context of consumption is binary. Audiences are either paying attention to a TV show, or they are not. Music, however, has greater nuance to play in the background. Volume alone can dictate whether the listeners are focused on the music, or whether it simply plays an ambient backdrop to a social occasion, whether it can power them through a workout or last-minute project, or whether it is an emotional touchpoint at the end of a long day (or midway through a commute).

Most music aficionados engage with music in more than one way – meaning they engage with a variety of different services in a variety of different ways to power their listening habits, depending on their mood. This nuance in consumption depending on context is going to play an increasingly critical role to all types of entertainment, as digital plenty is reconciled with the post-Covid scarcity of ‘real-life’ activities, finding an equilibrium as we move into 2023.

All this, and more, is explored in an upcoming MIDiA report: Lean-through listening | The impact of context on consumption and ad responsiveness. Keep your eyes on this space to learn more or sign up to our newsletter!

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