Will Millennials Fully Experience the Analog Revival?

Analog is back. It’s hip, it’s retro and it’s hot in film photography, print books and paper notebooks. But will the embrace of tactile, non-digital media among Millennials extend to music? That remains to be seen.

Analog is making a comeback
Analog is making a comeback

Analog is back. It’s hip, it’s retro and it’s hot in film photography, print books and paper notebooks. But will the embrace of tactile, non-digital media among Millennials extend to music? That remains to be seen.

Instagram shows over 3 million posts each for the hashtags #filmphotography, #filmisnotdead and #polaroid. Photo booths are popular at weddings. Young people are increasingly enamored with pictures taken on devices other than their phones, even though Instagram remains the go-to place to view and share them.

My students who have done class research projects on ebook readers have consistently found that college students prefer print books over electronic ones for classes. I’ve observed an increasing number of students using paper notebooks rather than tablet computers and laptops to take notes. Hardcover diary-type notebooks are gaining a hipster cache, and recently, I had a student enter an appointment in a paper calendar, as I remarked, “How quaint!”

A New York Times review says the new David Sax book, “The Revenge of Analog,” is “a powerful counter-narrative to the techno-utopian belief that we would live in an ever-improving, all-digital world.” The review adds that the author contends that the analog revival “is not just a case of nostalgia or hipster street cred, but something more complex.”

But while most things we can have and hold are easily accessible to Millennials, music is different. Fortune magazine reported vinyl record sales hit $416 million last year, the highest since 1988, according to the RIAA. But there are several barriers to the mass adoption of analog music, most significant of which is the need for a turntable and vinyl platters. Millennials own digital music and listen to it on portable devices through headphones, occasionally through a Bluetooth speaker. I’ve written before about the Millennial music experience being more individual than social, more like filling your ears with sound than filling a room with sound.

It’s easier for Baby Boomers to embrace analog music, because many still have their vinyl collections stored away. Marketing consultant Lonny Strum recently wrote in his blog Strumings about re-experiencing the joy of a turntable needle drop, saying “What the process of using a turntable has reminded me of is the joy of interaction/engagement with music that vinyl provided. The ‘needle drop’ (and alas the subsequent vinyl scratches) were all part of the process of listening to music. The selection of the song, the cut of the album took time and consideration, not a millisecond fast-forward that digital allows. I rediscovered the snap, crackle and pop from excessive play in past years. In fact, I instantly recall the places in songs of my 45s and LPs where the crackle, or pop existed, as if it were a key part of the song.”

EmotionsThese are the types of experiences that the Times notes in reviewing “The Revenge of Analog,”

“ … the hectic scratch of a fountain pen on the smooth, lined pages of a notebook; the slow magic of a Polaroid photo developing before our eyes; the snap of a newspaper page being turned and folded back … ”

A recent study published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society concluded that “MP3 compression strengthened neutral and negative emotional characteristics such as Mysterious, Shy, Scary and Sad, and weakened positive emotional characteristics such as Happy, Heroic, Romantic, Comic and Calm” making the case that analog music might actually be a more positive and pleasant experience.

Will Millennials and the generations who follow get to experience it?

Millennials, Music and Marketing

Music is a powerful marketing vehicle that fits neatly into the social media space. Big brands have aligned with celebrity artists to reach Millennials in their native social media milieu. Taylor Swift is the face of Keds and Diet Coke. Impresario JayZ has a multi-million dollar deal with Samsung, and Katie Perry is on board with H&M to name just a few. Music festivals have become mega-marketing events with a complex web of social sharing opportunities.

Music is a powerful marketing vehicle that fits neatly into the social media space. Big brands have aligned with celebrity artists to reach Millennials in their native social media milieu. Taylor Swift is the face of Keds and Diet Coke. Impresario JayZ has a multi-million dollar deal with Samsung, and Katie Perry is on board with H&M, to name just a few. Music festivals have become mega-marketing events, with a complex Web of social sharing opportunities.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpsVax8h7gw

This relationship between big brands and celebrity musicians is symbiotic: For the brands, music can be the relevant tie that binds them to an audience that’s skeptical of traditional advertising. For celebrity musicians, brand endorsements are not only a lucrative revenue stream, but also an important platform for extending their reach.

But it wasn’t always this way. In the 1970s, most boomers would have called a rock star who endorsed products a sell-out. You would never see anything like The Grateful Dead endorsing Fritos back then, but now we even have Bob Dylan on TV for IBM’s Watson.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwh1INne97Q

The evolution of music into a marketing vehicle has been a long, strange trip. Music has always been a shared experience, but there’s a huge difference in the way young people share between Millennials, the current largest generation, and boomers, the previous largest generation.

From my teens through my 30s, it was cool to have a high-fidelity stereo system (tuner/amp, three-way speakers and turntable) to play vinyl records at high volume and fill a room full of friends with music. Music listening was a social thing, something to be shared live and in-person. The listening unit was an album side, usually start to finish, but occasionally someone would take the trouble to play an individual cut, carefully using the turntable lever to drop the needle in the space between the grooves of the spinning vinyl platter. These precious vinyl disks were handled very carefully to ensure that they didn’t collect oily fingerprints, or God forbid, noise-producing scratches.

Back then, creating a playlist was not a drag-and-drop task. It was a longer-than-real-time event. Using a reel-to-reel or cassette tape recorder plugged into the same amplifier as the turntable, the playlist maker would push the record button, drop the needle for each track, play it through, pause the tape, carefully change out the vinyl record, and then record the next track. The advent of the compact disc made this a bit easier, but it was still a real-time event.

For Millennials, music is still a shared experience, but it’s shared on social media rather than in-person. Rather than being an onerous task, the easily generated playlist is now a common unit of listening. People share playlists through Spotify and Pandora, and can instantly share snippets of music they’re listening to on Spotify or Apple Music using Facebook Music Stories. And music consumption is high. A study by Vevo found that Millennials spend an average of 25 hours per week streaming music.

But rather than filling a room with music, much of music listening today is a solitary activity, using earbuds and mobile devices. High-fidelity systems are a thing of the past – people 18 to 34 are about half as likely to own a receiver/amplifier as those 55 to 64 according to MRI+ data. And while 11 percent of 55 to 64 year olds still have a turntable, only 2 to 3 percent of Millennials own one. Meanwhile, Millennials are about 50 percent more likely to own an mp3 player docking station (with tiny little speakers) and 40 percent more likely to own earbuds than their older counterparts.

The biggest change, however, has come in the area of music festivals. Last year, 14.7 million Millennials attended music festivals. Face-value for Coachella tickets was $349. The festival grossed over $84 million. And brands like Coca Cola, Red Bull and TMobile pony up about $1.4 billion annually in festival sponsorship money. Why? A study by live promoter group AEG and branding company Momentum Worldwide found that 93 percent of those surveyed stated that they liked the brands that sponsor live events. Eighty percent said that they will purchase a product following a music festival experience, as opposed to 55 percent of those who were not in attendance, and those who attended a music festival with brand sponsorship walked away with a 37 percent better perception of the company.

By contrast, Woodstock, the watershed music festival of 1969, was attended by about 500,000 people. Not all of them had the three-day festival ticket that sold for $18. Corporate sponsors? Really?