How Do Our Music Habits Change As We Age?

By Anya Wassenberg on September 6, 2022

University of Toronto researchers worked with Spotify on a study looking into how our listening and searching habits change over time.

Their paper, The Dynamics of Exploration on Spotify, was presented at the Sixteenth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media in June 2022. AAAI stands for Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

Music exploration

There are many valid criticisms levelled at Spotify and other music streaming services, but one advantage remains clear: music exploration.

Online streaming has facilitated and changed the way we find new music and artists to enjoy, albeit subject to algorithms that attempt to anticipate those choices. The question is: with all those tracks available, how are users finding new music to enjoy? And, does that change as we (the users) age?

Not surprisingly, the answer to the latter question is yes.

As the paper notes in its abstract, “We find clear differences between users at different points of their off-platform lifecycles, with younger listeners consistently exploring less and exploiting known content more.”

The paper recognizes that other factors come into play, including seasonality and personality. However, user lifecycles tend to follow broad patterns. At first, people go to discover new music, but that happens less and less over time.

Nostalgia

As we get older, nostalgia becomes more of a factor, and novelty becomes less attractive. That’s the common assumption. However, expanding tastes can also come with age, and lead to perhaps a different sort of exploration.

The researchers used data from 100,000 Spotify users based in the United States. They looked at age, and how often users added new music to their personal lists. Then, they compared that with those patterns over time. Age groups were divided into 18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, and 55-64.

The results

  • Older users are more likely to explore new content
  • Older users turn over their content more on a weekly basis
  • Younger users explore less over the whole system
  • The latter is particularly true of older music — younger people explore it much less

“This provides large-scale evidence supporting the notion that variety-seeking behaviours increase as people age,” the researchers write.

The details reveal more differences. For instance, though younger listeners explore less, they’re quicker to add their new discoveries to their personal selections and even their top tracks. Younger listeners also explore a more diverse range of content than their older counterparts.

The goal of the ongoing research into listener behaviour is to tweak the AI algorithms to incorporate user lifecycle information and level of exploration into diverse genres.

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