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LEANING ON
THE BUTTON

The health of the recorded-music sector has always been about the kids. Unshackled by the onerous obligations of adulthood, they consume music with an ardor that older folks don’t have the time or bandwidth to indulge. While a sale used to be the end of the transaction, repeated plays are now the alpha and omega of the record economy. The 10m+ people who buy one or more of the world’s biggest pop records, for example, don't play them around the clock—they have other responsibilities. But for the kids who stream music all day—in their earbuds, in their bedrooms, while tapping away at other screens, waking, eating, sleeping—their soundtrack is, overwhelmingly, hip-hop and other black-music forms, on repeat. They are, to borrow the phrase of a pioneer in the space, “leaning on the button,” racking up astronomical play numbers for the new Top 40-50 (check our streaming and revenue song charts), largely from a select group of massively influential playlists.

Decades ago, Chuck D said hip-hop was “the black CNN.” Now it’s being consumed that way.

Other genres are getting crushed on both the Apple Music and U.S. Spotify charts. Up-and-coming Amazon Music appears to have goosed activity among its largely more affluent and older Prime users and service subscribers, who are growing accustomed to asking Alexa to serve up the sounds (though many don’t realize that this is called “streaming”), and it’s believed Amazon’s marketshare could, thanks to voice activation, enjoy further big growth spurts. And certainly pre-teens and younger kids are now interacting with the family gizmos with far greater frequency, something that will likely become stratospheric when they start to own their own gear. But for now, the kids leaning on the button control the state of play.

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