According to a new survey by streaming site Deezer, Brits stop listening to new music by the time they reach their 30s, instead favouring the golden oldies of their younger days. The study, which interviewed 1,000 Britons about their musical preferences, found 60% of people were in a musical rut, listening to the same songs over and over rather than finding new music, whilst 25% said they probably wouldn’t be up for trying new music outside of their favourite genres.
While our appetite for new music slows once we reach 30, it’s at its most insatiable when we’re around 24. At this age, 75% of those surveyed said they listened to around ten new songs a week, with 64% adding they aimed to discover five new artists every month.
But past this point, the desire to discover new tracks for our Spotify playlists seems to subside – and for reasons that, while seem slightly depressing, are all just a part of getting older: 16% of people in Deezer’s survey cited having a demanding job as the reason they don’t tend to listen to new music, whilst others have to care for young children (11%) or are simply too overwhelmed by the vast amount of new music available (19%). Essentially, by the time people reach their thirties, many don’t have enough hours in the day to find new music – 47% said it wasn’t due to being uninterested.
This is reflected in the listening habits of the UK public. Last year, figures revealed BBC Radio 1 had taken a big hit in the amount of listeners tuning out; its audience fell 3.2% in the last three months of 2016, and in the last five years, over one-fifth of regular listeners have abandoned the station – Nick Grimshaw’s breakfast show lost half a million listeners in 2016 alone. Interestingly, radio audiences overall jumped up to 48 million listeners, with BBC Radio taking a 53.5% share. BBC 6 Music remains at a consistent listener number year on year.
Deezer’s new survey seems to be proof that, as you get older, you’ll find yourself shunning the charts for the best tunes of yesteryear. And there’s actually a scientific reason for this: psychologists and neuroscientists have confirmed that songs from your younger years have the ability to grab your emotions by the scruff of the neck. Research suggests our brains cling on to the music we listened to as teenagers far more than the songs we listen to as adults. In fact, one major study found that musical nostalgia is most certainly a thing, with songs having the ability to bring back fond memories of childhood, school, university and past partners.
And memories are, of course, intrinsically linked with emotion – as is music. A study that took images of participants’ brains as they listened to music showed our favourite songs have the ability to stimulate the brain’s pleasure circuit, releasing a rush of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin that make us feel good.
As Slate writer Make Stern notes, this kind of neural activity is particularly strong when we’re young. “Between the ages of 12 and 22, our brains undergo rapid neurological development—and the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good,” he said. “When we make neural connections to a song, we also create a strong memory trace that becomes laden with heightened emotion, thanks partly to a surfeit of pubertal growth hormones. These hormones tell our brains that everything is incredibly important—especially the songs that form the soundtrack to our teenage dreams (and embarrassments).”
Data analysed from Spotify found a fairly consistent pattern that confirms this: if you were in your early teens when a song was first released, it’ll be the most popular among people in your age group roughly a decade later. “Consider, for example, the song ‘Creep,’ by Radiohead,” theorises economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, who analysed the data for the New York Times. “This is the 164th most popular song among men who are now 38 years old. But it is not in the top 300 for the cohort born ten years earlier or ten years later. Note that the men who most like ‘Creep’ now were roughly 14 when the song came out in 1993.”
As Stephens-Davidowitz points out, the ‘Creep’ phenomenon is pretty much universal: “Songs that came out decades earlier are now, on average, most popular among men who were 14 when they were first released. The most important period for men in forming their adult tastes were the ages 13 to 16.”
This isn’t to say you won’t enjoy newer songs later in life – it’s just that you don’t have the same ability to absorb it quite like you did when you were younger. It’s not hard to see how people can get stuck in a rut musically, but with plenty of streaming sites like Spotify and Deezer available, that are able to pair your more retro taste with newer artists that have a similar sound, you’ll be able to enjoy the old and the new simultaneously.