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Survey: How we listen to music in Canada

From streaming to records – new survey reveals trends in how Canadians across generations consume music.
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In 2019, Canadians aged 18 to 34 were more likely to turn on a regular radio to listen to music than to rely on streaming services. By 2021, this had flipped.

When Research Co. and Glacier Media first asked Canadians in 2019 about music consumption, the results were not particularly astounding. Younger residents of the country were beginning to embrace streaming services. For anyone over the age of 35, radio was still the preferred source for songs.

Earlier this month, we once again asked Canadians about music. The results confirm that the youngest generation has solidified its move towards digital tools, and they are slowly being joined by Canadians aged 35 to 54.

The proportion of Canadians who listened to music on regular radio at home or in the car in the past week dropped from 69 per cent in February 2019, to 66 per cent in January 2021, and to 60 per cent in July 2022.

There are only two regions of the country where weekly reliance on radio for music increased in the past year and a half: Atlantic Canada (69 per cent, up two points) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (68 per cent, up five points). Everywhere else, we see people turning away from the airwaves for music.

In three Canadian provinces, weekly music radio listeners fell dramatically: British Columbia (from 68 per cent to 59 per cent), Alberta (from 65 per cent to 58 per cent) and Ontario (from 72 per cent to 58 per cent). In Quebec, the reduction was not particularly pronounced (from 61 per cent in 2021 to 59 per cent this year).

One could see in these numbers the power of musical radio formats. After all, every other form of music delivery has a lower incidence across Canada, including streaming services (41 per cent, down one point), music files stored in a computer (23 per cent, down seven points), LP records, cassettes and compact discs (13 per cent, down three points) and satellite radio (12 per cent, unchanged).

The data suggests that some generational shifts are at play. In 2019, Canadians aged 18 to 34 were more likely to turn on a regular radio to listen to music (62 per cent) than to rely on streaming services (54 per cent). By 2021, the two items were reversed. This year, we continue to see Canada’s youngest adults preferring streaming (59 per cent) to radio (45 per cent).

Canadians aged 55 and over are still looking for their favourite songs on the radio (67 per cent, down three points since 2021) and have not fully adopted streaming (27 per cent, down one point).

This leaves us with Generation X, a coveted demographic for radio advertisers. Over the past year and a half, the proportion of Canadians aged 35 to 54 who listen to music on the radio fell from 68 per cent to 62 per cent, while those who stream music increased slightly from 45 per cent to 48 per cent.

While Generation X is still away from making streaming services their main source of music, the shift has been clear since 2019. Back then, only 35 per cent of Canadians aged 35 to 54 listened to music on a streaming service. This year, the needle is very close to the 50 per cent mark.

Another issue that is evident is the lack of growth for some forms of music acquisition that require payment. This year, only seven per cent of Canadians say they bought a compact disc or LP record in the last month, down from 10 per cent in 2021.

The practice of acquiring songs individually that was popular in the early years of this century is also stagnant. Only 11 per cent of Canadians paid for and downloaded a song online in the past month, a proportion that rises to 23 per cent among those aged 18 to 34.

The only monetary delivery mechanism that sees growth is streaming. Almost one in four Canadians (24 per cent) paid to access a music streaming service in the past month, up from 20 per cent in 2021 and 19 per cent in 2019.

As expected, Canadians aged 18 to 34 lead the way in being actual subscribers of streaming services (47 per cent, up seven points). The numbers are lower among their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (26 per cent, up one point) and aged 55 and over (10 per cent, down one point).

We continue to see Canadians divided on how music creators make a living: 40 per cent think they are being fairly compensated for their work and 40 per cent think they are not. Canadians aged 18 to 34, the heaviest paying subscribers of streaming services, are more likely to suggest that artists are being treated fairly (55 per cent) than those aged 35 to 54 (45 per cent) and those aged 55 and over (30 per cent).

If the use of streaming services by Generation X continues to increase – perhaps after they take a more serious look at the subscription options that their younger counterparts are already enjoying – the tinkering of musical radio formats will continue. Some cities have already seen “pop” and “easy listening” disappear in favour of “alternative classic.” The new stations serve as a reminder of how valuable the ears of Canadians aged 35 to 54 are right now.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from July 11 to July 13, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.