The musical preferences of one generation are typically anathema to another. I can vividly recall the contempt that Xers had for disco, but the same could be said for the way the GI generation felt about rock 'n' roll or how Boomers felt about the musical stylings of Perry Como.
While Gen Y began its generational arc to the pop tunes of Britney Spears and other (at the time) squeaky-clean Disney troubadours, what is most remarkable about this generation is that they exhibit tremendous diversity in their musical tastes.
Examining musical genres, Pop music is listened to "Always" or "Nearly All the Time" by 46% of those aged 13-24, with Hip-Hop a close second at 44%, followed by Rock (43%) and Dance (39%). Older eens differ from collegians, listening to more rock, punk, alternative and emo.
Moving from genres to artists, the top three artists cited by teens and collegians in our November Ypulse Report were Taylor Swift (Country), Lady Gaga (Pop) and Lil' Wayne (Rap).
If the top three artists aren't diverse enough already, the rest of the top 10 includes Owl City, Beyonce, Paramore, The Beatles, Green Day, Nickelback and Linkin' Park. That The Beatles are named within Gen Y's top 10 artists list says a lot about the enduring quality of their music as well as the way in which Gen Y cheerfully builds bridges across generational divides.
While this inclusive and multicultural generation naturally embraces a wide range of cultures and styles, technology has played a significant role in the musical ecosystem that is inhabited by Gen Y.
The MP3 file format has exponentially increased the accessibility of music, both past and present. The distribution of music on physical media constrained what was available to whom, where and when. Prior to the rise of the MP3, those that wanted to stray from the decisions made by the music industry were forced (underground) to comb through the racks of used record stores in order to taste the forbidden fruits of yesteryear.
Digitization has not only increased access, but it has also dramatically shifted the locus of control. Music is not only purchased and consumed, but ripped, streamed, downloaded, rated, reviewed, mixed and mashed. It is also played, more often with virtual instruments than with real ones: the release of The Beatles catalog to the Rock Band video game is likely the primary reason Gen Y is embracing a band that performed its first gig nearly 50 years ago.
The rise of the MP3 has also dramatically changed how youth listen to music. The number one device used to listen to music among collegians is a computer or laptop. The number one device used to listen to music among teens is an iPod. Youth listen to more music on their cell phones than they do on a proper stereo system.
Most importantly, the power of music to connect youth with the emotions that they feel as they discover themselves and the world around them can't be understated. High levels of agreement with statements such as "Music makes any situation more enjoyable" (86%), "I can't imagine my life without music" (84%) and "Without music I'd feel lost" (70%), "My friends listen to the same kind of music I do" and "The music I listen to defines who I am" all indicate the level to which Gen Y finds personal fulfillment and definition in the soundtrack that will likely follow them through the rest of their lives.