How Do People Listen To Music In 2013? It’s A Complex Business

Yesterday (July 9) I ran a project online called Harkive. The aim was to gather stories from music fans around the world about the music they were listening to, and in particular how, why and where they did it.

What happened was quite astonishing. To put it mildly, the idea took off. It took off in a very, very big way.

Almost 6,000 people visited the website site yesterday, from 68 different countries, and over 4,000 tweets were sent with the hashtag #harkive, making it one of the top trending topics on Twitter. In all over 1,000 people told me their music listening story via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and elsewhere, and they are still coming in.


Different people got behind the idea and helped spread the word on Twitter from Chuck D of Public Enemy, all the way to BBC Radio 3, and so hip hop, rock, dance, classical, pop, jazz and any other genre you could name were all represented. We even had a photo of a choir practice!

The first submission came from Auckland, New Zealand at around 7pm GMT on Monday, and messages were still coming in this morning from places in like Los Angeles and Nashville in the United States. The last place to tick past midnight will be Honolulu in Hawaii, where it will still be July 9 for another couple of hours.

I expect a few more contribution to drop in over the course of this week as people write up their email diaries, or complete blog posts, and taken as a whole this will provide an incredibly rich picture of what it was like to be a music fan on 9th July 2013. Not only that, but some of the contributions really made me laugh:

The idea for Harkive came about one day last year when I was thinking about how I listened to music 10 years ago, and I genuinely couldn’t remember. Services that I use each and every day, such as You Tube, Spotify, Twitter, This Is My Jam, and various others, were not around in 2003. It struck me that technology is developing so fast, and our music listening habits changing with it, that it would be a cool idea to capture how we listened to music right now, in 2013, because in 5 years time it might be completely different.

It’s too early to make any concrete conclusions about what was said, but one thing I did spot as the tweets came flying in was how dexterous we are in moving around different formats and technologies. We might spend an hour listening on a smart phone during a morning commute, after having eaten breakfast to the sound of an analogue radio, then spend time online using a baffling array of platforms and services. In the evening, we might go to a gig, or play CDs and vinyl at home. My quick scan of the contributions would indicate that lots of people use services such as Spotify and YouTube, which is probably what you’d expect to see, but the interesting thing is that people combine the use of these services with other methods of listening. You might wonder, then, how useful it is to think about people in terms of being ‘A Spotify User’, or a ‘YouTube User’ – our listening is much, much more complex than that. Many people commented about having songs stuck inside their head, which is not something I had expected but in hindsight it seems obvious – it’s just another format, albeit an imaginary one, or of using Shazam to find out what a song playing in a cafe was, or of following a recommendation on Facebook or Twitter, or of playing old CDs and records. Radios, it seems, are still incredibly popular in the car and in the kitchen. Our listening, then, is multi-format and multi-technology. It’s a complex business being a music lover.

It can also be exhausting. Keeping up with new releases, reading reviews, going to shows can be a full-time hobby. We now have more, faster ways to consume music than at any point in the history of popular music. Some people have suggested that this very ubiquity is harmful; that we’re losing respect for artists and songs. Well, I tried to read as many of the tweets as I could as they flooded through yesterday, and I don’t think that’s the case. If Harkive has shown anything it is that people love music, and they especially love the immediacy of it. For instance, a lot of people were extremely excited about the Pet Shop Boys LP stream that was online yesterday. I think we sometimes take for granted the fact that the era we live in is an extremely exciting one for music fans. We can listen, consume and communicate about music from powerful computers in the palm of our hands – you couldn’t do that in 2003. Imagine what we’ll be able to do in 2023.


So, now that the dust has settled and the madness is over, what next for Harkive? I’ll begin the process of trying to make sense of the vast pile of information people have so kindly provided and I’ll be showing some initial results on the website very soon.

Harkive will return again next year, and every year after that, hopefully even bigger and better. I hope that you will get involved.