Pop Playground
Mapping Generations: When's the Next Sea Change Due?

it has been said that these things come in every 13 years or every 14. Or maybe it’s every 27. That is, every so and so years a different major revolution in music comes to tear down the walls of a dying genre and reinvent the musical landscape.


It could be said that the first major consumer revolution in music happened with the baby Baby Boomers and their idolization of the Beatles. Born in the years directly after World War II, this generation began to come of age in the mid 1960s and bought a large amount of records by these groups, facilitating a consumer revolution in the buying of records. As the Beatles grew up, and the Baby Boomers continually stayed the same age- due to a spreading out of their age group, the Baby Boomer generation spans a number of years- the records continued to be bought.


If we continue to map the Baby Boomer generation and look to see their first generation of offspring, it becomes clear that this group of children were reaching an age of consumer viability in the early 90s. This would point towards the grunge explosion and its effect. Nirvana’s Nevermind hit in 1991 and a large group of young people bought in, thereby inflating its figures, to a degree, making it one of the best selling albums of the 1990s.


Attempting to continue this line of generational standing, we can guess that perhaps Generation X will produce a substantial generation of offspring on its own that will become consumers around 2010-2015. During this time period, if a trend starts to emerge musically, it might be advantageous to buy in- considering the large amount of young people that will have purchasing power at that time.


But heading back for a moment, there remains a lost generation of children, in between the Baby Boomers and Generation X. Obviously a smaller generation, but partly buoyed by the residual effect of Baby Boomers having third and fourth children, the generation that came of consumer age in 1975-1980 was split among a variety of genres in their purchasing model: punk, arena rock, and disco all made large advances, but none came out on top for an extended period of time. Perhaps this inability to have a single genre of music emerge commercially victorious can be traced to this smaller generation of youth at the time.


But trouble occurs in this map when we get to the children of the 1975-1980 generation. What exactly happened when they came of purchasing age in 2000-2005. Obviously, the consumer model has tightened. The purchasing age of generations has gone down considerably in the past decade, making pre-teens the largest group of music consumers, rather than teenagers- as it once was. Taking this into account, this generation, plus residual Baby Boomers having a second round of children can account for the amazing success of teen pop (Backstreet Boys, Britney, etc.) in the late 90s. As a huge group of consumers, the largest trend was found and marketed- and for the music business it worked like a charm.


Unfortunately, however, the generation has moved on and grown up. They have learned about file sharing, they demand something different from the teen pop that they have grown up with, and they still hold the purchasing power as a large generational group.


This is one of the problems that plagues the music industry currently. A simple mapping of generations and study of population trends reveals that large youth groups come in waves, and if record companies truly want to choose to market their releases through focus groups, they should attempt to foster trends that pander to these generational groups, rather than the same age group time after time.


With the relative commercial failure of the garage rock movement, it has become clear that record companies need something to offer teens to garner a large-scale consumer revolution once again. Here’s hoping that they can find it- and keep file sharing open at the same time. I mean, where else am I going to find those Britney Spears’ albums in ten years time?


By: Todd Burns
Published on: 2003-03-18
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