2020s in Music: What Can We Expect?


Stella Thrift, Staff Writer

The last decade has brought radical changes in the way society consumes music. Streaming has become increasingly popular and continues to be one of the most common ways people–especially younger demographics–listen to music. Historically, it’s easy to see how the music industry has changed and what popular genres of the time seemed to mirror what was happening in the real world. Still, there is the ever-present question of what the 2020s will hold for music. 

Freshly into the decade, it’s difficult to predict what will be popular or dwindle out, but looking at recent statistics makes for a more accurate guess. Musical Pursuits reported in a 2022 article that global music subscribers surged from 414.4 million to 523.9 million during the pandemic. Music streaming currently makes up 84% of the US music industry revenue. 81.2 million Americans are paid subscribers to on-demand music streaming, with an average listening of 75 minutes per day. Spotify is the most popular service, with 180 million subscribers. Drawing from this, it’s clear that streaming is more prevalent than ever.

A significant contributor to the recent change in how people consume music has been TikTok. With 138 million monthly active users in the US, it’s not unreasonable to say the app has left a permanent impact on the industry. Dozens of up-and-coming artists have risen to fame all because of TikTok alone: Olivia Rodrigo, Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion, and a plethora of others. Even old songs – like Mother Mother’s “Burning Pile,” released in 2008, which placed sixth in 2021 as one of the most popular alternative rock songs in the world – can top the charts years after release. TikTok has even encouraged people to listen to music through different forms of media such as vinyl, cassettes, and CDs. In 2021 alone, vinyl record sales skyrocketed, hitting their highest level for the first time in thirty years. Other notable apps that have changed music consumption include Soundcloud and Tidal, which make room for more niche artists.

The development of AI has largely changed the production and consumption of music. With the ability to learn music production, event planning, and playlist recommendation, AI has made music production dramatically easier. Automation has not only made it easier to create music but has also expanded the library of music available. As of 2019, over 40,000 tracks were added to Spotify daily (Soundcharts, 2022). Anyone can listen to any track they want anywhere at any time. For future generations, the relationship between listening to music may change compared to older generations. In the past, if you wanted to listen to music, you would have to use the radio or buy it on vinyl, cassette, or on CD. That often meant listening to the entire album. Now, it’s easy to pick and choose which songs to listen to, so as technology becomes more advanced, younger generations will begin to lose the concept of what an album or discography is. 

With the popularity of streaming music, developing AI, and music-centered apps such as TikTok, what the future holds for music will undoubtedly be much different than the past. For this decade, expect to see older music expand in popularity. More heritage artists will sell their catalogs. Older, well-established artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Blondie, Stevie Nicks, and Neil Young have already done so for tax purposes. Another thing to look out for is the incorporation of music and VR. For years, the prediction of a metaverse that includes music has been rumored, but technology is finally at a point where this is possible. NFTs will also play a role in the industry, which is either fortunate or very unfortunate, depending on your position. As for genres, they will become a thing of the past. Artists like Tyler, the Creator, who has dropped several eccentric albums while still being mainstream, are taking increasing risks. Also, anticipate a resurgence in CDs as the demand for vinyl records continues to grow to the point of frequently sold-out records in stores and online.

Ultimately, music will continue to evolve just as it has. Whether for better or worse, it’s admirable to look back and reflect on just how ground-breaking it can be. Look at the 1985 Live Aid concert when $245 million was raised for famine relief in Ethiopia or when Bob Marley wrote the notorious ’60s song “Times They Are A-Changin” about the African American civil rights movement. Music has changed the world and will continue to for years to come. However, what will happen in the 2020s for music is largely up to us.