Listening to music in China is a rich person’s luxury

Universal appreciation?
Universal appreciation?
Image: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
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China’s Communist government may frown upon certain riffs and rhythms, but the country’s citizens are—on the whole—ardent music lovers. More than 977 million people, or 72% of the population, listen to music every week, according to a comprehensive new report by global media analytics company Nielsen that looked at the country’s streaming, purchasing, device usage, and live event attendance habits.

For comparison, that figure is 85% in the UK and 91% in the US. It could be argued that music listening in China is just as popular as it is in those two countries: despite having more limited resources, consumer spending on music as a share of total entertainment spending is higher in China than it is in the US, according to Nielsen.

But the report, which separates China’s population into three income tiers, also highlights an intriguing divide.

The country’s music-listening audience is markedly broken up by wealth. China’s most affluent consumers are the heaviest music listeners, while interest in music peters out in the lowest socioeconomic tier. Those in the top income tier (defined as individuals with an average income of US $33,000) listen to about 19 hours of music per week, while middle-class listeners (average income $19,000) take in 16 hours, and music-listeners in the lowest tier (average income $9,000) tune in for 12 hours. It’s not necessarily an issue of access—pirated content in the country is rampant and therefore readily available—but more likely one of disparate income, responsibility, and free time.

Unsurprisingly, spending habits are pronounced among the income groups, with the top tier shelling out about $139 per year on music and the lowest tier spending only $18. The top tier also is the most likely to listen to English-language music, tune into chart-topping pop songs, attend live events, and spend money on streaming services.

Nielsen’s first-ever Chinese music study notes there is “enormous potential” in China in general for music distributors. Music spending is expected to reach $56 trillion over the next decade, with growth driven “by young, affluent, connected consumers with disposable incomes.”

Western music companies looking to China for growth—in particular, streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music—will just have to note that non-affluent Chinese customers aren’t likely to jump on board anytime soon. With China’s wealthy class expected to almost double and drive most consumption over the next five years anyway, according to Boston Consulting Group, it wouldn’t necessarily be an immediate concern.