Pathways to Music Exploration in a Digital Age

Authors: Steven J. Tepper and Eszter Hargittai

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Citation: Tepper, Steven & Hargittai, E. (2009). Pathways to Music Exploration in a Digital Age. Poetics. 37(3):227-249.


This paper looks at the largely unexplored terrain of how young people find music that is new to them in an environment with an unprecedented number of possibilities. Digital media has changed not only how artists create and distribute content, but also how listeners find and access new material. The new options exist in the context of older traditions such as using one's social networks or traditional media to find content. Based on original data with a sample of college students, we find that while students use digital media to find music new to them, social networks and traditional media continue to play a very important role in the course of exploration.We also find that digital technology is used differently by different types of music consumers and draw distinctions between peer-to-peer services and browsing, with the former more likely to be used by students from higher socio-economic backgrounds who are opinion leaders in the realm of music. We conclude with observations about the nature of opinion leadership and music and argue that future research should examine more closely the links among the discovery and sharing of culture, opinion leadership and social recognition and status.


  • Introduction
  • Pathways to experimentation
  • Data and methods
  • Music in the lives of college students
  • Popular methods for finding new music
  • Explaining differences in music exploration
  • Conclusion


The authors would like to thank Paul DiMaggio, Gabriel Rossman, Jennifer Lena, David Touve, and two anonymous reviewers for their generous and helpful comments.

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