With so many different channels for discovering and listening to music and, with massive generational shifts under way, it's impossible to tell what the music business will look like even in the short-term.
FORTUNE — Nielsen’s “Music360” survey of consumers shows an industry in chaos, with no clear idea of what music distribution will look like in five years, let alone 10.
The Internet, of course, will be the primary means by which most people discover new music. But it’s impossible to know through which channels that discovery will take place. While lots of adults still discover new music through traditional radio, 64% of teenagers cite YouTube GOOG as their primary source for listening to music. This despite the growth of services like Pandora P and Spotify. The difference between adults and teenagers is stark. Only 7% of all 3,000 respondents say their primary music channel is YouTube. A big change is under way.
At the same time, even teenagers, surprisingly enough, are still buying CDs: a third of them said they bought at least one CD in the past year. And half of all teens say they listen to music on CDs at least sometimes. Clearly, that doesn’t mean CDs still have a future, but it shows that at least some teenagers (most of whom have never known a world without online music) are willing to shell out for music when they really like it.
The survey shows that, for now, traditional radio is still a major source of music discovery, with 48% of respondents — more than with any other medium — saying that’s where they discover most of their new music. Also surprisingly, the difference in perceived “value” between digital music and CDs is rather narrow. Nearly two-thirds of all respondents (including adults) say digital music is a good value. But 55% of them say the same thing about CDs.
The popularity of YouTube as a music channel should give some pause to those who believe mobile music apps are the wave of the future. Apparently, many teenagers seem to think YouTube is easy enough to use and to find the tunes their friends are talking about — or that they heard on the car radio on the way home from school.