Frequency shift: The unexpected impact of COVID-19 on music streaming

by Alain Brunet

Who would have thought that music streaming would drop globally by ten to 20 percent since the beginning of the pandemic? Didn’t it seem that a confined population would listen to more music? And… who could have predicted that classical, jazz, and ambient music would rise against the tide?

In the United States, according to data from BuzzAngle, relayed by Quartz, “the number of total on-demand streams were recently down 18.3 billion to 16.6 billion, a drop of about 10%. The data include streams of all major providers, including Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.”

For its part, the New York Times reveals that combined Top 200 feeds on Spotify in the U.S. slipped for at least three consecutive weeks in March.

“Facebook, Netflix and YouTube have all seen user numbers on their phone apps stagnate or fall off as their websites have grown, the data from SimilarWeb and Apptopia indicates. SimilarWeb and Apptopia both draw their traffic numbers from several independent sources to create data that can be compared across the internet.”

In Italy, Quartz also reveals, the 200 most popular songs on Spotify averaged 18.3 million daily streams in February 2019. After the national quarantine was imposed by the authorities, the total number of feeds for the 200 most popular songs did not exceed 14.4 million, a drop of 23% between March 3 and 17.

Same in Sweden: a drop of 3.9 million broadcasts per day, from 18.3 million in February 2019 to 14.4 million since the beginning of March.

In France, the situation is similar: according to Les Jours, relayed by Huffington Post, Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music lost between 10 and 15 percent of their listeners during the week of March 16. A lobby of France’s music multinationals, the Syndicat national de l’édition phonographique (SNEP), in turn confirms that the top 200 French albums on streaming platforms fell by 22 percent.

Last February, Spotify boasted that it had gained 10 million new paying users in the last three months of 2019. With 124 million paying users, Spotify was on a roll at the time. What’s the situation today?

While rap, pop, and rock are stricken with negative statistics, quiet music is flourishing in the corners: classical, opera, mood music and soft experimental sounds have been gaining ground in Europe and North America, Chartmetric says, drawing on several sources. “The interesting inflection point is between March 16 and March 23, where all three groupings trend high and to the right, peaking at the April 9 end of the timeline. Approximately 80 percent of the artists here do so. So, no matter what their MLs momentum was, they seemed to march to the beat of the same drum at the same time.”

Photo credit: William Brock

François-Mario Labbé, President of Analekta, Canada’s largest independent classical record company, corroborates the data. “Classical music and jazz are among the few musical genres that have increased their influence during the pandemic. By a lot, in fact, about 25 percent. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and our own corporate reports confirm that classical music is benefiting from the pandemic. There is also evidence that soothing music is becoming more popular in these uncertain times.

“As for the decline in other genres of music, another explanation is that people are listening to less streamed music because they don’t have to travel to work in the morning and evening. And they watch more television.”

Does this mean that business is going well at Analekta, without any major difficulties on the horizon?

“Two years ago,” says Labbé, “I had set myself the goal of reaching 100 million streams in 2021. But from March 1, 2019, to March 1, 2020, we’ve exceeded 80 million, which means we’re going to make 100 million for the coming year.”

COVID-19 also creates an opportunity to showcase local talent at Analekta.

“When the Panier Bleu was launched in Quebec, Angèle Dubeau said to me, why not follow suit? The idea came up to put playlists online made by our label’s star artists – Dubeau, Maestro Kent Nagano, Charles Richard-Hamelin, Luc Beauséjour, etcetera. The reception is very good, it’s done in this Quebecois spirit of buying local, because our classical artists are among the best in the world. We have nothing to envy the major music labels, we have an extraordinary production. It’s a way of saying to our fellow citizens, support us!”

You can do so right here.

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