😷 COVID-19 is killing maximalist interiors. What about the music we play at home?
An acceleration of trends at home - music's most important context for 2020 and 2021.
I’ll admit: when it comes to interior design, I’m not up to date with all the latest ins and outs. Yet an article about the pandemic’s implications on interior design caught my interest this week. Rather than going for ‘noisy’ maximalist interiors, people are opting for ‘warm minimalism’ and spaciousness.
What’s the bigger picture?
Furniture sales have been doing great in 2020, as people try to make their homes more comfortable while they’re stuck inside them for the majority of time.
“Many consumers felt claustrophobic and were focused on creating space, or the illusion of space, in their homes through minimalist design.”
Experts predict that the trend will hold up after the pandemic, pointing out that it’s a good way to create a feeling of space while most of us live in relatively small homes in urban environments.
What are the implications for music?
Back when most of the world started locking down, there was a drop in chart hits as people decided to find comfort in more familiar music, with ‘50s music listening seeing the largest increase on Spotify. More recently, the service rolled out Time Capsule playlists to confront (or comfort) people with their past favourites and play into the nostalgia trend.
In a shareholder letter at the end of April Spotify reported (PDF):
“Two in five consumers we surveyed in the US said they were listening to music to manage stress more than they typically do, which explains the recent rise we’ve seen in searches for “chill” and “instrumental”. We’ve also seen an uptick in consumption of podcasts related to wellness and meditation over the last few weeks.”
Country music listening has gone up by 21.4% in the US, which has to do with the fact that country fans have been making the switch to streaming services - left without much choice in quarantine. As such, country was one of three genres that didn’t see a downturn since the lockdowns, the other two being children’s music and classical.
Yet it’s risky to make assumptions about shifting tastes from music listening data alone, as some of this has to do with people lagging behind in adopting streaming until now, as well as kids simply being at home more.
Some trends are sure to be accelerated though. The below chart highlights how titles have been getting shorter (clipped from Matthew Ball’s excellent essay Audio’s Opportunity and Who Will Capture It).
This is not a new trend, as can be seen in the below graph by Michael Tauberg (who was also the source of the data in the above graph). Yet now the trend is likely to accelerate. Online safety expert group Internet Matters estimates the adoption of new technology at home to have been accelerated by three or four years due to the pandemic. One of these technologies are smart speakers, which see more use due to people staying at home.
“[Labels are] encouraging artists to simplify the name of their songs and albums in order to ensure they’re optimized for voice-controlled speakers and touchscreen-based searches. A track with five words is more likely to be misunderstood or suffer from autocorrect than one with two.”
So it isn’t just an accelerating trend of our interiors more minimal, it’s also song titles.
The other accelerated trend is wellness, something that nostalgic music listening and searches for “chill” music also point to. While meditation apps are nothing new, the past year has seen fascinating developments in the mindfulness space with regards to music:
Calm saw 18% more downloads in the early months of the lockdowns and collaborated with artists such as Sam Smith, Harry Styles, Diplo, Ellie Goulding, and Sigur Ros.
John Legend became Headspace’s first “chief music officer”.
What I’m curious about: how is club music doing? While I listen to almost all types of music, I have a soft spot for hard music, particularly at high BPM. If there are any analysts out there who want to collaborate on some research: give me a ping. If you’re aware of any research into this already existing, please drop a link in the comments.
Last week I launched a Patreon for everything MUSIC x. You could do me a big favour and support all we do for $6 a month. I send all supporters a personal thank you, you get access to backstage polls about the direction of these projects, and you’ll get a monthly shout-out in the newsletter. There are 2 more tiers with extra perks, as well as a $2.50 option to just buy me the cup of coffee I drink while composing these newsletters.
Also mentioned above: one of the most comprehensive essays I’ve ever seen on the consumer-facing audio and technology space - venture capitalist Matthew Ball also dives into what constitutes live music right now:
“Whether an artist is reproduced to look “real” or fantastic is purely an aesthetic choice; pixels are pixels. What’s more, Fortnite’s concerts have evolved from experiences designed to “replicate the real world” (e.g. a stage, a dance floor, a projection screen) to those that show little regard for it.
Travis Scott’s April 2020 concert reached 28 million unique in-game attendees, each of which was transported through time and space. And despite the fantastical nature of Astronomical, a 3D immersive experience is more concert-like than a Zoom broadcast. Soon, Fortnite’s concerts are likely to involve live motion capture, too.
This is a concert.”
Help Musicians UK has surveyed more than 1,300 musicians in the UK, finding that 96% have lost the majority of their income with 55% of musicians not earning anything at all from music currently.
What about the young generation of musicians that not only lost their income, but also have underlying health issues and thus aren’t willing to take risks “however socially-distant”? Life is especially tough for them. (this links in well with last Thursday’s mental health edition of MUSIC x CORONA)
If you’re curious about the small amount of festivals held this summer, swing over to the Czech Republic for drum ‘n bass festival Let It Roll which hosted 1,000 mostly maskless revelers rather than the usual 30,000 over multiple days at the start of August.
Eamonn Forde penned an excellent overview of the streaming startups confronting the pandemic. It covers Dice, We Are Sound’s DIUO, and Oda - the latter is an interesting one to watch: it offers wood panel speakers built for live music and comes with optional season passes for live music streams.
The WaPo has a US-centric piece about the reopening of nightlife with lots of photos, such as the below opera performance at the Kennedy Center in D.C.
Meanwhile the LA Times dives into how clubs on the US west coast are coping with government support stalled:
“Several L.A.-area venue operators said they’re giving it until the new year to make existential decisions about whether to even stay in business. They said they’re starting to feel like they’re in an airplane with a blown-out engine: suspended in midair, waiting for the drop.”
330 coronavirus cases and one death have now been linked to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The actual numbers are estimated to be far larger and it provides an interesting case-study about the US patchwork pandemic response. An interviewed epidemiologist explains how the weakest link in the chain (ie. the place worst at containing outbreaks) forms a risk to everybody. This is also a question for the EU, which tends to keep its borders open to other member states, despite applying wildly different containment measures.
Music Tectonics is usually an in-person conference in LA. This year, their conference will happen online and it has a stellar line-up. Today (10am LA time), they’re doing a free pre-event with Andy Weissman of Union Square Ventures, Mark Mulligan, Instagram’s head of music Perry Bashkoff, and many others. They’re offering $20 off the main conference ticket for anyone who attends the pre-event.
MUSIC x CORONA is better with colleagues. Maybe.
Surely over time a more informed organisation and network performs better, so go give us a share on LinkedIn or a music business dedicated mailing list, Facebook Group, Slack or Discord community. It really helps.
It’s rare that I find new genres in spaces that I thought I know a lot about. One of these spaces is hard dance. For me, a genre called “hardtekk” has been going completely under the radar (Spotify playlist). It’s a bouncy type of hardtechno with some influences from the freetekno scene, it sounds like. Most of the vocals are German rap, so my assumption is the reason why I hadn’t noticed it before is that it’s rather local and perhaps limited to only certain regions of the German-speaking world. I think it’s lots of fun. Enjoy the Hardtekk Spotify playlist.