Audience Shot #9
Turn on, tune in, lockdown — why we’re increasingly listening to music in the coronavirus crisis
Compiling pandemic ‘quarantune’ playlists might have been just a bit of fun at the start of lockdown — The Police ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me’, REM ‘End Of The World’, Bee Gees ‘Stayin’ Alive’ and Iggy Pop ‘I’m Bored’ anyone? — but music has become increasingly important to us as the coronavirus crisis has continued.
Spotify use has rocketed during lockdown, up six million in the first quarter of the year.
When it comes to what we’re listening to, “Every day is like Sunday,” according to Spotify’s Marco Bertozzi — and no, he’s not referring to Morrissey’s 1988 classic single.
Rather, with most of us stuck at home, weekdays are blurring with weekends, and sleep, cooking, housework, well-being and yoga playlists now among the most popular every day on the music-streaming platform.
There’s also been a big uptick in people searching for feel-good playlists. After all, with so many of life’s pleasures not allowed right now and unrest across the world, music is one constant we can still turn to.
We’re increasingly turning to radio for our music fix too. Commercial stations have seen digital listening increase by around 40% and according to Radiocentre, the industry body for commercial radio, listeners are now tuning in for an average of 26 hours every week, compared to 14 hours a week prior to the health crisis. Streaming of BBC stations is up 18% with live listening on BBC Sounds has hit a record high.
Even smaller stations are having their lockdown moment — London-based NoSignal’s live soundclash show 10v10 has gone stratospheric, with hundreds of thousands tuning in from around the world to hear Vybz Kartel versus Wizkid, or Arsenal legend Ian Wright’s 80s tunes versus Beats 1’s Julie Adenuga’s 90s tracks.
Sales of musical instruments are also rising. After all, it’s never been easier to learn with a host of free tutorials online. Even Argos are encouraging us to learn how to drum with their new advert, soundtracked by Daniel Beddingfield’s rather apt 2001 garage track ‘Gotta Get Thru This’.
There’s been a huge surge in guitars sales here in the UK, as the nation channels its inner Johnny Marr. Search for ‘learn guitar online’ has seen a massive 130% rise in the UK since lockdown, ‘learn guitar chords’ is up 70%, search for ‘drum kits’ up 170% and ‘learn an instrument’ has seen big spikes since the start of March, according to Google Trends.
It’s not just about learning a new skill — music is good for our mental health. It buoys our mood, fends off depression and lowers stress, which we all need right now.
According to academics, music has always played a vital role in times of crisis, whether it’s creating a sense of community and belonging or providing a much-needed distraction.
Dr Leah Coutts, senior lecturer of Queensland Conservatorium in Australia, explains: “It not only reduces a sense of isolation, but it also brings us together with a collective spirit of ‘we will prevail’.
“When we listen to music, it boosts oxytocin, which is the feel good hormone, and elevates dopamine, which helps us to feel connected. Music’s primary place in our lives is more apparent than ever.”
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There’s been an outburst of artists uploading pandemic songs as a result — see comedienne Mel Moon who went viral with her cover of The Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles’ (‘I’m Gonna Be 260 Miles’) aimed at Dominic Cummings, or Flo and Joan’s brilliant ‘Lockdown Dance’.
Cardi B had a hit on both sides of the Atlantic with ‘Coronavirus — S*** Is Real’ and South London rapper Psychs’ drill track ‘Spreadin’’ went viral — it’s now amassed an impressive 1.2million YouTube plays.
With venues closed, musicians have also been playing live online and devising other inventive online events.
In the US, Swizz Beatz and Timbaland now run a regular lockdown face-off, where a variety of stars go head-to-head in weekly Verzuz battles on Instagram. The New York Times has called Verzuz “perhaps the most powerful quarantine-friendly entertainment franchise going”.
There’s also been a proliferation of online listening parties, with Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess hosting one of the biggest on Twitter. Thousands are logging on to hear live chat from musicians behind the featured classic album that day, like influential Manchester post-punk band A Certain Ratio’s 1986 album Force last week.
And we’re definitely seeking comfort in nostalgia according to the Official Charts Company. There’s been a resurgence of downloading and streaming of classics, with Gerry and The Pacemakers’ rousing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ topping their lockdown chart. The chart has also seen a huge 140% increase in people listening to Akon’s 2005 hit ‘Locked Up’, with a host of Disney songs and feel-good tracks like Junior Senior’s ‘Move Your Feet’ peppering the top 100.
Official Charts’ Martin Talbot said: “The music that we are listening to reflects how we are all coping in different ways — using it to lift our spirits, give us a laugh or bring us together with our families.”
However you’re getting through lockdown, it seems music has become more important to us than ever before — whatever your taste.