COVID-19’s Effect on the Global Music Business, Part 1: Genre

Chartmetric's data-driven analysis of COVID-19’s effects on music-related consumption helps artists, songwriters, labels, agencies, distributors, and other entertainment-related entities sustain and improve their well-being during these unprecedented times.

COVID-19’s Effect on the Global Music Business, Part 1: Genre
Jason Joven
Jason Joven
April 23, 202020 min read
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To help address the global music industry’s concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, US-based music analytics company Chartmetric is continuously monitoring 2M+ artists across 20+ streaming and social media data sources.

We hope our data-driven analysis of COVID-19’s effects on music-related consumption helps artists, songwriters, labels, agencies, distributors, and other entertainment-related entities sustain and improve their well-being during these unprecedented times.

All data is collected, organized, and analyzed by Chartmetric. Data science by Nuttiiya Seekhao. Analysis by Jason Joven, Rutger Ansley Rosenborg, and Michelle Yuen.

Key Takeaways

  • Spotify listenership appears to be widening for Classical, Ambient, and Children’s due to COVID-19.
  • Spotify listenership is relatively unaffected for Pop, Country and Dance during COVID-19, but Country seems to be demonstrating the greatest resiliency.
  • Spotify listenership appears to be narrowing for Latin, Rap, and Rock during COVID-19, but potentially due to other factors and not necessarily a result of the global pandemic.

The COVID-19 Context

If you’ve been a part of the global music industry, you have been well aware of the damage COVID-19 has done to music from multiple industry angles. While streaming has been relatively untouched from a revenue standpoint, its most popular artists’ music has tended to receive less play. On the other side of the spectrum, the live music sector has taken the brunt of the industry trauma, with public companies like Live Nation taking huge stock price hits, and other larger-than-life firms like talent agency Paradigm suffering layoffs. New shows and movies can’t shoot and public venues playing music can’t open, so licensing has taken a hit as well, and because music studios don’t likely qualify as essential businesses, their futures are uncertain.

The worst hit are our everyday artists, but workers who make the live scene possible fare no better. Music, in its highest form, is about community, as many of COVID-19’s unexpected moments have shown us: a Spanish fitness instructor leading a class from his rooftop, apartment building sing-alongs, and our beloved medical workers taking a well-earned moment of levity.

iMarkkeyz' "Cardi B Coronavirus Remix Video" (2.3M YouTube views) first blew up on the DJ's Instagram (March 13) and then made it to Cardi B's own profile (March 16)

Previous industry news has already shown us the broader, market-level strokes: Video-streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube are getting more play while most of the world shelters in place. The assumption is that streaming music nowadays tends to be an activity that co-exists with others: commuting on the train, driving in the car, working out, socializing with others. With our public transportation abandoned, reasons for going out limited, gyms closed, and citizens in quarantine, it’s no wonder people’s attention gets shifted toward mediums that tend to require multisensory engagement.

COVID-19 and Genre: Considerations

If we want to develop a nuanced understanding of music consumption in the COVID-19 era, we have to lead with a manageable perspective. Here, we start with streaming insights at the genre-level.

Baked into music genres is an assumption of listener populations that share some sort of geography, culture, and entertainment consumption habits. By examining Spotify Monthly Listeners as measurements for these factors during the pandemic’s spread, we can attempt to put metrics to these dimensions.

First, a timeline: We determined March 3, 2020, to April 9, 2020, as our window for this genre-level look. To extend back to Jan. 1 or earlier would be valid, but we would also risk losing some of the trends that become more visible during a shorter period of time. Too late, and we may cut short trends already in progress.

A worldwide Google Trends “Coronavirus” search peaked on March 15, 2020, suggesting an apex of global curiosity and effects of government-enforced (or fear-induced) lockdown.

Though internet searching is one of many ways to measure public sentiment, a Google Trends search on “Coronavirus” is a simple (if imperfect) way to summarize how much news and Internet-driven concern there is about a topic. You can see that at the global level over the past three months, initial curiosity peaked on March 15 (the graph does not have a “unit,” as it is normalized from 0 to 100). While there were small waves of interest in mid-January and mid-February, the real surge occurred in early to mid-March when governments at international, national, and local levels began enforcing shelter-in-place or self-quarantine measures to help “flatten the curve” of rising virus infections among the public.

Given the fact that we are searching for the effect on genres from a streaming perspective, it makes sense for us to observe any possible activity changes focused on this time period in particular. When lifestyle changes, it’s reasonable to expect an effect in many parts of life.

A New York Times graph showing the different levels of coronavirus deaths at the country-level.

Geographically speaking, with respect to COVID-19’s effect on society, it’s important to note that different regions of the world have had vastly different responses and histories to epidemics threatening their citizens. At the time of writing, South Korea and Taiwan are a couple of the nations who have been lauded for their expedient and successful handling of the crisis, while other countries like Brazil have only now begun to implement public restrictions.

With respect to Spotify’s user base, consider whose app usage we are measuring. Note below Spotify’s Q4 2019 Monthly Active User (MAU) base, or the number of users who have used Spotify in the past month, broken down by international region.

Spotify’s Q4 2019 Monthly Active User (MAU) base favoring Europe and North America at a 62 percent combined total.

So, the varying behavior measured in this time period will contain more than 60 percent of a North American/European bias. Latin America is at 22 percent (though it’s unclear if Mexico, containing one of Spotify’s biggest markets, is included in North America or here), while huge swaths of populations in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Oceania all get binned into the 16 percent “Rest of World” category. We should note that any Spotify analysis is going to strongly minimize most of these markets’ tastes and preferences.

While Spotify is global, it’s worth mentioning that the platform is still limited to its market reach. Knowing these limitations, we can resume our interpretation of the genre-based insights we uncovered.