Music tastes change throughout your life. Usually it’s small changes; as life gets better you tend to gravitate towards music that makes you happier, for example. But it’s rare that music tastes change dramatically, on a global scale, as they have during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Famously, in the wake of 9/11, American record companies thought people needed more macho music. That’s how Evanescence turned from being a classical, operatic band into a hard rock band with an operatic singer. It’s also why we had to deal with a decade of dudes signing patriotic country music about beer and trucks.
During this pandemic, I’ve noticed some big changes in what I want to listen to. Metal and fempunk are no longer my go-to styles. I’m more likely to choose something lightly poppy like Tegan and Sara, or acoustic guitar like Kaki King, and listen to music I enjoyed during childhood.
And I'm not alone. While it’s somewhat of a blow to everyone who thought their music tastes were super individual, worldwide there’s been a shift towards acoustic, relaxing and familiar.
On Apple Music, more people are listening to playlists like Rain Sounds, Sleep Sounds, Pure Meditation, Acoustic Hits and Acoustic Chill. Locally in Australia, people have been listening to the radio station Home Office DJ (no points for guessing why) and the 100 Most-Streamed Aussie Songs playlist, catering to the familiar.
On Spotify, there’s been a spike in people adding more “chill” songs to their personal playlists, and increased interest in Chill playlists from the Chill Shelf. And more people are collaborating on playlists as a way to connect with loved ones despite the distance. Plus, there was a 135 per cent spike in people listening to Don’t Stand So Close To Me by The Police.
While Sonos is very big on privacy, and thus don’t release specific data, company reps have said that speaker use is up 32 per cent compared to the same time last year. Interestingly Patrick Spense, CEO of Sonos, said that most of the increase has been through soundbars.
From the Sonos side, they can’t see what those sound bars are playing — be it tv shows, games or music — but Spotify has also said it's seen a big increase in people accessing the Spotify app from their TV.
That might seem a bit weird in houses that have Sonos systems, and thus can already access Spotify from any room, but those with Sonos soundbars are also likely to have a Sub and rear speakers attached, giving a fuller sound stage than the individual speakers in other rooms.
That might be why Sonos is still going ahead with the launch of its $1399, Dolby Atmos capable, Arc soundbar in June. Since having it, I’ve noticed that we’ve been listening to more music through the soundbar too, instead of through the other speakers in our apartment.
What I’m excited to see as we all start slowly transitioning out of isolation is how this will change our taste for the next few years. Will the travel restrictions mean we listen to more Australian music, or will we try to travel using our ears? Will we want to stay with our calm music (which is undoubtedly the dream of Ed Sheeran, Amy Shark and Michael Buble), or will it just remind us of a difficult time, sparking a wave of new, more energetic electronic music that can be more easily made from home?
No one can possibly answer those questions for now. All we know for sure is that after this group turning point we will likely all slowly drift back to our own individual tastes until the next major disaster.
Alice is a freelance journalist, producer and presenter.