Photo Credit: Akhil Arora/Gadgets 360
In September 1980, the English new wave rock band The Police — led by their frontman, Sting — released a new single, about a schoolgirl's crush on her much-older teacher. Four decades later, streams of the song on Spotify suddenly shot up by over 135 percent. But why? That's because it's called “Don't Stand So Close to Me”, which naturally takes on a very different meaning in these times of social distancing and self-isolation.
The Police's 1980 hit isn't the only song that's seen a boost during the ongoing pandemic. With Italy and Spain under lockdown, those stuck at home took to their balconies to sing praises of the ones fighting COVID-19 on the frontline. As a result, Andrea Sannino's 2015 love ballad “Abbracciame”, Adriano Celentano's 1968 ode to summer “Azzurro”, and Dúo Dinámico's 1988 motivational track “Resistiré” all saw a terrific boost — with streams up by more than eight, seven, and four times, respectively.
A renewed interest in “Resistiré” even led to “Resistiré 2020”, with over 30 Spanish artists contributing to the new cover and a music video, from their respective homes. Since its release at the start of April, it has amassed over 17 million views on YouTube alone. All funds raised will go to the Catholic relief body, Cáritas. And something similar happened last week with “Don't Stand So Close to Me”, as late-night host Jimmy Fallon roped in Sting for a home-instrument remix. Fallon's video ends by name-checking Frontline Foods, which gets food to frontline workers.
Spotify said it has also seen a spike in listeners after the likes of folk pop singer-songwriter Jewel, electronic multi-instrumentalist James Blake, hardcore punk band Code Orange, and folk-rock duo Indigo Girls hosted virtual live concerts. Closer to home, JioSaavn has done the same on its Facebook page, hosting independent artists in playback singer Nikhita Gandhi, Euphoria frontman Palash Sen, guitarist Taba Chake, and Gully Boy music supervisor Ankur Tewari.
While most have lost out on the revenue from lucrative real-life concerts, some have benefited from the increased free time most people have on their hands during the nationwide lockdown in India — which began on March 25 and was extended to May 3 this week.
Gaana, the self-proclaimed leader in the music streaming space in India, told Gadgets 360 that it has witnessed a double-digit growth in traffic over a three-week period starting mid-March. On the other hand, JioSaavn said it saw an overall decline in early data, more so during peak commute and work hours. “The decline has gradually settled and, in some cases, even reversed,” a JioSaavn spokesperson added. The Reliance Industries-owned service believes the trend was most likely triggered by a shift towards higher news consumption.
JioSaavn cited news podcasts registering a “significant growth” over the first two weeks of India's nationwide lockdown as proof. “Corona” and “lockdown” are being highly searched on Gaana. This is also true for the world's biggest music streaming service, Spotify, which has put together a COVID-19 hub to help listeners find everything in one place. Podcasts such as CNN's Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction, BBC's Coronavirus Global Update, and Foreign Policy's Don't Touch Your Face are leading the way.
But audio news creators aren't the only ones benefiting from people spending more time at home. Both JioSaavn and Spotify have seen increased interest in health and fitness, self-improvement (wellness, meditation, spirituality), and cooking podcasts. If you've the got word “recipe” in your podcast title or description, you might be in luck, according to Spotify. Gaana reported “significant traction” for anything that “can comfortably play in the background”, such as comedy, self-help, and devotion podcasts and shows.
This doesn't mean that people are listening to less music — though listeners' tastes and preferences are seeing a shift due to the lockdown. Spotify listeners are opting for more “chill”. That means songs that are instrumental, more acoustic, less danceable, and/or have lower energy. This applies to Gaana as well, with some of the most popular playlists being Instrumental Flute, Divine Instrumental, Soulful Acoustics, Awesome Acoustics, and Chill Out. A Gaana spokesperson said it's seen “a double-digit surge in demand for pre-curated playlists that users can play in the background.”
Speaking of playlists, Spotify said its users are creating and following more workout playlists than they were a month ago. Both Gaana and Spotify reported an uptick in listening hours for yoga playlists, which expanded to cooking-, housework-, running-, nature sounds-, and meditation-themed playlists for the latter. Spotify has also witnessed an increase in collaborative playlists and users sharing more on social media, what with a lot of people unable to see their loved ones during the pandemic.
And with kids at home for good, Spotify has also seen a boost in kids and family content, especially any music that helps kids sleep. Disney Favourites is a top choice. Meanwhile, JioSaavn users have gotten more nostalgic in the pandemic, playing classics and songs from their childhood.
It's not just “what” people are listening that has shifted during the lockdown, it's also the “how”. Both JioSaavn and Spotify said that more users are streaming from computers, TVs (including the JioFiber Set-Top Box), gaming consoles, and smart speakers such as Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Sonos. For JioSaavn, the growth in streams through home-bound platforms is at “an all-time high”. Streams on mobile devices continue to increase, for that's the primary device for many in India, and Gaana noted that registrations have shot up “significantly” on Android, iOS, and in the browser.