Paolo Pezzangora shares what we can learn about the nation’s mood from their music tastes during lockdown.
Music listening habits are heavily dictated by our emotions and state of mind. When we’re confined to our homes and struggling to adapt to an abrupt new normal, what can the top-selling records during lockdown tell us about the nation’s mood?
The first national lockdown proved to be something of a catalyst. Many new hobbies and interests were picked up by Britons in 2020, ranging from outdoor fitness to baking, knitting and, most interestingly, jazz and classical music. In fact, according to the insights of Presto Music, the UK’s leading ecommerce site for classical and jazz recordings, sheet music, music books and musical instruments, customer demand for classical and sheet music hit its crescendo during the first lockdown period.
An unusually high number of orders were placed in the UK between April and September: Presto experienced a 25% year-on-year growth in sales, with a 63% increase downloads in less than six months. As a direct result, Presto Music has added 30,000 new products, including musical instruments and accessories, to its online catalogue to cope with rapidly escalating demand. Interest in learning an instrument has grown rapidly during the pandemic.
What does this tell us about Britons’ state of mind during this time? Music listening habits are heavily dictated by our emotions, so browsing through Presto Music’s top-selling records during the first lockdown allows us to gauge the nation’s mood.
During this time, the best seller in the classical department of the Presto website was an album of Debussy and Rameau piano music, played by Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson on Deutsche Grammophon. The album is very melodic and often slow, perfect for meditative moods and quiet contemplation. This trend was echoed in the site’s jazz department, where Carla Bley’s sparse ECM album ‘Life Goes On’, a slow-paced and relaxing collection featuring Andy Sheppard on saxes and Steve Wallas on bass guitar, proved to be a popular choice among online buyers. One of music’s best qualities is that it provides an escape from reality. These purchasing choices paint a picture of a reflective individual, seeking solace and serenity in a time of uncertainty.
Vibrancy and optimism
Juxtaposing these purchasing choices with the ones made in the second lockdown suggests there was a discernible move from an introspective mood towards a more vibrant, upbeat, and positive one. Piano still topped the charts in the classical department – only this time it was the faster-paced, more dramatic work of Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov. His album with fellow countrymen Scriabin, Stravinsky, and Prokofiev features music full of virtuosity and fire, the kind that commands attention and makes listers sit up straight. Similarly, a vibrant cocktail of jazz and cuban music found on Harold Lopez-Nussa's Mack Avenue album 'Te Lo Dije' (‘I told you so’ in Spanish) outperformed other records in the jazz department of the Presto site, a clear departure from the more slow-paced music that led purchases earlier in the year.
These purchasing choices indicate that aficionados’ minds were in a very different place compared to the first lockdown. Gone were the feelings of disquiet and inner turmoil, which were firmly supplanted by a palpable sense of buoyancy and optimism – perhaps a result of highly anticipated announcements on the progress of multiple vaccines. With hope comes high spirits, which ultimately translate into more upbeat choices in music, no matter what genre.
Now that we have entered another lockdown, it will be fascinating to see what listening trends emerge in the early months of 2021. Will the latest restrictions result in more sombre music choices? Or will the availability of a vaccine prompt listeners to go for more uplifting records, that convey positivity and hope? It’s still too early to tell, but one thing’s for sure – we’ll keep our ears open.
Paolo Pezzangora is the Head of Marketing at Presto Music.