The legacy of 2020’s worldwide stay-at-home orders and evolving physical distancing norms will be felt in a world adapting to new modes of work, connection, and play. After witnessing first-hand how people have rallied behind the music industry’s response to COVID, the changes impacting our future music experiences are likely to accelerate in the coming months.

Voice assistants have brought about an inflection point in the music industry; streaming audio entertainment – music, radio, and podcasts – is already creating new opportunities for artists & labels as the dominant interaction behavior on smart speakers. In the wake of the pandemic, with some experts citing live shows and festivals may not resume until as late as Fall 2021, the appetite will only grow for alternative, interactive offerings with the hyper-aware consumer base who crave at-home entertainment from their favorite artists. This momentum creates an encouraging sandbox for voice-accessible experiences where music will shine, even brighter than it already does. 

Specific data suggests home-based, voice-enabled experiences will become a more opportunistic place to experiment with consumers and fans. Take into account some emerging trends in the last month alone:

  • In Q1 2020, according to Omdia, speaker shipments from manufacturers show the North American smart speaker market continued to expand at 6% overall growth, with Amazon and Apple showing growth YoY 32% and 16%, respectively. Discounted retail continues to curtail any downtrend in hardware sales, as consumers buy their first or additional devices for other spaces in their home.
  • According to Nielsen Music, since March 12 when the suspension of professional and collegiate sports leagues accelerated the economic shutdown, 38% of at-home Americans added paid subscription streaming services.
  • According to Spotify streaming data, in Italy, Spain, France, the UK, and the US, popular music (the top 200 charts) has shown a decrease in streams ranging between 10-23% in favor streaming curated programs, radio stations, and playlists that have created more communal connection and respond better to situational listening (like living room concerts, ‘mood-based’ playlists) than personal music preference.

With more consumers experimenting and more voice access points in homes, the potential for voice-activated listening will shatter paradigms of streaming as we know it and introduce opportunities for major labels and artists to develop unique listening experiences. In light of this, here are three trends we should expect to see:

The Emergence of Appointment Listening

It’s not unrealistic to think that label-exclusive, voice-activated streaming moments like “Alexa, tune into Taylor Swift’s Album release” could be right around the corner. The organic rise of living room concerts during quarantine hasn’t just brought out the biggest names in music, it’s creating must-see moments for fans. A nascent paradigm is forming around unprecedented artist availability and fans are responding. Lil Jon vs. T Pain set Instagram Live records during their epic producer battle. Drake’s Toosie Slide, arguably a dance challenge first and a new single second, caught on in TikTok and expanded like wildfire with fans in a way streaming platforms just can’t imitate in their current form. We’re getting organic, stripped down, pandemic-era Unplugged or Behind the Music, but with a scale not previously seen before.

Leaning into this untapped raw potential with a purpose, we will see artists and labels offer bespoke video, audio and connected at-home experiences that will provide fans something unique to our time: music that’s more than basic streaming, isn’t your standard live show, and uses social media and voice-activated devices as forerunners to fan engagement that, while falling drastically short of singing along in a sea of people, can create new senses of belonging and participation to the at-home listening experience. Labels and artists are sitting on a stockpile of potential, and as they try to challenge for relevance in voice-activated streaming, they’ll need to build towards moments of demand in a strictly virtual music ecosystem. In doing so, we’ll see artists of all tiers evolve on these early experiments, culminating in can’t-miss synchronous listening moments including new album drops, sneak peak exclusives, ‘backstage’ access and more. 

The potential for voice-activated listening will shatter paradigms of streaming as we know it.

Music Labels on Offense

While the streaming data presented could be interpreted as temporary changes to listening habits until normal life resumes, it still says something about at-home ‘streaming’ preference and leads us to believe change could be imminent in what a consumer might expect in what they could ask for, therefore putting the onus on labels to deliver. We suspect that popular music will maintain its favor and influence – “Hey Google, Play Cardi B radio” isn’t going anywhere – but the at-home environment where a spoken intent can thrive presents meaningful opportunities to deliver for consumers and music fans while supporting artists with new ways to be discovered. What might “Hey Google, take me to Kanye’s Sunday Service” do?

To create meaningful and lasting value through voice, labels will have to work with and around the default listening environment afforded them by the dominant voice interfaces domestically and abroad, the abundance of established streaming platforms, and emerging new streaming services – like the mid-pandemic launch of Sonos Radio. If working within this system, the effort to review and contextualize their artists’ metadata will be vital to introducing new artists to streams based on moods (“Play calming new music”) and situations (“Play fun family-night karaoke songs”) instead of on a specific artist/genre preference. While this will be a table stake operational shift, the stakes are higher when you consider the competition with all sets of variables. 

Sensory Immersive Listening

Lastly, in addition to appointment style listening sessions and revamping artist discoverability, labels have a window in time to experiment on the offensive with multi-sensory strategies, and we should see a few instances of this. In a connected home, will we use our voice to relive famous live shows by artists on our home entertainment systems? How will non-traditional media partnerships change tastes and streaming styles for younger audiences? With AR and VR technologies, will we be able to be in the front row of concerts from our living rooms? One day it may be normal to regularly attend concerts in this way, in fact, major professional sports leagues are already driving this potential. Labels should take this moment in time while we are more apt to remote-social proclivities to create new streaming paradigms that fuse artist access, virtual viewing, tourism, fan call-to-arms, and music-centered gaming to foster new musical connections with their artists.

Bottom Line: A homebound western world has revealed that artists and consumers are responding creatively and aren’t so set in their ways. Music has been at the core of the emerging ‘Coronavirus culture’ and with consumers showing a proclivity to stay home and alter their homelife experience, the fusion of music and voice-accessibility will hold sway in shaping the music industry’s long-term response.