Coronavirus

Country Music Is Enjoying a Streaming Boom During the Pandemic: New Data

Kelsea Ballerini
Piper Ferguson

Kelsea Ballerini

"It's the soundtrack of our lives whether our lives are going great or going terribly," explains Pandora head of country Beville Dunkerley.

As Americans continue to shelter in place, they are turning to country music to keep them company in record numbers.

Over the last two weeks, country music has enjoyed a streaming bonanza, with on-demand audio streams growing 10.7% to a record high 1.26 billion for the week ending April 23. The next week ending April 30, a new record was set as streams grew 14.3% to 1.3 billion. This is versus the baseline weekly audio average of 1.138 billion for the eight-week period Jan. 17 through March 12, according to MRC Data/Nielsen Music.

A number of factors contribute to the rise. Among them are the release of new albums from Kelsea Ballerini and Sam Hunt; television shows prominently featuring country artists, such as April 1's CBS special featuring Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood and April 5's ACM Presents: Our Country, also on CBS; and the deaths of Kenny Rogers and Joe Diffie. Rogers' on-demand U.S. streams surged 1,109% in the week following his March 20 death from the previous tracking week. However, these events do not fully explain the upward trajectory.

"Every week, the growth snowballed, with the momentum getting better and better," says Dave Bakula, senior vp analytics, insights and research for Nielsen Music/MRC Data. "Pretty soon we all realized that it's not about new albums, nor the weekly news cycle, but country fans are becoming more and more engaged and the fanbase is growing at streaming platforms."

Overall since March 12, when all professional sports leagues, major concert tours and Broadway shows suspended their events, audio country streams have grown 6.2%. Add in video streams and total on-demand country streams for the seven-week period since March 12 have averaged 1.35 billion, up 6.3% versus the baseline of 1.27 billion streams.

In the same seven-week period, the only other genres to see on-demand audio streaming gains are children's music (up 4.8% versus the baseline weekly average) and classical (up 1.3%). All other genres show declines against the baseline with Latin having the biggest downturn at 10.3%.

The numbers also come as country music fans are increasingly adopting streaming as their preferred way to listen to music. "While country music had lagged behind other genres at streaming services in the past, country music fans are staying more engaged with their favorite artists and their favorite music," Bakula says. "We are seeing country music's share of streaming grow every week."

This growth is further borne out by skyrocketing numbers for Pandora, where country music listening -- both on demand and ad supported -- has spiked exponentially above other genres. According to the digital service, since March 1, its Today's Country station has experienced a 52% increase in listening hours and 29% increase in unique listeners and for April had the most streams of any Pandora station of any genre. Another popular station, Country Chill saw a 91% increase in listening hours and 69% increase in unique listeners over the same period.

"People are looking for country music to be their therapy and to motivate them to see the silver linings and hold out for hope in a situation, as we're seeing on our Country Faith station, or to motivate them to exercise via Country Fitness," says Beville Dunkerley, Pandora's head of country, citing two other channels seeing upticks.

She also suggests a less highbrow reasons for the increase: "Look at alcohol sales right now. They're through the roof. What other genre of music has better drinking songs? Country music can't lose right now. It just can't. It's the soundtrack of our lives whether our lives are going great or going terribly."

The big gains in streams for the genre are in large part due to streams of older country tunes, which accounted for 72.2% of country's on-demand audio total for the week ending April 23. In comparison, across all genres, streams of catalog tunes comprised 63.6% of overall on-demand audio streams for the week (10 billion of 15.8 billion).

The acts with a significant number of older songs performing well in the most recent week include Jason Aldean ("Dirt Road Anthem," "Rearview Town"), Luke Bryan ("Country Girl [Shake It for Me]," "That's My Kind of Night") and Chris Stapleton ("Tennessee Whiskey," "Broken Halos"), among others.

Current tunes have also bolstered the numbers and greatly increased country artists' showing on the Hot 100. Led by Maren Morris' crossover juggernaut "The Bones" at No. 13, seven country titles were in the top 40 of the all-genre Hot 100 chart for the week ending April 23. Compared with only one country song was in the top 40 the same week last year.

Keith Caulfield contributed to this story.

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