Keeping the Spirit of Music Alive Beyond the Pandemic

By Dave Rogers, President, HARMAN Lifestyle Division

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HARMAN Pro Concert, 2015

When the war is over

and we go back to everyday, everyday

Will it be the same again?

When you’ve been turned inside out and outside in?

These poignant lyrics from Dave Matthews’ unreleased song “Singing from the Windows,” inspired by the global Covid-19 quarantine, aptly capture the emotional anguish that millions of us are experiencing today. Around the world, people of every nation are struggling to come to terms with a new normal that few if any could have imagined even a year ago. And with no true short-term endpoint in sight, that new normal may last far longer than anyone would like.

While necessary weapons in the battle against the virus, measures like lockdown and quarantine come with their own set of nefarious side effects: anxiety, stress, loneliness, disconnection, and worse. We mourn the loss of earlier, perhaps more innocent times—when listening to our favorite playlists with friends was simple, when enjoying a live concert was a pleasure that we all too often took for granted.

For many of us, music is like oxygen. Since time immemorial, human beings have made music, listened to music, relied on music as a channel of release and a refuge in times that try the soul. Music is the universal language and one of the great loves of all of our lives. What other mode of expression reaches into every corner of our being like music does? What else can grab hold of our emotions and send them soaring to the greatest heights or comfort them at the lowest depths? Of all the art forms, music alone has the power to touch us so personally that we feel transformed.

It should come as no surprise, then, that people everywhere have shown a profound need to connect with the spirit of music during this crisis. A study conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with HARMAN found that music is the number one way that people cope in stressful situations. An incredible 81 percent of those surveyed said that music has helped them get through the COVID-19 pandemic, while 64.2 percent of respondents said that watching virtual musical performances helped them feel connected to others during lockdown. In perhaps the most telling statistic of all, eight in ten of the people surveyed revealed that they wouldn’t be able to live in a world without music.

To see evidence of humanity’s hunger for music in these troubled times, one need look no further than the incredible popularity of live-streamed concerts, virtual in-game appearances, and other innovative new formats: K-pop megastars BTS set a new world record for a live-streamed music audience, when 756,000 fans from more than 100 countries tuned in to their pay-per-view event Bang Bang Con: The Live in June. In the “Battle Royale” online game of Fortnite, Travis Scott’s appearance was viewed by an astonishing 12.3 million players. Tomorrowland, an event that JBL regularly sponsors, went virtual, and over one million dance music fans purchased tickets to Tomorrowland Around the World, a two-day digital festival with eight stages featuring over 60 artists.

On Twitter, listening parties hosted by musician Tim Burgess of the Charlatans, have been bringing music fans together to listen to classic albums with live tweet commentary from the people who made them. Free lockdown live performances from the Doobie Brothers, Modern English, Billie Eilish, Charlie CX and The Rolling Stones have given millions of fans a glimpse into the homes and lives of their musical idols. This year’s biggest selling album, Taylor Swift’s Folklore, was written and recorded during the lockdown, and she became the only artist in history to have seven albums sell half a million copies of a studio album in a week.

Clearly, we yearn for music. Our yearning for live music is particularly keen. That exhilarating, emotional, deeply human experience is rooted in our most ancient traditions; it elicits all of our senses and brings us into a state of elation in which nothing else exists but the sound and the rhythm…. For many of us, being unable to enjoy live music has been a source of very real grief.

The good news is that there are many ways to keep the musical fire in our souls burning brightly as we transition to the post-pandemic world. An optimized listening environment is key, as we explored on an episode of HARMAN’s ‘Audio Talks’ podcast all about Hifi Hygge, the audio dimension of the Scandinavian notion of coziness, conviviality, and simple joys. Another key is to practice the art of active listening; my learned colleague Dr. Sean Olive wrote a very helpful article outlining the best way to do this.

If it’s live music that you’re pining for (aren’t we all?), one way to tap into its unique benefits is to reconnect with the live albums that you love. This could be iconic live performances such as Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, The Band’s definitive The Last Waltz, or Nirvana – Unplugged in New York. Missing your favorite classical music festival? You can browse the treasure trove of live classical performances available in Hi-Res audio over at Primephonic. And Dr. Sean Olive also has expert advice on how you can create a live concert experience right at home. So dim the lights, mute your phone, find your HiFi Hygge, and lose yourself in the music.

I’m sure we can all agree that today’s circumstances are extremely challenging, but we must remember that as much as it may feel as though we are navigating dark, unchartered waters, this too shall pass. And, as is so often the case, within this challenge lies an opportunity. In fact, I would postulate that the greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity. That’s why I am resolutely optimistic about the future of the music scene. This moment has the unparalleled potential not only to shine a spotlight on the abundant emotional and physical good that music offers, but to place music at the very heart of our collective recovery.

One concrete way to leverage music’s restorative power is to embrace the virtual shared experience as a meaningful, flexible, entirely safe way to bring communities together. The explosion of virtual shared music enjoyment is one of the more unexpected gifts of this crisis. It has progressed in the past six months more than it may have developed in the next six years under ordinary circumstances, opening up countless unexplored avenues for development. Musicians and tech providers need only ask themselves how best to use the heightened desire for virtual communities to share music, discuss information and connect. The possibilities are as exciting as they are numerous.

In a time of distancing, music unifies. In a time of anxiety, music soothes. In a time of suffering, music heals. The benefits of music have never been more important for humanity, which is why we must all do our part to keep the spirit of music alive. Believe it or not, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter. PwC predicts consistent growth for live music in the years ahead; its latest forecast shows that the live music industry will rebound in 2021, reaching full recovery by 2022. That is encouraging news indeed. So stay positive. Support your local venues and musicians. Get active and support organizations and initiatives that are working hard to protect independent venues like NIVA, #SaveOurStages, #WeMakeEvents and #SaveOurVenues. And above all, keep listening.

HARMAN and its portfolio of iconic audio brands including JBL, AKG and Harman Kardon bring music and moments to life on the stage, at the studio, at home, in the car and on the go.  

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