Classical music reinventing itself during the COVID-19 pandemic

Photo cover by: Andrey Konstantinov
Written by: Rémi Bouton
Published Mar 05, 2021
3 min read
  • Pierre Antoine Devic
    Pierre-Antoine Devic
    Head of naïve classique

As streaming matures, classical music is scoring points, even among young audiences. In fact, the COVID-19 crisis and the resulting lockdowns we observed in a lot of countries have accelerated the trend, while all generations have discovered more specialized musical genres. Pierre-Antoine Devic, head of classical music at naïve, tells us more about classical music today and how streaming is changing the landscape.

Pierre-Antoine, can you tell us about naïve classic and what you do there?
naïve was founded in the last century on a multidisciplinary principle: all musical genres are treated equally, which is to my knowledge unique in Europe for an independent label. Naïve classic is the classical department. We have a prestigious catalog of 1600 albums plus 12 to 15 new productions per year, focusing on quality rather than quantity.
I joined Naïve classic in 2003 and became in charge of the department when we joined Believe in 2016. It was a great opportunity for us and our catalog to have access to Believe's technology and tools. Today Naive classic is a digital first label, and the majority of our turnover comes from digital sales, even if we still sell CD’s for our new productions.

In your opinion, has classical music benefited from the effects of the pandemic?
It sure did. We observed that the consumption of the most popular musical genres decreased during lockdown because people no longer used public transportation. You rarely listen to Bach's Partita in D minor when you’re on the bus! But when you are stuck at home, you become eager to discover new things, and you have plenty of time to do so. Plus, music and classical music in particular help people relax and maintain a feeling of calmness and wellbeing. I think it is wonderful that new audiences are coming to classical music during this time of anxiety. 

A recent joint report from BPI, Deezer and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra shows that classical streams are booming for young people. Do you personally witness that classical is on the rise on streaming services?
Indeed and it is also true for the senior audience who has a history with the CD format and is increasingly coming to streaming, sometimes through downloading, which is still quite important in the classic format. Streaming also allows classical music to conquer new markets all over the world in countries such as China and Latin America. China is awakening to classical music, like Japan did in the middle of the 20th century. We forecast a 20% yearly progression in the coming years which is more than the music streaming market. Within 5 years, classical music could represent 5% of the music streamed worldwide!

Has streaming changed the common tastes for classical music genres?
CD was a segmented market and streaming is a volume business. Making volume with classical music needs easy listening, music that doesn't require a high level of concentration. Within this context, piano is king with a now leading genre: the neoclassical.
This phenomenon could evolve in a near future thanks to more and more elaborated services, the development of noise-cancelling headphones plus the growth of older audiences. But for now, vocal or symphonic music is much less streamed than piano, which is more popular than ever.

Let’s come back to Naïve classic: do you develop many young classical talents?
Yes. There is always room for new artists. We have three main criteria: they should be highly talented of course, digital friendly and with a global reach. We believe that an artist who does not know how to engage globally on social media today has little chance to develop his notoriety. 

Marketing classical music is not much different, right?
You have to be able to reach young audiences, and social media is where you can find them. As for mainstream music, the main entry is the playlists, so this means you need to strengthen partnerships with major distribution platforms such as Apple or Spotify. 

What about the composers? Naive is the home of Vivaldi?
The top 3 composers on streaming are Bach, Mozart and Beethoven but yes, Vivaldi would deserve the 4th place! For twenty years now, Naïve has been developing the Vivaldi Edition by recording new works discovered in Turin’s national library. Vivaldi is a great figure of classical music who composed accessible pieces with great vitality. His music has all the assets needed to be streamed all over the world. There are hits!

Finally, do you intend to develop classical music inside Believe?
Believe is already working with a few independent classical labels but we want to take things further. We plan to broaden our signatures and attract major artists, and to create a “cluster” of classical labels with Naïve as the flagship that carries the excellence of our methods and attracts labels around the world. The future looks promising!

Classical music on the rise among Deezer's young audiences

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns, classical streams by younger listeners continued to rise. Between February and April 2020, Deezer’s global plays of classical music among 18-25 year olds grew by 11% year-on-year according to a joint report from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the British Phonographic Industry and Deezer. Some facts:

  • #1

    In a one-year period (April 2019- 2020), there was a 17% increase of classical listeners

  • #2

    On Deezer worldwide while streamers aged under 35 accounted for over two thirds (69%) of Classical music played globally.

  • #3

    Classical listeners on Deezer stream 4.4% more than average streamers and have broader musical tastes compared to fans of other genres. On average they listen to 38 distinct genres and subgenres of music. In contrast, fans of other major genres like Dance, Rock and Rap, listen on average to 21 genres and subgenres.

  • #4

    Classical listeners also show a greater appreciation of the album, streaming more albums in full than fans of other genres. Just over a quarter (27%) of the clicks made by classical fans in May 2020 were specifically on albums. This compares to just 5% of clicks on albums by pop fans. 

  • #5

    The Italian pianist and composer, Ludovico Einaudi, was the most streamed Classical artist on Deezer worldwide during the first six months of 2020. Contemporary piano performers and composers such as Yann Tiersen, Ramin Djawadi, Max Richter and Olafur Arnalds also featured in Deezer’s worldwide top 10.