Country music sees record streaming during COVID-19 pandemic

Country music has often been saddled with the stigma of being sad songs about problems, and while that may not necessarily be true, it appears people are using it to cope with America’s current troubles.

Over the last few weeks, country music has seen streaming numbers like never before. For the week of April 23, a record 1.26 billion country songs were streamed – up almost 11% from the average. That record didn’t even last a week as the next seven days saw 14% growth above the average to a new high of 1.3 billion streams.

The new growth is partially thanks to new albums from some of the genre’s biggest names, Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini, a prime time CBS special with Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood, and the deaths of two country stars in Joe Diffie and Kenny Rogers, but those factors don’t account for the whole increase.

Dave Bakula, the senior VP of analytics at Nielsen, said that growth has “snowballed” for weeks. “We all realized that it’s not about new albums, nor the weekly news cycle,” he said, “but country fans are becoming more and more engaged and the fanbase is growing at streaming platforms.”

As live sports, concerts, and festivals have all shut down, people are turning to streaming to get their country music fix. Beville Dunkerley, the head of country music at Pandora, said that their “Country Faith” station and “Country Fitness” station both saw marked upticks compared to other stations. The service’s “Today’s Country” station has seen a 52% increase in listening hours and an almost 30% increase in total listeners and actually has the most streams of any station in April. The  Country Chill station saw almost double listening hours and a 70% increase in total listeners.

And before you assume it’s all music seeing the benefit, Nielsen notes that the only other genre to see on-demand gains at all over the past seven weeks were children’s songs (which makes sense as kids are home from school).  Every other genre is actually declining as of late.

What’s the takeaway? Whether you like the genre or not, it appears a good portion of America is tuning in to country music for comfort. Some for faith, some for fitness, and if the rise in alcohol sales is any indication, some just for drinking away their worries. In good times and bad times, people just can’t get enough country.

Artie Beaty