2020’s unprecedented upheaval brought with it fundamental changes to the creative industries. Theatres, clubs, studios, venues and festivals all closed their doors and with it, creative momentum for millions of artists, producers, musicians and songwriters came to an abrupt halt. For the vast majority of the music industry, and those that work in it, it’s been devastating. A report in June 2021 by IMS showed that the electronic music industry shrank by 54% in 2020. Worse still for artists, their incomes took a 68% hit, dropping from $1.3bn in 2019 to $300m in 2020. None of this will come as a surprise for even the most casual observer of 2020’s impact on electronic music.
One aspect of the industry though, not only managed to weather the storm, it actually thrived. As artists turned to creativity for comfort, so too did hobbyists who found themselves with unprecedented time on their hands. Those who’d always dreamed of picking up an instrument but hadn’t found the time handed Fender their biggest year of guitar sales ever. For DJs and producers, it was the same story: sales of entry-level Pioneer DJ controllers rocketed, online courses at one of the world’s biggest electronic music schools Point Blank doubled, then tripled, Native Instruments saw a 30% growth across their portfolio, downloads of Ableton’s free trial tripled and online DAW and creative community Bandlab surpassed 35 million active users.
It’s clear music-making and the tech industry it props up benefited massively from an explosion in newfound free time, extra disposable income, those seeking solace in creativity, DJ streamers in their kitchen and those wanting to learn a new skill. According to Google Trends, searches for ‘How to DJ’ more than quadrupled from the start of March to the start of April 2020, while ‘how to make music’ doubled in the same timeframe. As you might expect, other terms like ‘FL Studio’, ‘Ableton Live’ and ‘VirtualDJ’ all saw huge spikes, with a 55% increase in ‘Garageband’ searches. Rolling Stone reported Splice, Apogee and Roland all saw huge increases in sales and US music retailer Sweetwater was shipping 15-20,000 orders a day in April 2020.
With a huge increase in casual learners on Google and YouTube, more serious students with Point Blank, a massive uptake in instrument learning (pianos saw a 34% surge in sales in the first few months of the pandemic), music software downloads increased by two- or three-fold and DJ hardware and software up 23% across the board, there’s no doubt the pandemic has been good for music tech. But what happens when these new hobbyists emerge into a decimated industry? What are the implications of tens or hundreds of thousands of new music-makers and DJs – some who’ve never (legally) experienced clubbing, and whose experiences of electronic music production and DJing have only been realised through screens? We asked some key tech brands their experiences of the pandemic and wondered what effect tech’s boom could have on the industry as a whole.