Mood-Based Playlists Grow Classical Music’s Revenue, Cache With Young Fans

Diehard Bruce Springsteen fan Brandon Shaw used to rock out to The Boss almost exclusively — until the 27-year-old started streaming Spotify playlists such as Brain Food and Deep Focus in his office about a year ago.

Now he has some new obsessions: pianist Ludovico Einaudi and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

“I certainly have a broader appreciation, knowledge and passion about classical music now,” says the former White House staffer, who discovers composers all afternoon as he reviews spreadsheets.

Classical music is undergoing a revival as mood- and activity-based playlists on streaming services turn young listeners on to instrumental tracks — and pique their interest in the artists behind them. Spotify’s Intense Studying playlist has 1.4 million followers, while Peaceful Piano counts over 3 million, fueling a 70 percent spike in classical music streams from the same time in 2016, according to Nielsen Music. Universal Music Group’s streaming revenue for classical music is up 50 percent so far in 2017, building on UMG’s even larger double-digit gains of 2016, while composer Hans Zimmer performed at the Coachella festival in April alongside headliners Radiohead, Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar.

“You meet people at gigs, and they’ll come up to you and say, ‘My 14-year-old turned me on to your stuff,’ ” says Max Richter, the prodigious German-born British composer who scored the HBO series The Leftovers. “It’s a really interesting situation.”

Classical streaming gains are helping offset declines in sales of classical CDs in the United States, while classical revenue worldwide is growing, according to UMG. Dickon Stainer, president/chief executive of UMG’s Global Classics division, says that he sees more room for growth in China, where fast-growing new streaming platforms are replacing piracy and helping record companies monetize Western classical music. It’s already hugely popular there, with piano virtuoso Lang Lang starring in TV ads and some 50 million children studying…

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