Listen In: Conversations in the Time of the Coronavirus

Steve KellerApr 17, 2020

I’m always listening.

As a writer and music producer, I’ve spent years working in studios, training my ears to pick out an instrument or a voice in the crowd, finding the perfect blend, and exploring ways to transform the most mundane of sounds into something interesting and transcendent.

As an academic, I’ve explored the science of sound, the ways that sound shapes our behavior and our perception, how we can manipulate our tastebuds with our earbuds, how music and soundscapes can impact healthcare settings, and how sonic interventions can contribute to a better world.

As a sonic strategist, I’ve used my knowledge and experience to blend sound science and sound art into frameworks that help our clients make sound choices, enabling them to harness the power of sound while measuring its impact and effectiveness.

I’m always listening. Call it an occupational hazard (or a benefit), but I’m attuned to the sound of the world around me.

Today, that world sounds different.

I no longer hear the laughter of my colleagues at their desks, or conference rooms alive with people trading stories, sharing wins and losses and exploring creative solutions to complex problems. Instead, I hear voices delivered through a wireless earbud directly into my ear. Clients, partners and friends are reduced to so many talking heads on a screen. The information is there, but the energy? Not so much.

Gone is the familiar hum of the city and the subways, the retail soundscapes, the din of diners and airport announcements. Now my sonic landscape is composed mainly of sounds within earshot of my apartment, the voice of my beloved singing along to music only she can hear, and the drone of the ever present news in the background.

The truth is, the world sounds different because it is different. As COVID-19 has forced us to shelter in place, our listening habits have changed. When experienced in unfamiliar contexts, even familiar sounds can take on new meaning, evoking different memories and triggering unexpected emotional responses.

As I try to navigate this uncharted territory, I’ve been thinking about what it means to “listen in,” to focus on conversations more intentionally, to be more aware of the nuances of the soundscapes around me, and to recognize how things sometimes feel out of place because they sound out of place. It can be confusing and challenging, not only personally, but professionally as well.

It’s no surprise that I’ve chosen to work for a company that’s always listening, too. At Pandora, we’re listening to brands and agencies and content creators as they ask questions about how they should sound in a world in crisis. How do they communicate with consumers, employees and stakeholders alike? What do they say? How do they say it? Should they be saying anything at all?

Over the past month, we’ve been asking the same questions, listening in as patterns of audio consumption shift and people adjust to life in the time of the coronavirus. We want to understand where people are listening to music and audio content, how they’re listening, who or what they’re listening to, and who they’re listening with.

We’d like to share what we’ve learned with you, providing you with insights and empowering you to sonically engage with your consumers in ways that are meaningful, relevant, and human. We want to help you understand not only what your audience wants, but what it needs, so that you can make the kind of sound choices that will ensure you’ll be heard, both now and in the future.

To that end, we’ve created a special microsite just for you: SoundCheck. It’s chock full of insights for advertisers and creators alike. There you can dig in to what we’ve discovered regarding industry trends, shifts in the cultural landscape, and emerging coping behaviors as the world continues to adapt to COVID-19.

Of course, this is only the beginning of the conversation, and we’ll be regularly updating our content as we glean more insights in the days, weeks and months ahead, so check in with us often. We’ll be here. Listening as always.

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