Are virtual fitness instructors becoming music’s newest influencers?

Peloton has 3.6m members

From celebrity training programs to connected rowing machines, fitness is now a near-$100 billion industry.

The digital sub-sector of the market was already thriving prior to the pandemic, with luxury bike maker Peloton, a leading player in the space, reaching a valuation of $4bn back in August 2018.

But since most of the world started quarantining last March, propelled by gym closures and more time spent at home, the acceleration of the digital fitness business has gone supersonic.

According to Crunchbase, venture capitalists pumped $2.4bn into fitness startups in 2020 – some $1.2bn more than they invested in this space in 2019.

Arguably, one of the contributing factors to the success of many digital fitness companies, apart from their own tech, instructors and marketing tactics, is the music they use to soundtrack their instructional programming.

NMPA President & CEO David Israelite, has previously claimed that “music… is responsible for much of Peloton’s swift success”.

Indeed, music has become such an integral part of the connected fitness product package that Bryan Stone, SVP of Business Development, Global Digital Strategy, Universal Music Group, cites a Wall Street Journal piece from January that suggests remote instructors leading classes on at-home fitness apps during the pandemic “have become much like influencers and DJs in their own right.”

Speaking on a virtual NY:LON panel last month – Business Opportunities for the Music Industry in Mental Health, Fitness and Well-Being – Stone observed: “We’ve all been to fitness classes and have been turned on to music that the instructor has chosen to play inside of their classes.”

“[Peloton’s instructors are almost like 35 radio stations, where each instructor has their own brand, their own music sensibility and they’re programming their classes as such.”

Tony Calandra, Peloton

On the panel, which you can watch in full below, a number of leading industry experts discussed key talking points at the intersection of music and fitness.

Tony Calandra, Peloton’s VP or Global Music Supervision & Programming, highlighted the importance of music on Peloton’s programming, and the importance of the firm’s instructors’ selecting their own tracks.

Calandra explained that the firm’s 35 different instructors can be viewed “almost like 35 radio stations, where each instructor has their own brand, their own music sensibility and they’re programming their classes as such.”

Added Calandra: “When [instructors] are constructing a class, the music needs to work within the confines of their planned class. We do not go on the bike or the tread to listen to music. We experience music.

“There’s a big difference, because music is going to trigger emotion, it’s going to trigger endorphins… every song that an instructor programs has its own role and has its own place.



Also appearing on the panel was Mario Forsyth, Head of Business Development for Europe at Tuned Global, a B2B music company working closely with the global fitness sector (including its involvement in UFC’s $7.99-per month UFC Ultimate Sound app).

“It became clear after initial conversations with fitness companies that the main challenge for Tuned Global was to be able to deliver a flexible platform with licensed content that allows instructors to curate playlists for live and on-demand classes,” explained Forsyth.

He noted that Tuned Global had identified two key market segments requiring solutions that marry music and fitness. The first, he said, are ‘enterprise clients’ in fitness, including connected fitness companies like Peloton, looking for licensed music content for playlists etc.

“There is the need for the instructor to be able to search and create playlists from a licensed catalog. They also needed to be able to live-stream classes with music included and manage user subscriptions and class and scheduling.”

Mario Forsyth, Tuned Global

The second segment is what Forsyth termed “B2B, to C”, covering gyms and fitness instructors who saw their businesses impacted by Covid last year and had to move their activities online in response.

Explained Forsyth: “[These instructors] have pulled together multi-platform solutions, so they’ve got one application that manages scheduling and booking and another application, like Zoom, which they use to live-stream their classes. Ultimately, what it’s created is a bit of a disjointed experience.

“There was a clear requirement for a solution that supported this [B2B, to C] business use-case and, as with the B2B clients, there is the need for the instructor to be able to search and create playlists from a licensed catalog. They also needed to be able to live-stream classes with music included and manage user subscriptions and class and scheduling.

“Over the past 12 months, we have developed and are close to launching an application that delivers all of these functions and more.”


Also taking part in the panel discussion was Courtney Phillips, Head of Music at mediation and wellness app Calm, which recently raised $75m at a valuation of $2bn and claims to have 4 million paying members.

According to Sensor Tower estimates, a record $1.1bn was spent globally on wellness apps in the first 10 months of 2020.

Phillips, who previously served in a number of roles with Universal Music Group, told the panel about the increasingly popular ‘Sleep’ category on the platform, which was highlighted last month by the release of a series of exclusive Sleep remixes from the likes of Post Malone, Ariana Grande and Shawn Mendes on the platform.

“Sleep is huge,” said Phillips. “People are looking for music to help them sleep [and] help them stay asleep, so we’ve been working to increase more of the offerings there.

“People are looking for music to help them sleep [and] help them stay asleep, so we’ve been working to increase more of the offerings there.”

Courtney Phillips, Calm

“I have more music coming from Tom Middleton, more custom sleep tracks and working with artists that you wouldn’t expect to remix their music for sleep like Sam Smith did [in 2019].”

Added Phillips: “We try to stay in tune with what people are asking for and what the data is showing us and keep a step ahead of them so that when somebody comes to Calm looking for something to help them chill out or help them fall asleep, we have a variety of offerings from a lot of different artists.

“Whether they’re album exclusive like Nick [Murphy] and like Moby and secret ross or remixes like ellie goulding and sam smith um or originals like lindsey sterling and moses sumnee so you know i like to work with artists in a bunch of different ways to meet all of the needs of our community whatever those may be.”


The final panellist, Liz Moody, a Partner at Granderson Des Rochers LLP, noted that she had seen music publishers become more flexible in their deal-making towards fitness startups.

“Rights owners, labels and publishers, are working with the with the fitness industry to help facilitate some of these types of of licenses and maybe more flexible cost points to make [deals] more scalable so that the smaller services can come in and participate,” she noted, looking forward to “more unique licensing models” being created across the music and fitness industries.

“Back in the day  have rock’n’roll [and] hip hip-hop artists getting into fitness but it’s really happening and they’re seeing a lot of value from that.

Liz Moody, Granderson Des Rochers LLP

She added: “I’ve seen in some of my work with artists [a trend] I’m getting really excited about: it’s not something you would have normally expected back in the day, to have rock’n’roll [and] hip hip-hop artists getting into fitness, but it’s really happening and they’re seeing a lot of value from that.

“So I think increasing the awareness among performing artists and the benefits for them in participating this is huge.”Music Business Worldwide