Sights and sounds: Adobe Stock’s motion and audio trends for 2021

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Image source: Adobe Stock/Jeremy Pawlowski/Stocksy United.

2021 — perhaps the most anticipated new year since the turn of the millennium. While 2020 has undoubtedly left its mark on us all, Adobe Stock’s motion and audio trends for 2021 are direct reflections of our resilience, ingenuity, and enduring hope, both as a society and as creatives.

Here is to a better, stronger, and more joyful year!

This past summer, we launched Adobe Stock Audio, featuring a curated collection of royalty-free music and audio tracks from two powerhouse agencies, Epidemic Sound and Jamendo. Audio drives multimedia like nothing else, and 2020 saw a dramatic rise in content creation, with no signs of slowing down. In other words, it is the perfect time for us to roll out our first-ever Audio Trends forecast for 2021.

Image source: Adobe Stock/Dudarev Mikhail.

1. Global Rhythms

As the world grapples with the larger themes of social justice, equality, and authentic representation, so, too, does the music business.

Kathryn Matt, Music Supervisor at Epidemic Sound, has seen an uptick in requests for Afrobeat, reggaeton, and fusion tracks — specifically those made by artists and musicians with a direct cultural connection to the work they are producing. “I think that a lot of companies are thinking about how [cultural] appropriation is pervasive, and they are trying to steer clear of that,” Matt says. “They’re looking for authenticity.”

Brands are focused on the nuances of authenticity as well, says David Slitzky, Head of Music Development and Special Projects at Epidemic Sound. “So many creators and storytellers even the bigger ones, but especially the smaller ones — are kind of risking everything with every song,” he says. “They don’t want to make a misstep. I think for them, having some sort of agency in secure authenticity behind their music has been a big trend of the last year.”

This has been a boon for international musicians, including those with longstanding careers — a track from Malian duo Amadou et Mariam, who began recording music in the 1980s, was recently featured in a commercial for Coca Cola. “These types of rhythms — Afrobeat — baile funk — bossa nova — they are culturally relevant,” says Matt. “And, from a video editor’s perspective, they’re great to cut to.”

Image source: Adobe Stock/Aberheide/Pond 5.

2. Electronic Spectrum

Electronic Spectrum is all about the deliberately digital, featuring tracks from artists who work across genres both typically electronic and traditionally analog. “What always impresses us is the wide spectrum of music that’s getting used digitally,” says Slitzky. It is all there, across the electronic landscape, from electropop to synthwave, funk to classical.

The spectrum part of Electronic Spectrum refers not only to the range of styles within the trend, but to the wide appeal of its collective sound — this is music that is at home in a high-budget commercial and on a YouTube vlog. It also encompasses the work of professional producers and up-and-comers mixing in smaller or DIY studios. The potential for crossover is huge. In a recent example, the wildly popular Billie Eilish, who got her start self-producing homemade tracks that she uploaded to Soundcloud, landed a spot in a Kia commercial.

“What really resonates here is how, for most styles of music, in order to make it really, really well, you can’t quite do that at home,” Slitzky says. “However, with electronic music, it’s almost the exact opposite. It’s exploded what it means to have accessibility. And that just marries so perfectly with what we’re seeing in video content creation. These two worlds continue to influence each other.”

Image source: Adobe Stock/Dubassy/Pond 5.

3. Pod Tracks

Podcasts, along with the streaming services that facilitate our universal love of TV binge-watching (for better and worse), have been a constant companion during the extended periods of quarantine this past year. Whether they are into investigative “true crime” or cultural commentary, episodic or one-off, listeners and content creators both are continuing to propel what was once a niche medium into the mainstream.

“Hundreds of thousands of podcasts are available now,” says Tom Spota, Head of Motion and Audio at Adobe Stock. “Millions of people are listening to them. If you look at the market now, you’re seeing multi-million dollar deals for podcast content. Major streaming platforms like Spotify, Audible, iTunes, and Amazon Music are incorporating podcasts into their services.”

Of all the complicated aspects of producing a podcast, one of the most difficult — especially for first-time or at-home producers — is finding the right music to set the tone. And, as Spota observed, scoring a podcast is not the same as for a video. “Pod Tracks are the particular elements that will make up a podcast — which are music or sound effects,” he explains. “You have the podcast intro, you have the outro, you have your music bed and background, and you have the sound leading into commercials.”

Music for podcasts has to strike a balance, both within the context of the subject matter and the medium itself. As a prime example, Matt refers to what she refers to as the “NPR sound” — “It’s electronic and marimba-based, very minimal, but with a little rhythm to it,” she says. “It still moves things along, but it’s not overly dramatic. It doesn’t take away from the voiceover.”

Podcasters are often at a loss when it comes to securing music, the most common barriers being cost, licensing options, or simply the time it takes to find the right tracks. Pod Tracks, which are carefully labeled according to appropriate genre (i.e. horror, drama, comedy) and selected based on their specific use cases (intros — outros). “Users can utilize these elements to create their productions,” Spota says.

Image source: Adobe Stock/Flux VFX .

1. Media Replacement

You asked, we delivered: MoGRTs (motion graphics templates) will soon support the addition of photo and video content into motion graphics templates. Just drag, drop, tweak, and go!

Media Replacement is an instant timesaver for big brands and social media stars alike, particularly when it comes to typically high-touch, complex graphics like logo reveals — which are now just a few clicks away. “Many people from all over the world are becoming video editors and creators, and they are looking for ways to increase the production value of their work,” Spota says. “Adding videos and photos to motion graphics is a great way to do that.”

Spota notes the emergence of mini-trends within the larger scope of content that offers replaceable, drag-and-drop solutions for users, many that are driven by social media. “Video editors will be able to easily create photo mosaics — a moving wall of pictures,” he says. “That’s a mini-trend. Digital holiday cards, photo frames, logo reveals — these are all things that you’re going to be able to do with these new media replacement templates.”

Image source: Adobe Stock/Daniilvolkov.

2. Handheld

Using homemade or homemade-style footage used to be a major no-no (barring, say, flashback sequences and the Blair Witch Project). Now, user generated content (UGC for short) is everywhere, adopted by major players, such as Apple and Microsoft.

Spota noticed this shift as COVID-19 necessitated both the shutdown of productions worldwide, and an urgent need for new, up-to-the-minute messaging. “There has been a need for UGC handheld content over the last ten months,” Spota observed. “A lot of brands were not utilizing user generated content on broadcast, but now you are seeing an accelerated use during the global pandemic. It is really effective in that an audience can relate to the content. Commercials quite often feature people going through the same experiences as the viewer.”

The biggest appeal of UGC footage has been its authenticity — “you can’t get any more authentic,” says Ramin Talaie, Video Curator at Adobe Stock. “It’s first person, first experience, it’s all there,” he continues. “Brands have spent a ton of money trying to recreate that. The authenticity of user-generated content, it’s unparalleled to anything.”

Brands have also used UGC to show their support for essential workers, frontline health care providers, and, in the case of Google, thanking teachers via clips of exhausted parents juggling work, life, and childcare during quarantine. “Brands wanted to be part of the conversation,” says Talaie, “and they were using videos that were pulled from social media like TikTok, Youtube, Twitter, and so on.”

In a time of crisis and, for many, isolation, handheld footage beams a little ‘welcome home’ to audiences. “There are a lot of people who may feel alone,” says Spota, “and using user generated content that has been shot on handheld devices, by everyday people — it helps to bring people together.”

Rather than viewing its use as a temporary stopgap, brands and production companies have seen the immense impact UGC has on viewers. “This isn’t going to go away,” says Talaie. “The idea that we can create content that is part of a movement, be it the Black Lives Matter movement, be it other social justice issues — that’s going to continue. Brands use that to speak to their users. This year, they didn’t want to stay away from addressing these social justice issues.”

Image source: Adobe Stock/

3. Transformative Transitions

Transitions are short, but mighty. Done right, they underscore every ad, trailer, presentation, and video. A dynamic, on-brand transition pulls an audience in — or, as Spota puts it, “pushes the viewer to pay more attention.”

The mechanics of a Transformative Transition vary, but their goal is one and the same: brand cohesion, and the quick, clever projection of its message. This can be a carefully tailored logo animation — the red filmstrip treatment developed for Netflix, for instance — or simply the use of a brand’s color scheme, as Talaie noted in a recent spot for online dating platform eHarmony.

“These little touches transform the messaging,” he says. “It helps brands deliver the message they want to deliver, by customizing to their own needs. This is something that you see everywhere — every teaser, every credits sequence.”

Image source: Adobe Stock/RocknRoller Studios.

4. Gradient

Like a great transition, the impact of a gradient is surprisingly deep. Gradients have long been popular for their undeniable beauty, but, as it turns out, we need them, especially after the turbulent 2020 news cycle. The beauty of rolling, seamless color in motion is a welcomed visual relief. “Color psychology comes into play, here,” says Spota. “Gradients can used as a calming effect, with light and pastel colors. Or you can use gradients to be bold and energetic.”

Brands are incorporating gradients into their product lines, both for little touches like icon refreshes (see Facebook Messenger) and in more prominent ways. Apple, for example, recently commissioned light-sculpture artist Craig Dorety to create a new set of iPhone backgrounds in his ethereal style, which relies heavily on the use of gradients.

Gradients have also been all over social media. In a particularly clever use of gradients as an emotional underscore, social platforms Facebook and Instagram are offering users an array of backgrounds they can use to match the content of their text posts and stories.

But gradients can also shine on their own or take the lead in a visual experience. Spota notes the bold but dreamy look used in rapper Travis Scott’s recent virtual concert in collaboration with Fortnite. “The video was just this amazing, beautiful world,” Spota says.

Stay tuned for deep dives on each of these trends and, in the meantime, we hope these motion galleries and playlists inspire you.