Streaming turns the tide for music
THE rapid growth of streaming and sensational success of Adele triggered a rebound of overall music consumption last year in the United States and Britain, industry trackers said on Wednesday.
The growth came despite a persistent fall in CD sales and a growing decline in digital downloads on services such as iTunes as consumers turn to online streaming services and unlimited, on-demand selection.
US music consumption rose 15.2 per cent last year from a year earlier to 549.4 million albums or their digital equivalent, reversing a decline in 2014, said Nielsen Music.
British music consumption also reversed a slump, with album equivalent sales rising 3.7 per cent, according to data released separately on Wednesday by the British Phonographic Industry trade association.
Both the US and Britain, the world's largest and fourth-largest music markets respectively, saw streaming volumes nearly double as new competitors, such as Apple Music and Jay Z's Tidal, helped expand a sector led by Sweden's Spotify.
Music streams went up 92.8 per cent year-on-year to 317.2 billion songs in the US and rose by 81.7 per cent in Britain.
"You're going to continue to see the types of growth that we've been seeing for a long time to come, I think," said David Bakula, Nielsen's senior vice-president of industry insights.
Nielsen looks at consumption and not directly at revenue - which is a major sore point for many artists who argue that their compensation from streaming is puny. Industry bodies will report detailed figures on profits soon.
Mr Bakula said the Nielsen data showed a growing industry in net terms.
"People have been conditioned to look at album numbers for so long as the health of the industry," he said.
"Down 6 per cent" - the year's decline in total album sales without factoring in streaming - "doesn't sound as bad when you add in" billions of streams, he said.
Yet leading the way in last year's rebound was one of the few artists to reject streaming - Adele.
Backed by public anticipation due to a more than four-year wait since her previous album, Adele's 25 enjoyed the biggest first-week sales on record in the US and Britain.
Full of ballads of heartache and childhood nostalgia, it was by far the top-selling album in both countries for the year even though it came out on Nov 20.
Nielsen said it found that about one-third of US consumers planned to buy 25, with around 20 per cent of them not generally music consumers.
Yet even with its record-breaking numbers, 25 accounted for just 3.1 per cent of US album sales for the year, meaning Adele-mania likely had knock-on effects.
"I think the impact, beyond just the sales part of it, is the fact that people were talking about it - people who are not your traditional music buyers," Mr Bakula said.
Another steep source of growth, but on a much smaller scale than streaming, is its low-tech foil - vinyl, which has enjoyed a rebirth led by collectors.
Vinyl sales rose by nearly 30 per cent in the US and more than 64 per cent in Britain.
Nielsen found disparities in format choices based on genre.
More than half of US listeners of Latin music or electronica were streaming while physical sales were particularly strong among buyers of jazz, classical, children's or holiday-oriented music.
Pop star Taylor Swift's 1989, the top US album in 2014, was the second bestseller last year, beating out Justin Bieber's new work Purpose.
On Britain's full-year chart, Adele was followed by Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith.