Digital music was filled with records, milestones and resurgence in 2011. Adele set marks for digital albums and track sales. Digital albums topped 100 million units for the first time. And track sales came back to life after falling flat in 2010.
Adele had both the top digital album and track in 2011. Her second album, "21," sold 1.8 million digital albums while "Rolling in the Deep" sold 5.76 million units, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Her debut album, "19," was the top-selling digital catalog album of the year with sales of 282,000 units.
Digital track sales were up 8.5 percent in 2011, a healthy improvement over the 1.1-percent gain of 2010 and on par with 2009's 8.4-percent gain. LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" sold just over 5 million units and joined "Rolling in the Deep" as the only track to sell over 5 million units in a calendar year. The biggest track of 2010 was Train's "Hey Soul Sister" with sales of 4.25 million units. Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" sold 4.67 million in 2009.
Ten tracks surpassed 3 million units in 2011 compared to 8 tracks that did so in 2010. Two songs just missed the 3-million mark in 2011: Black Eyed Peas' "Just Can't Get Enough" and Rihanna's "We Found Love."
Showing the album format can survive in the digital age, digital album sales increased 19.5 percent to 103.1 million units. It was the first time U.S. digital album sales surpassed the 100-million mark in a calendar year. And like tracks, digital album growth actually improved in 2011. Last year's percent gain exceeded the improvements in 2010 (12.4 percent) and 2009 (16.7 percent).
Eight digital albums surpassed 300,000 units in both 2010 and 2011. The difference was at the top of the chart: 2011's top digital album, "21," more the doubled the top digital album of 2010, Eminem's "Recovery" (1.8 million to 852,000). Mumford & Sons' "Sigh No More" sold over 300,000 digital albums both years.
The gain in digital album sales in 2011 was 16.95 million units. Rap accounted for 17.2 percent of that gain even though it represented just 8.1 percent of all digital album sales - meaning it outperformed. On the other end of the spectrum, rock accounted for 31.9 percent of 2011's gain even though it represented 38.5 percent of all sales.
A handful of other genres also outperformed in 2011. They are, in order of digital album gain relative to share of total digital album sales: gospel, electronic, country, Latin and jazz. Most are genres that have historically lagged behind pop and rock in digital album growth. So, it makes sense that these genres perform well now that digital downloads are a more mature format. Electronic music is different, however. The genre has always been a favorite of digital early adopters but it had mainstream success in 2011.