U.S. Recording Industry 2015: Streams Double, Adele Dominates

DIGITAL

Streaming continued to overtake the American recorded music industry last year. In fact, it doubled -- from 164.5 billion songs streamed in 2014 to 317.2 billion last year, according to Nielsen Music.

That increase translates into 211.5 million stream equivalent albums -- whereby 1,500 song streams equal one album -- up from 109.7 million in 2014. That's an increase of nearly 93 percent.

Because of streaming's ascent, the record business experienced an overall growth of 15.2 percent, from 476.9 million album consumption units in 2014 to to 549.4 million in 2015. (Album consumption units tally both physical and digital sales; So, 241.4 million album units were sold last year, while 96.5 million track equivalent albums -- whereby 10 track sales equal one album -- were downloaded.)

But, as streaming rises, digital sales continue to fall. Overall digital track sales declined a striking 12.5 percent, moving 964.8 million units last year compared to 2014's 1.1 billion. (Same as the 12.5 percent decline in track sales that occurred between 2013 and 2014.)

The decline in digital album sales slowed considerably however, dropping just 2.9 percent -- to 103.3 million in total, from 106.5 million in 2014. (The decrease between 2013 and 2014 was a lot steeper, when digital album scans fell 9.4 percent.)

BEST-SELLERS

Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk!” featuring Bruno Mars was the top-scanning song at 5.53 million units, Adele’s 25 was the best-selling album, moving 7.44 million units. Taylor Swift's 1989 came in second with 1.99 million units moved. (That record has sold 5.65 million in total since its Oct., 2014 release.)

Music sales and physical albums went out on a high at the end of the year, powered by the 7.4 million total units that 25 has sold. (Breaking down 25: CD sales accounted for 5 million units, digital 2.3 million units and vinyl nearly 116,000 units.)

By herself, Adele accounted for three percent of total album sales in the U.S.

Seven albums sold more than a million units last year -- four hit the same landmark in 2014.

 

LABELS

Universal Music Group, the industry's largest label by a wide margin, was down slightly to 38.5 percent of album-plus-TEA market share, from 38.7 percent.

Sony Music’s share jumped relatively sharply, to 29.5 percent, up from 28.5 percent, on the strength of Adele and 25.

Warner Music Group, which bills itself as the "independent major," grabbed an 18.7 percent market share.

Independent labels were 12.6 of the market.

(It's important to note that if market share is looked at by whole label ownership, as opposed to who owns those labels' distribution companies, than the indie sector collectively has the largest slice of the pie, accounting for 34.4 percent of the business.)

PHYSICAL

Despite Adele's record-breaking success physical albums continued their downward spiral, dropping to 137.5 million sales, from 150 million, or 8.3 percent.

That overall physical decline didn't affect the resurgence of vinyl however, which ballooned by 29.8 percent and moved 11.9 million slabs (9.2 million units in 2014). Including Adele, who dominated vinyl sales (in addition to almost everything else), 14 titles surpassed the 40,000 unit sales mark in vinyl for the year. Only three albums accomplished the same feat in 2014.

The only retail sector which saw growth was the non-traditional merchant -- such as online stores, concert halls and retailers like Urban Outfitters -- who accounted for 40.9 million scans, an increase of 6.2 percent. Independents saw a 5 percent decline in sales.

GENRE BREAKDOWN

Pop and R&B were the only categories that posted an increase in 2015. Pop grew a whopping 22.7 percent -- to nearly 34 million units from 2014’s 27.7 million units. R&B increased a modest 1.7 percent -- to 36.3 million units from 35.7 million units the prior year.

Latin, dance and country meanwhile experienced a  double-digit dropoffs. Country, still a huge seller, closed the year with 27 million units moved, down from 30.5 million units. Latin shed 1.35 million in sales, dropping to 4.95 million, a decline of 20.9 percent. Dance, anecdotally considered an extremely strong genre, saw an alarming dip 16.4 percent dip in sales, to 4.4 million units from 5.3 million units.

In track sales, all large genres were down but pop had the smallest decline at 6.4 percent to 218 million units down from 232.75 million units.