What Happened in Latin Music In 2016? Consumption Up, Market Divided

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Juan Gabriel Performs at The Forum at The Forum on Aug. 26, 2016 in Inglewood, Calif.

Latin album sales are down (as with everyone else) and Latin digital song sales are down (as with everyone else) in 2016. But buoyed by strong streaming numbers, overall consumption of Latin music in the U.S. (in equivalent album units, which combine traditional albums sales, streaming equivalent units and track equivalent units), grew by 13.6% in 2016, from 25.6 million in 2015 to 29 million, according to Nielsen Music. 

That means Latin saw the third-biggest increase in music consumption year-over-year, after R&B/hip-hop and holiday music, among the major genres tracked by Nielsen. 

It’s a bright spot for a Latin music market that has been in major flux over the past five years, but which seems to be finally turning around. 

2016 was a year of new artist signings (new teen group CNCO had the No. 12 top-selling Latin album of the year), of growing awareness of Latin in the mainstream marketplace and of exciting music, from Cubatón to Colombia’s soulful reggaetón, that had an impact beyond Latin consumers. 

What’s happened in the past 12 months bodes well for a genre whose lingua franca -- Spanish --allows it to flow freely across many countries. If streaming is a saving grace for music, Latin has an edge by virtue of its mobile-friendly fan base which increasingly has access to smartphones.

Here in the U.S., streaming should continue to go up as well, as more and more acculturated Latins start tapping into their phones and into the music; in terms of sheer percentages, for example, overall consumption among all genres is up 3.1% compared to Latin’s 13.6%.

Overall on-demand Latin streams (combining on-demand audio and video) were up 28 percent (to 35.9 billion), although both Latin album sales and Latin digital song sales were down (falling 26 percent to 3.7 million, and 26 percent to 13.7 million, respectively).

A deeper dive into the Latin charts, however, show some quirks. The deep divisions in the U.S. Latin marketplace have always been vexing for labels and promoters: There’s a West Coast market, an East Coast market, a Miami market and a Puerto Rico market, each with its own distinct and defined tastes. 

Now, Nielsen's year-end tally of the top-selling Latin albums and Latin songs of the year shows not a division, but a chasm, where what’s happening with traditional physical album sales is completely different from what’s moving the singles and the streaming markets. 

An analysis of Nielsen Music’s top 10 top-selling Latin albums of 2016 gives us a list dominated by Mexican artists overall (the late Juan Gabriel has a stunning four out of the top five selling albums of the year) and regional Mexican artists in particular.

TOP 10 SELLING LATIN ALBUMS OF 2016 IN U.S. 
Rank, Artist, Title — Sales
1. Juan Gabriel, Mis Numero 1...40 Aniversario — 97,000
2. Juan Gabriel, Los Duo 2 — 78,000
3. Juan Gabriel, Los Duo — 75,000
4. Los Plebes del Rancho de Ariel Camacho, Recuerden Mi Estilo — 35,000
5. Juan Gabriel, Vestido de Etiqueta: Por Eduardo Magallanes — 33,000 
6. Band Sinaloense MS de Sergio Lizarraga, Que Bendicion — 30,000 
7. Selena, Ones — 25,000
8. Various Artists, Las Bandas Romanticas de America 2016 — 23,000
9. Selena, Amor Prohibido — 23,000
10. J Balvin, Energia — 22,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Jan. 1 through Dec. 29, 2016.

​In stark contrast, the top 10 selling digital songs list is completely dominated by urban and up-tempo tracks, with Nicky Jam’s “Hasta el Amanecer” (all versions of the song, including the one with Daddy Yankee, are merged together for sales tracking purposes) leading by a wide margin. To find the first regional Mexican song, you have to scroll all the way down to No. 18: “Solo Con Verte” by Banda Sinaloense MS de Sergio Lizárraga (Banda MS, for short) with 49,000 sold. 

TOP 10 SELLING LATIN DIGITAL SONGS OF 2016 IN U.S.
Rank, Artist, Title — Sales
1. Nicky Jam featuring Daddy Yankee, "Hasta El Amanecer" — 202,000
2. Enrique Iglesias featuring Wisin, "Duele El Corazon" — 159,000
3. Nicky Jam & Enrique Iglesias, "El Perdon" — 139,000
4. Pitbull featuring Sensato, Lil Jon & Osmani Garcia, "El Taxi" — 139,000
5. Enrique Iglesias featuring Descemer Bueno & Gente de Zona, "Bailando" — 133,000
6. Carlos Vives & Shakira, "La Bicicleta" — 110,000
7. Don Omar & Lucenzo, "Danza Kuduro" — 107,000
8. J Balvin, "Ginza" — 96,000
9. Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean, "Hips Don't Lie" — 95,000
10. Deorro featuring Pitbull & Elvis Crespo, "Bailar" — 80,000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Jan. 1 through Dec. 29, 2016.

Likewise, there is only one non-Mexican title, J Balvin’s "Energía," among the 10 top-selling albums of the year. 

If we delve further, looking at the 10 most streamed Latin songs of the year in the U.S. (combining both on-demand audio and video streams), “Hasta el Amanecer” again tops the chart and urban songs dominate; there are only two regional Mexican titles among the top 10. 

TOP 10 MOST STREAMED LATIN SONGS OF 2016, ON-DEMAND AUDIO & VIDEO COMBINED
Rank, Artist, Title — Streams
1. Nicky Jam featuring Daddy Yankee, "Hasta El Amanecer" — 121.3 million
2. Enrique Iglesias featuring Descemer Bueno & Gente de Zona, "Bailando" — 104.7 million
3. Nicky Jam & Enrique Iglesias, "El Perdon" — 100 million
4. Romeo Santos, "Propuesta Indecente" — 81.3 million
5. J Balvin, "Ginza" — 78.2 million
6. Enrique Iglesias featuring Wisin, "Duele El Corazon" — 77 million
7. Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean, "Hips Don't Lie" — 75.6 million
8. Ariel Camacho y Los Plebes del Rancho, "Te Metiste" — 74.8 million
9. Banda Sinaloense MS de Sergio Lizarraga, "Solo Con Verte" — 72.5 million
10. Don Omar & Lucenzo, "Danza Kuduro" — 68.7 million
​Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Jan. 1 through Dec. 29, 2016.

All of this may sound par for the course; regional Mexican music has long dominated U.S. Latin music album sales, and naturally, urban music and big radio hits are expected to dominate single sales and streaming.

But the fact that there is so little confluence between the two charts is deeply troubling and highlights a major disconnect: Why aren’t singles consumers buying their artists’ albums? Why aren’t album sales moving streams? Legacy acts who are achieving sales should be concerned about this. 

By the same token, even if we took into consideration equivalent album units, it wouldn’t significantly alter the makeup of the top selling albums chart, which should also raise alarms. Yes, it’s a singles market out there, but single sales and streams are far from compensating lost album sales. Only two artists, J Balvin and Banda MS, were able to bridge the divide between full album sales, song sales and streams. The third artist to do so, Ariel Camacho, is dead. 

Part of the problem is that few major Latin acts released albums in 2016. Enrique Iglesias, Marc Anthony, Maluma and Shakira did not, while Nicky Jam, by far the top-selling digital act, will release his first album in a decade this month, initially in digital-only format. If that does well, it could inform future releases for 2017, a year in which Shakira, Romeo Santos, Jennifer Lopez and Juanes, all artists with big online and social presence, are releasing new studio sets. 

In the meantime, the albums chart is a stark reminder, particularly for those new to Latin music, that regional Mexican music continues to provide the foundation for this marketplace. Figuring out how to massively impact the market when it comes to streams and digital sales is imperative.