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Inside Country Music’s Very Real Sales Dip in 2015

Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt and Little Big Town top the list as Universal Music Group leads 2015 country track and album sales

As the recorded-music business continues its transition from an ownership economy to a digital streaming model, sales of country albums and songs continued to drop in 2015. But ?Universal Music Group Nashville could find a silver lining in that gloomy environment, since the company had the three best-selling albums in the genre during the year, plus the five best-selling songs.

Luke Bryan, Little Big Town and Sam Hunt were the dominant faces in that scenario, with Bryan’s Kill the Lights selling 851,000 units to rank at No. 1 on the country album list, according to Nielsen Music. Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” occupied the top of the songs chart with 1.925 million sales. Hunt meanwhile nabbed the No. 2 album slot with Montevallo (757,000 units sold) and had two of the top five digital songs: “Take Your Time” (No. 2 with 1.759 million units sold) and “House Party” (No. 5; 957,000).

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The dip in sales volume was significant for country. The genre moved 24.9 million albums during the 52 weeks ending Dec. 31, 2015, which represented a 12 percent decline from 2014’s 33.3 million sales. Country also claimed 113.9 million song downloads, a 16 percent drop from 135.6 million sales in 2014.

Although the industry as a whole moved 241.4 million album copies, it slipped 6.1 percent in sales. Digital song volume was also down by 12.5 percent to 964.8 million downloads.

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The bright spot is the bump in on-demand music streaming. Some 317.2 billion audio tracks and music videos were accessed across all genres during the period, nearly double the number from 2014.

And the good news for country is that the streaming portion of the genre’s business is likely to rise in the future. Historically, the audience — which includes a large number of adults whose lifestyles focus on work and family — is slower to adapt to new technologies than other popular music forms with younger audiences, who have more free time to explore trends on the front end.

Country’s market share in sales exceeded 11 percent for both albums and tracks, but it accounted for only 4.1 percent of streams. Three other idioms — pop, R&B/hip-hop and rock — all reached double-digit shares in album sales, song downloads and streams. Country’s streaming share was less than one-third of pop music’s 14.5 percent share. It seems likely that, based on the audience’s earlier behaviors, its adaptation of streaming will increase to a level more in line with those other genres.

Top 10 album and song sales for 2015 and 2014 follow:

Top-Selling Country Albums, 2015

1) Luke Bryan, Kill the Lights     851,000
2) Sam Hunt, Montevallo     757,000
3) Chris Stapleton, Traveler     685,000
4) Zac Brown Band, Jekyll + Hyde 601,000
5) Carrie Underwood, Storyteller    465,000
6) Eric Church,The Outsiders     340,000
7) Jason Aldean, Old Boots, New Dirt   339,000
8) Florida Georgia Line, Anything Goes 311,000
9) Little Big Town, Pain Killer     308,000
10) Luke Bryan, Spring Break… Checkin’ Out 280,000

Top-Selling Country Albums, 2014

1) Eric Church, The Outsiders     811,000
2) Luke Bryan, Crash My Party     800,000
3) Jason Aldean, Old Boots, New Dirt   752,000
4) Brantley Gilbert, Just As I Am    707,000
5) Florida Georgia Line,Here’s to the Good Times      607,000
6)  Miranda Lambert, Platinum     601,000
7) Garth Brooks, Man Against Machine 518,000
8) Florida Georgia Line, Anything Goes 502,000
9) Blake Shelton, Based On a True Story…  330,000
10) Kenny Chesney, The Big Revival 317,000

Top-Selling Country Digital Songs, 2015

1) Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”     1,925,000
2) Sam Hunt, “Take Your Time”     1,759,000
3) Luke Bryan, “Kick the Dust Up”  1,066,000
4) Eric Church, “Like a Wrecking Ball”   1,010,000
5) Sam Hunt, “House Party”        957,000
6) Chris Janson, “Buy Me a Boat”  872,000
7) Thomas Rhett, “Crash and Burn”      861,000
8) Zac Brown Band, “Homegrown” 856,000
9) Cam,“Burning House”     840,000
10) Thomas Rhett, “Die a Happy Man”     823,000

Top-Selling Country Digital Songs, 2014

1) Florida Georgia Line feat. Luke Bryan, “This Is How We Roll”   2,067,000
2) Luke Bryan, “Play It Again”     1,759,000
3) Brantley Gilbert, “Bottoms Up”   1,483,000
4) Jason Aldean, “Burnin’ It Down” 1,364,000
5) Florida Georgia Line, “Dirt”     1,225,000
6) Jake Owen,“Beachin’ ”     1,163,000
7) Dierks Bentley, “Drunk on a Plane”    1,157,000
8) Lee Brice, “I Don’t Dance”     1,149,000
9) Kenny Chesney, “American Kids”      1,144,000
10) Lady Antebellum, “Bartender”    1,081,000

This article first appeared in Billboard’s Country Update — sign up here.