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The Music Business Is Not Dying

We read so much doom and gloom about the music business every day that it’s easy to think that pretty soon the whole thing will come crashing down. Cheer up. It’s not as bad as you think.

As all the various research and trade organizations begin releasing their 2011 sales figures, a number of them have jumped out to perfectly define the state of the music industry today. Check this out:

  • US album sales were up 1.3% last year, the first year since 2005 that’s happened. 66% of these sales were CDs.
  • There were 249 million albums sold in the US last year. People will tell you that the music industry is dying, but 249 million of anything is still a huge number.
  • 75% of all CD sales were made offline. That means that people physically purchased the CD at a brick and mortar store or an event.
  • 40% of all CD buyers are over the age of 45, which means that the demo that mostly grew up with CDs are the ones still buying them. But it also means that 60% of all buyers were under 45 too.
  • Vinyl sales increased 37 percent in 2011, but only accounted for 1.2 percent of all physical sales. That doesn’t mean that people who buy vinyl actually listen to it though. Just like the old days, many still buy it for the cover, the artwork, the liner notes, and the trendiness (which is new).
  • Rock is the most popular genre of music, with 32 percent album share, while pop music represents 40 percent of all current digital tracks sold. Ninety-three of the 100 best selling vinyl albums in 2011 fall within the Rock or Alternative genres. I guess that means that the hip-hop and rap trend has run it’s course.
  • People who live in New York or LA buy more country records than those who live in Nashville by almost 2 to 1. Having just come from a speaking tour in Nashville, I can tell you first-hand that it’s a very cosmopolitan music town, with country no longer the major part of the industry as it once was. That said, country music represents 13% of the total album sales.
  • Digital country music sales are up 31% over last year. While it might have been true at one time that country music lovers were slow to get into digital music, that’s obviously no longer the case.
  • Acts that perform at halftime during the Superbowl get an average sales bump of 555%. Critics may pan them and you might hate them, but you still buy them.

All these numbers (which mostly come from Nielsen Soundscan and the IFPI) show that the music business is still huge, is still extremely diverse, and is still as quirky as ever. It is changing, morphing, shifting, and evolving, but it is definitely not dying.


Bobby Owsinski is the author of 16 books about music, the music business and recording. His Big Picture production blog and Music 3.0 blog are two of the most frequently viewed blogs in the industry.

Reader Comments (14)

"I guess that means that the hip-hop and rap trend has run it’s course." Did you read what you wrote? n/m

January 20 | Unregistered CommenteriAreConscious

yes digital sales might be up.. but do you want to post the digital figures as a pose to physical?? do you also want to post that you need over 4million plays on spotify to earn 1000dollars which is impossible.. hence why coldplay and adele aren't on there.. do you want to post how much writers earn from you tube...

January 20 | Unregistered Commenterlady v

super-encouraging. thanks for the article!

January 20 | Unregistered CommenterReal

Something to consider: 90% of all album sales came from 2% of the releases...

Just sayin.

January 20 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

If what the author meant was the trend of people buying lots of vinyl records (and labels bothering to press them), I am sad to say that seems accurate. New hip-hop vinyl is pretty much a thing of the past.

January 20 | Unregistered CommenterWill

"I guess that means that the hip-hop and rap trend has run it’s course."
That's where I stopped reading. You sound bitter.

January 21 | Unregistered CommenterShan

Another thing to consider when attempting to align artists, numbers and genres:

Many times we're seeing artists that came from one genre or another, are crossing genre lines to make hits.

Cases in Point:

BOB and Rivers Cuomo. A Rock Musician and a Hip Hop MC make a POP track.

Snoop Dogg joins Kary Perry for "california girls"

Pitbull is a rapper, but the style of music is easily classified as dance/pop

Flo Rida: Dance Pop Via David Guetta

The list goes on. Genre roles and how they equate to classification and sales are an antiquated concept right now. Probably time to consider that...

January 21 | Unregistered Commentergaetano

I agree with Shan. The writer of this article definitely seems to have some sort of resentment towards Hip Hop as a genre of music. Current pop music has adopted many of the elements that make up hip hop and also many "traditionally" hip hop producers actually produce the Pop music that is charting today.

January 21 | Unregistered Commenterslash

"I guess that means that the hip-hop and rap trend has run it’s course."

-- What the what?? What ever made you say that?

January 22 | Unregistered CommenterJonah Luke

I guess the author missed Lil Wayne, Kanye, Jay Z, Nicki Minaj, J cole, Yeezy, Rick Ross, Wale,Big Sean and Drake in the past year....or soundscan missed them.

January 22 | Unregistered Commenteryup

This information is promising given the dismal news on the music industry.

"I guess that means that the hip-hop and rap trend has run it's course."

I think that would actually be a good thing. I have argued the commercial acceptance of hip-hop and rap really killed a great genre of music. It has become too gimmicky and watered down. I say let the money run out of hip-hop and let the art return.

January 22 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

I believe that things are fairly bouyant, year on year my small audio related business has been growing. I am never going to get financially rich from it but I am very optimistic about the years to come. Music is vitally important to people in so many ways.

January 23 | Unregistered CommenterWhat is mastering

People are most keen to buy the physical product immediately after hearing some of the songs performed live. Which only makes sense really...The big labels have a larger and deeper pool of listeners so it makes sense they move lots more of their products. Some of us indies can't even afford to buy stock... it's digital or nada... but people like me just keep going because we're musicians... it's what we are, not what we do.

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterRhondasSongs

No, I'm not buying it. Maybe the word dying is the problem. The music industry may not be dying, but maybe it's more what people want from the music industry is changing. People are going to want a CD as a physical thing, for example something they could get signed or keep as a memento of a specific artist or event. They want to make sure they have a keepable copy, not something they just listen to or watch a few times on YouTube. There's disposable music that fades fast as people get tired and lose interest, and then there's iconic music where the music is associated with a place or time or a certain feeling. I think people will always listen to disposable downloadable music but that iconic music will always be dependent on the storage format; as long as there's something worth storing and something collectable for people to store it on, the music industry--at least in the way the article conceives of it-- won't die.

January 24 | Unregistered CommenterWendy

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