The Coming Streaming-Induced Change in Music

Streaming is changing the way we all audition, acquire and consume music. tries to quantify these changes.

Over the past couple years we’ve published two massive articles about the current state and impending trends of music consumption—my deep dive on the tough realities of streaming platforms and Nick’s bullshit-free synopsisof Nielsen’s 2016 music industry report. While both of these pieces had minimal references to metal, the research and analysis we presented outlines some staggering changes to the entirety of music, changes that continue to expand and show no sign of slowing. And though it’s been just over a year since I channeled my B.A. thesis on streaming for my deep dive, Billboard published a story that compelled me to revisit the topic and write down my thoughts as soon as possible. The facts of the story are relatively simple—because Billboard now incorporates track streams into the sales figures they consider, The Weeknd‘s Starboy remained at #1 on the Top 200 for this week because it technically “sold” more albums than The XX‘s I See You, landing the British indie pop trio at #2 on the list despite selling more actual albums. If you don’t see why this fact is reason for at least some concern, then please head past the jump to consider the following question – are streams and purchases comparable?

How many more “albums” did The Weeknd “sell”?

While my liberal use of quotes may seem petty, Billboard’s self-proclaimed metrics and means of measurement should welcome some skepticism, or at least curiosity. For starters, let’s get the actual album sales out of the way – in terms of “traditional album sales,” I See You put up better figures than Starboy, with respective numbers of 36,000 and 13,000. Now, there are a few points to consider before simply accepting this nearly 3-to-1 sales margin. To be fair to The Weeknd, Starboy was released on November 25 of last year, meaning it’s had nine weeks for its sales to dip while I See You had a boost from its release day bump. Of course, it’s also worth noting that The XX is considerably less popular than The Weeknd, and it isn’t particularly uncommon for a pop album to continue selling a high-volume of units well after its release day.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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