The story about hip hop’s market share passing that of rock (in the US, anyway) has been circulating on the interwebs for the last couple of days. To hip hop fans, these sales/consumption figures just confirm something that they’ve known for years. Rock fans are either confused or in denial. But hey, the numbers don’t lie.
I’m interested in the “why” of this cultural sea change. Here are some thoughts.
- Hip hop has been on the ascendant for a couple of decades, so anyone who chose to extrapolate its popularity vectors could have predicted this long ago.
- Record labels–especially the majors–are focusing most of their attention on servicing and catering to hip hop and rap audiences. By comparison, the promotion of anything with a guitar has fallen drastically. We’re seeing the results with the public.
- I’d like to see the ratio of hip hop/rap/R&B radio stations to rock stations in the US. More exposure inevitably means more popularity.
- Hip hop (with help from R&B) is constantly generating new major stars. Rock has lagged behind with superstar creation for most of this century.
- The hip hop industry is filled with great marketers. Say what you want about Kanye, Jay Z, Diddy, Drake, Beyonce and so on, but they do a fantastic job of keeping their names and their music in the news.
- There’s a certain consumerist aspect to hip hop that might appeal to a wider range of people. While rock fights labels of “selling out,” hip hop has always had an element of “cashing in,” something that fans understand and appreciate.
- Hip hop and R&B are voraciously consumed through streaming. So far, rock fans lag far, far behind in adopting streaming. Like I said in a couple of interviews yesterday, it’s extremely rare to find even ONE rock song among the top 200 streaming songs in any given week. (Why are rock fans not streaming music in the same numbers as fans of other genres? That’s a great question and will be the subject of a separate post.)
Ah, streaming. This might be the biggest clue to what’s happening. This is from Quartz.
In the 1990s, CD sales still dominated. Digital-music streaming has now outstripped physical album sales and iTunes downloads as the primary way people listen to songs; with this new order comes both a new audience and a revamp of music charts.
Streaming’s audience is young, and young people identify more with the innovations in rap culture than the somewhat stagnant, parents-generation genre of rock, which hasn’t put out much many new icons in the last few decades. Some rappers are also notoriously prolific and business-savvy, and their off-beat marketing tactics are winning listeners over.
Chin up, American rock fans. Your music is still number one when it comes sales of actual CDs and vinyl with a market share of 40%. That’s nice, but since streaming is the future…