MCR/Nielsen’s year-end report for music in Canada has arrived. (There is a LOT of data here!)

MCR/Nielsen spends all its time looking at charts, sales, streams, and the music consumption habits of fans all over the world. The company has just released its year-end look at music in not just Canada but around the planet. And in the age of COVID, things were…interesting.

  • Total audio consumption was up 6.5%. With the pandemic, we had more time to listen to music.
  • On-demand audio streaming was up 16.1% in Canada, but that’s significantly less than the worldwide number of 22.6%. Japan, Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, Turkey, Spain, Brazil, and Germany saw the biggest adoption of streaming.
  • Total on-demand audio streams across the planet: 2.2 trillion.
  • Older music–known as “catalogue music,” which is generally defined as material more than two years old–took the lion’s share of music consumption in Canada with 62.3%, a 10% increase from last year.
  • Total album sales in Canada were down 33.8%
  • Physical album sales in Canada dropped by 42.7%. Only 3.8 million units–CDs, vinyl, even tapes–were sold across Canada for the entire year.
  • Vinyl may have been up in the US and Britain (where they hit record highs), but here in Canada, sales were down about 13%. No one has been able to explain the discrepancy to me.
  • Digital song sales dropped by 25.9% while digital album sales were down 18.5%.

Here are a few more highlights from the report:

  • The biggest song in the world in 2020 was “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Remove the American charts and the biggest song was “Hawái” by Maluma.
  • Overall, the biggest artists in the world were (1) The Weeknd, (2) Taylor Swift, (3) Justin Bieber, and (4) Harry Styles.
  • The biggest song in the world that did NOT chart in Canada was “Homura” by a Japanese artist named LISA. It’s the theme of an anime series.
  • Alternative/indie tied with house as the most popular genre for Millennials in Italy. Interesting.
  • Country and children’s music saw the biggest gains when it came to streaming.
  • The top-selling pop song in Canada was “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd.
  • “Blinding Lights” was also heard on Canadian radio more than any other in 2020 with 120,000 plays.
  • And the biggest album of the year was Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon by Pop Smoke. Although it sold only 4,000 physical copies, the streaming numbers (both audio and video) were so big that when you add it all up, no other album was this successful.
  • If you look at just sales, Taylor Swift’s Folklore came out on top with 62,000 copies. (In the old days, that would be a decent first-week debut).

What about rock in Canada in 2020? Glad you asked.

  • Rock was the third most-streamed genre in the country behind pop and R&B/Hip-Hop.
  • The top rock albums were: (1) Elton John’s Diamonds collection (94,000 equivalent units), (2) Tragically Hip, Yer Favourites (82,000), (3) Fleetwood Mac, Rumours (72,000), (4) Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack (70,000) and (5) CCR’s Chronicle: The 20 Greatest Hits (65,000).
  • AC/DC had the biggest-selling rock album with Power Up, moving 38,000 physical units. No other rock albums appeared in the top ten selling records.
  • The top rock songs in Canada in terms of sales and streams in 2020 were (1) “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac (thanks largely to that TikTok video), (2) Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” (3) Imagine Dragons, “Believer,” (4) Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and (5) Panic! at the Disco, “High Hopes.”
  • The top rock songs on the radio were: (1) JJ Wilde’s “The Rush” (26,000 spins), “High Hopes” from Panic! at the Disco (24,000), (3) Strumbellas’ “Salvation” (23,000), (4) Black Keys, “Shine a Little Light” (21,000), (5) Arkells, “Years in the Making” (20,000).

And because we love vinyl (right?), here’s the top ten best-selling vinyl albums in Canada last year.

  1. Soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy, Awesome Mix Vol.1, 8,000
  2. Billie Eilish, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, 7,000
  3. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Legend: The Best Of…, 6,000
  4. Harry Styles, Fine Line, 6,000
  5. Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, 5,000
  6. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, 5,000
  7. CCR, Chronicle: The 20 Greatest Hists, 4,000
  8. AC/DC, Power Up, 4,000
  9. ABBA, Abba Gold, 4,000
  10. Beatles, Abbey Road, 4,000

Finally, what was Canada’s favourite genre in 2020? This ranking was determined by adding up total album sales, physical sales, sales of digital albums and tracks, on-demand audio streams, and on-demand video streams.

  1. Pop, 31.5% of volume of reach
  2. Hip-hop/R&B, 12,8%
  3. Alt-rock, 7.4%
  4. Country, 7.0%
  5. Electronic/Dance, 3.7%
  6. Hard Rock, 2.0%
  7. Latin, 1.2%
  8. Classical, 1.0%
  9. Jazz, 0.8%
  10. Children’s, 0.6%
  11. Christian, 0.5%

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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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