Mid-year streaming/sales report shows that rock is far from dead.

With so many people worldwide having to deal with stay-at-home and lockdown orders because of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that we’ve been spending more time streaming music to pass the time.

MRC Data has just published a report on how we consumed music over the first half of 2021. More than 1.3 trillion tracks were streamed, which is up 27.5% from the same period in 2020.

Here’s a wild stat from the US: Physical sales were up 37.5% to 38.3 million units with vinyl sales doubling year-over-year. Vinyl accounted for 19.2 million units, which is half–HALF!–of all physical sales in the US. Who saw that coming?

It’s a slightly different story in Canada where CDs still rule although vinyl sales are still steadily ticking upwards by about 53%(!!!) so far this year to 476,000 units. Given that we’re expecting some big releases later in the year, vinyl sales should easily break through the one million mark. That’ll be around a third of what CDs will sell.

Meanwhile, paid digital downloads (albums and singles) are in dire straits. Digital album sales are down by 24.2% while digital track sales have dropped by -26.8%.

Back to streaming for a second. We’re always being told that streaming is dominated by young music fans who are all about current rap, hip-hop, pop, and R&B tracks. And while it’s true those genres dominate the Top 200 streaming charts, this doesn’t tell the whole story.

Canada

  • According this report, more than 65% of all streams in Canada are of “catalogue” songs, which means they’re more than 18 months old. Current music (stuff less than 18 months old) accounts for just 35.4% of all streaming. That’s down from 37.8% from the first half of 2020. In other words, people are listening to more older music and less current material. That may change with releases coming from Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Adele, Rihanna, and Drake later this year. Or maybe not.
  • If you look at total volume–that means all albums, all track equivalent albums, and on-demand audio and videa streaming–Pop leads in Canada with 32.2% followed by R&B/hip-hop with 13.%. However, unlike the US report that lumps all rock into one category, the Canadian data is broken down into alt-rock (7.4%) and hard rock (1.8%). That gives rock a 9.1% share, good for third spot, about two points ahead of country.
  • Rock in Canada accounts for 32.6% of all album sales, which makes it number one in that category.
  • The biggest rock album so far this year? Machine Gun Kelly’s Tickets to My Downfall (which was released last year). The other major rock albums include Elton John’s Diamonds, Yer Favourites from The Tragically Hip, and Rumours from Fleetwood Mac.
  • The top vinyl seller so far this year? Saskadelphia from The Tragically Hip, which has moved at least 4,000 units.

The US

  • R&B/hip-hop are still the most popular genres in the US (they’re grouped together for this report), accounting for 30.7%.
  • However, rock is a solid second in the US with a 16.5% share, more than three points ahead of pop. You get the feeling that most of that is due to people listening to older rock songs as fans slowly adopt streaming habits.

Tell me again how rock is dead? Read more here.

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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