Streaming music in Canada increased 20% pre-COVID, Nielsen study shows

Remember when people couldn’t stop talking about Shakira and JLo’s performance at the Super Bowl? Or when Eminem showed up, unannounced, at the Oscars to perform “Lose Yourself” for no apparent reason? 

The “before times” indicated the music industry in North America was setting up for a strong, colourful year with new talents like Billie Eilish getting ready to command even more attention from adoring fans. 

Then March came along and wiped out the entire year’s calendar for concerts, hitting pause on just about everything thanks to COVID-19. Will the Rolling Stones return for what might be their final tour, or will they sit back and enjoy retirement out of concern for the pandemic? Will concerts ever be again what we’ve grown to expect? Can the much-hoped-for COVID vaccine really make it safe for us to go outside again without masks and social distancing? Who knows. 

What we do know is that, for the first few months of 2020, things were looking good. 

A new Nielsen Music/MRC Data  mid-year report for Canada shows that by March, audio streaming was up 20.9% from the same time in 2019, with overall music consumption up 10.8% compared with the previous year. 

Music remains a constant source of entertainment and normalcy during the pandemic: Some 73% of people now say it’s music that’s helping them stay sane while the rest of the world becomes a topsy-turvy mess of uncertainty. (On a good day.)

Among the highlights of the report: 

  • On-demand audio streaming was up 21.3% through March 12 (aka the day everything started to stop), compared with the same time last year, and increased another 14% from March 13 through July 2 compared with last year. 
  • Album sales aren’t doing so hot: from March of 2019 to March of 2020, sales decreased by 27.1%, with physical album sales dropping 26.2% and digital album sales falling 28.4%. 
  • People treated music like comfort food. A whopping 87% of listeners stayed with songs and artists they already liked or were familiar with, while 55% of people went back to music they hadn’t listened to in a while. 
  • Events geared toward lifting the spirits of Canadians drew lots of attention, even if it wasn’t measurable in ratings. In particular, the April 26 broadcast of Stronger Together; Tous Ensemble concert raised millions for Food Banks Canada’s COVID-19 relief efforts, and people across the country virtually joined Paul Langlois of The Tragically Hip to sing “Bobcaygeon” in solidarity with the Pinecrest Nursing Home, hard hit by the virus, on April 4. 
  • COVID-19 isn’t the only thing prompting big societal changes: the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police officers prompted protests around the world as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. With that came a surge of streams in songs with social justice and racial unrest at their hearts: Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” saw a 278.6% increase in streams, while Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up” saw a 136.6% increase and Killer Mike’s “Don’t Die” absolutely exploded with a 10,192.7% increase in streams. Only “Hang On In There,” by John Legend & The Roots, saw a bigger increase, with 13,422.7%. 
  • Among the brightest stars in Canadian music, The Weeknd topped the Billboard Canadian Albums charts for six weeks with his new album, After Hours, while Drake had his 10th No. 1 with Dark Lane Demo Tapes. JJ Wild became the first Canadian since 2016 to top both the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock airplay charts with “The Rush,” and Tyler Joe Miller hit No. 1 on the country chart with “Pillow Talkin’,” the third Canadian to hit that mark with their first charted song in the Nielsen Music/MRC Data era. 
  • The top five Canadian artists, based on album, total equivalent album and on demand stream equivalent albums, between January 3 and July 2 include The Weekend (236,000); Drake (230,000); Justin Bieber (164,000); Tory Lanez (77,000), and the Tragically Hip (54,000). 
  • The top 10 Canadian artists by airplay alone: The Weekend (140,000 spins); Alessia Cara (77,000); Shawn Mendes (67,000); Virginia to Vegas (64,000); Justin Bieber (64,000); Dallas Smith (63,000); Drake (61,000); Chad Brownlee (42,000); Brett Kissel (42,000) and JP Saxe (39,000). 

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.