This highly anticipated report provides comprehensive coverage of the year in music from the coveted Nielsen Music Year-End charts, presented by Billboard, to insights on the most important industry trends from sales and streaming to social media and overall consumer engagement across today’s most popular platforms.
The Nielsen Music U.S. Year-End Report confirms that the music industry experienced steady and consistent growth in 2016, with overall volume up 3% over 2015, fueled by a 76% increase in on-demand audio streams compared to last year. On-demand audio streams surpassed 250B streams in 2016, and overall on-demand streams (including video) have reached 431B. The industry did experience sales decreases in nearly all formats, particularly digital sales. However, the growth in streaming was more than enough to off-set the declines, which resulted in a positive year for the music business.
“The music industry continues to grow at a healthy rate, and 2016 showed us that the landscape is evolving even more quickly than we have seen with other format shifts,” said David Bakula, SVP of Music Industry Insights. “Thanks to the rapid emergence of new technologies and channels for discovery and engagement, consumers are finding and listening to more music in new ways.”
Drake’s Views release was the leader in total volume (albums + track equivalent albums + audio on- demand streaming equivalent albums) this year, followed by Adele’s 25 and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. For the second year in a row, Adele’s 25 led the year’s album sales in the U.S., marking only the second time in history that the same album has been the top seller in two consecutive calendar years (the first being Adele’s 21 album in 2011 & 2012). Vinyl LP sales, which have reached an all-time Nielsen Music-era high volume of 13M units, increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2016. The top vinyl LP of the year was Twenty One Pilots’ Blurryface, with David Bowie’s Blackstar and Adele’s 25 finishing close behind.
The biggest song of the year in terms of total activity (sales + audio streaming equivalents) was Drake’s “One Dance,” followed by “Closer” by Chainsmokers (feat. Halsey) and “Work” by Rihanna (feat. Drake). Topping the Digital Songs Sales charts this year were “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake, “Closer” by The Chainsmokers (feat. Halsey) and “My House” by Flo Rida.
Other notable insights and trends from the 2016 Nielsen Music U.S. Year-End Report, include:
- On-demand audio streaming has now grown to 38% of total audio consumption (albums + track equivalents + on-demand audio streaming equivalents) to become the largest share of consumption.
- The on-demand audio streaming share has now surpassed total digital sales (digital albums + digital track equivalents) for the first time in history.
- Rock continues to be the dominant genre in terms of album sales (both physical and digital), but the streaming landscape is led by R&B/Hip-Hop, which garners the highest share of on-demand audio streams with heavily streamed artists like Drake, The Weeknd, Kanye West, Rihanna and J. Cole.
- Digital continues to be the dominant sales platform, but digital sales are declining much more rapidly than physical sales as tech-savvy consumers move onto streaming platforms.
- For the first time in over a decade, physical albums actually became a larger share of total album sales than they were in the prior year.
- Vinyl LP sales grew to over 11% of total physical album sales in 2016. This marks 11 years of year-over-year increases for vinyl LPs, reaching a record sales level in the Nielsen Music era (since 1991) with over 13 million sales this year.
- For the first time in history, the internet/mail-order/venue store group, led by Internet retailers and concert ticket bundles, has become the largest share of physical sales, ending a nine-year period where mass merchant outlets were the leading driver of physical album sales.
- This was an extremely successful year for Drake, who had the most overall volume; the most digital song sales; the most streams (by a huge margin); and the most heavily consumed album of the year with Views. In its debut week, Views became the only album to surpass 1M in weekly total volume (albums + track equivalents + on-demand streaming equivalents), and set an all- time record for most streams from an album with over 245M.
- In 2016, there were 12 occurrences where an album’s songs had over 100M audio streams in a week. This was led by Drake’s Views, which accomplished that feat an amazing 8x, but also included J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only (with the second highest debut week stream volume in history) , The Weeknd’s Starboy (2x) and Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
- Only six albums debuted with over 200K in album sales in their first week in 2016 (there were 13 such cases in 2015), led by Drake with 852K first week sales for Views. Other albums to surpass the 200K mark in their first week include Beyoncé’s Lemonade (485K), J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only (363K), Metallica’s Hardwired…To Self Destruct (282K), Frank Ocean’s Blonde (232K) and The Weeknd’s Starboy (209K).
- Chance the Rapper’s album Coloring Book became the first to surpass 500K with only streaming album equivalents. Since its debut in May, the album has stayed on the Billboard 200 chart for 33 consecutive weeks, peaking at #8. The album is the 58th highest volume album of the year without the benefit of a single sale, which is truly an historic accomplishment.
- While song sales showed steep declines (-25%) vs. last year, song consumption (sales + audio streaming equivalents at a rate of 150 streams to 1 song sale) continues to be strong with growing contribution from audio streams. In 2016, 15 songs eclipsed the 3M volume mark (song sales + audio streaming equivalents), despite only 5 songs reaching over 2M in sales. The song with the most volume for the year was Drake’s “One Dance,” which had over 5.5M song sales + audio streaming equivalents and 64% of that volume came from audio streams. In fact, the top 5 songs of the year all had a greater share of volume coming from streaming than from sales.
- For the second straight year, Adele’s 25 tops the Album Sales chart. 25 becomes only the second album in Nielsen Music history to lead the Album Sales chart in two consecutive calendar years. The first album to accomplish that feat was Adele’s 21 album in 2011 & 2012.
- Despite the fact that Adele’s 25 was the best-selling album of the year, Adele was only the second best-selling album artist of the year. The best-selling artist in terms of album sales was Prince, who passed away suddenly in April. Prince’s albums sold over 2.2M units in 2016 and he was the only artist to sell over 1M digital and physical albums this year. Prince also sold 5.4M digital songs, giving him the highest sales volume of the year (albums + track equivalents), just out-selling Drake and Adele. The day after his death was announced, Prince sold over 1M digital songs and over 200K digital albums. Prince’s catalog was very tightly controlled on streaming platforms and the gains that were seen after his passing were far more evident in the sales numbers than what we saw from some other comparable artists that passed this year.
- Social media continued to drive song sales, particularly in cases where a viral visual component became a driver for the song. Rea Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” was on its way to being a hit when it became the unofficial soundtrack of The Mannequin Challenge. A-list celebrities, sports stars and political figures took part in the challenge, which helped the song to receive the 28th highest volume (sales + audio stream equivalents) this year.
- The number of titles reaching milestones in 2016 exemplified the industry as a whole.
- Streaming milestones were hit with record numbers. There were 27 songs that surpassed 200M on-demand audio streams, while in 2015 only two songs hit that mark. Also, 12 songs surpassed 200M on-demand video streams for the year vs. only seven last year. In 2015, only three songs surpassed 500M total on-demand audio streams, led by Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” with 617M. In 2016, six songs surpassed 500M, with two (Desiigner’s “Panda” and Rihanna’s “Work”) surpassing 700M.