Streaming music and Adele kept US record biz afloat in 2015

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Streaming music and Adele were the two bright spots of the U.S. recorded music industry last year. Streams from on-demand services like Spotify, YouTube, and Apple Music doubled from 164.5 billion in 2014 to 317.2 billion in 2015 according to Nielsen Music’s annual year-end report (via Billboard). And Adele, who broke too many records to count with her massively popular LP called 25, was a huge enough force that she single-handedly accounted for 3 percent of album sales in the U.S.

While streaming music continued to grow, digital and physical sales continued to fall. Digital track sales suffered the biggest drop (12.5 percent) but physical album sales (8.3 percent), and digital album sales (2.9 percent), also continued their descent. All of these music formats would’ve seen an even bigger fall if it wasn’t for Adele.

Adele’s 25, the English artist’s third record released November 20, sold a massive 8 million equivalent albums (including traditional album sales, “track equivalent albums,” and “streaming equivalent albums”). In comparison, the following three most-sold records (Taylor Swift’s 1989, Justin Bieber’s Purpose, and Ed Sheeran’s X) sold roughly 7.5 million equivalent albums combined. Adele notably decided against making her record available on streaming services.

Other interesting facts from the report include Mark Ronson Mark Ronson (featuring Bruno Mars)’ Uptown Funk being crowned the most sold song of the year (tallying 5.53 million records) and a continued vinyl resurgence. Sales of vinyl records hit 11.9 million records (up 29.8 percent), and Adele sold the most records in that format too.

Notably, Nielsen Music tracks album sales but does not track revenue from those sales. We’ll find out more information on how the U.S. music industry fared this past year when the Recording Industry Association (RIAA) releases its annual report in early spring.

In the meantime, though, one refrain continues to haunt the music industry stateside: If it doesn’t figure out how to better monetize streaming music, it’s going to be in some serious trouble.


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