How Well Your Genre Sells on Streaming, Downloading, and Physical…

Here’s another critical thing to consider when strategizing your release: genre.  Because genre audiences are oftentimes wildly different when it comes to how they listen to music, all of which can have giant ramifications on how they pay for music (or, don’t pay for music).

Here’s a breakdown of what percentage of revenues each genre generates from different platforms: streaming, downloading, and physical (CDs and vinyl).  The data comes from Nielsen Music, measured across 2015.

I: Genres That Perform Best on Streaming

(Percentage of overall sales within each genre that come from Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, YouTube, Deezer, Rhapsody, Tidal, et. al.)

source: Nielsen Music; 2015.

Genres Breakdown, Streaming

II: Genres That Perform Best on Downloads

(Percentage of overall sales within each genre that come from album downloads from iTunes, Amazon, et. al.)

source: Nielsen Music; 2015.

Genres Breakdown, Album Downloading

III: Genres That Perform Best on CDs & Vinyl

(Percentage of overall sales within each genre that come from CD and vinyl albums; sorry there isn’t a vinyl-only breakdown yet!)

source: Nielsen Music; 2015.

Genres Breakdown, Physical

A few notes on this data.

These graphs measures the percentage of overall genre revenue derived from specific platforms.  Many of these genres are niche, but certainly generate income for well-positioned artists.

All genre determinations and categorizations were made by Nielsen Music.

In terms of overall impact, the largest genres (across all formats) were Rock, Hip Hop, and Pop, in that order, with each generating double-digit percentage shares for 2015.   Specifically, those shares were 24.5% for Rock, 18.2% for Hip Hop, and 15.7% for Pop, according to the dataset.  Country and Latin claimed fourth and fifth, with 8.5% and 4.5%, respectively.

Nielsen also offered a breakdown for track downloads, though they are measured as ‘TEA,’ or ‘track equivalent albums’.  TEA refers to an aggregated ten downloads, which would equal an actual album.  That can distort actual download statistics, as it aggregates songs from a specific album only, instead of creating loose buckets of 10.  Billboard, which uses Nielsen data, explained this during an announcement in 2014:

“The updated Billboard 200 will utilize accepted industry benchmarks for digital and streaming data, equating 10 digital track sales from an album to one equivalent album sale, and 1,500 song streams from an album to one equivalent album sale.”

The download measurement above involves actual digital download purchases, which are distinct.

Technically, Nielsen also counts streaming according to ‘SEA,’ which refers to ‘Streaming Equivalent Albums’.  That measurement also involves some distortions from the more straightforward counting of single streams.  Similarly, lumping all streams into one bucket, instead of differentiating between free and paid, can also hide critical and important data trends.



4 Responses

    • kenny knight

      young people i believe buy alot more of everything with older peoples money .most use their parents money for everything from college to tooth paste . and if they wrote a song they would understand why songwriters and musicians need to be paid for their work and talents. this world would be so much worse without music. kenny knight

  1. Adam Fell

    Paul – with all (sincere) due respect, I think this article is extremely misleading and possibly damaging to independent artists who are trying to decide how to release their music in today’s (extremely) fragmented market.

    More than 50 million people use streaming as their chosen mode of music consumption in the United States alone. Via streaming, they engage around an artist – the music sets off a chain of events that eventually leads (if they like the music enough) to buying concert tickets, buying merch, or supporting the act on Patreon or via Pledge, Kickstarter, etc etc

    Deciding to restrict a release in today’s day-in-age to physical format only leads to less engagement, less listeners, and therefore less fans. Less fans, of course, means less concert revenue, less merch revenue, and less money overall. In a market that was devastated by piracy during the decade between 1999-2010, to see more money coming from streaming than physical is miraculous.

    I represent instrumental jazz artists – some of whom make very little from streaming royalties; however, I know that when we pitch those acts (both to Festivals and to fans), that many of those people go to streaming services to be introduced to an artist. Funny enough, many of those same fans end up buying vinyl when they really want to support our acts. But if those acts weren’t on streaming services, I truly believe they might never buy the vinyl, might never come to the shows, might never become a fan.

    Furthermore, we are now selling experiences and merch/memoribilia to our superfans directly on the streaming platforms. We also have some artists who make more than $5k for every video they post on YouTube due to Patreon.

    Ignoring all of these opportunities to engage fans and build a digital fanbase is — I believe — ignoring the way that the world is going.

    Longtime reader + sincere fan,

    Adam Fell

  2. Catherine Hol

    Sure, Spotify and the other streaming services are undoubtedly good promo. Not income-generating in their own right, in fact, cannibalising sales. It seems to me that the sooner artists recognise this, the sooner they can begin shaping the new paradigm to their own advantage.


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