The Evolution of the Single, 1977-2012…

And to think, the single was nearly dead in 2003.

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US-based figures.  Left axis in millions, data supplied by the RIAA.


17 Responses

  1. Dan SF

    That looks like roughly the inverse of the album sales chart…. Of course if all tracks on an album were available as “singles” from 1977-2003, this would look much different. I suppose in one way this can be viewed as an argument for artists/labels to produce solider albums, rather than just a few quality songs with a lot of filler.

    • Visitor

      but the Digital Downloads are not “Singles” they are ala carte Album Tracks… and that’s the difference. Of course there’s not much differentiating them today, but it would be interesting to see how much of these numbers are ACTUALLY the album’s “Single” and how much are the non-single Album Tracks sold ala carte…

      • Paul

        No, digital album bundles are counted separately and not part of this analysis.

        • Visitor

          That doesn’t address his or her statement at all. They’re talking about tracks bought singly or a la carte and NOT in bundles.

          It stands to reason that a person who buys two tracks at separate times from the same album could artificially taint these numbers.

          • Sara Tiemogo

            I think you are right. The iPod and that method of buying has changed everything. Each track on an album could be considered a “single”, as each track is now available on its own, even if it was not released by itself.

          • Paul

            You’re right, I totally answered a different question about bundling. Unfortunately I don’t have as good of an answer to the actual question, because technically a ‘single’ in industry-speak is a focus track (for radio, etc.) not a deep album cut. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say this taints the data, but it does change the analysis somewhat. And, it also adds a really interesting wrinkle to it.
            I suppose the bigger part of this that fascinated me was the massive un-bundling over time and the impact this has had on recording sales. The liberation of the one-off song has given fans a lot of freedom to cherry pick, but eroded a nicely marked-up album, and I almost wish I had overlaid this graph with both album sales (declining) and lable profits (declining just as badly) to illustrate that point.

        • nick_ez

          i noticed you made this graph. Just for clarification:

          This chart (specifically the digital downloads) only shows the number of singles sales correct? As in tracks released by the label/artists as singles to promote the album (the same songs theyd send to radio, shoot a music video for, ect).

          This is NOT counting every digital download of a song which would include songs from an EP or album that aren’t released by the label as a single.

        • Visitor

          so how are the “singles” determined then? they’re not defined that way on soundscan… I think you are wrong paul, I think these #’s represent all individual song downloads and not just the “singles”… I’d love more info on how this data is defined.

    • dbmurray

      “I suppose in one way this can be viewed as an argument for artists/labels to produce solider albums, rather than just a few quality songs with a lot of filler.”

      True, but I see this as an argument for artists to produce fewer songs per session. The market is singles now both in sales and other royalty generating forms of consumption (radio/video/movie sync licenses).

      Artists should approach recording with singles in mind rather than 10-12 songs per release. The turn-around would be quicker from the time a great song is written until it’s recorded. Artists who release singles not just to radio, but to the market for sale at the same time will always having something fresh vs. the artist who still records in the traditional album format.

      Once an artist has enough singles recorded, they could still be released as a CD compilation plus whatever they want to throw in as an incentive in terms of bonus tracks. Average fans would buy the downloads. Casual fans would buy the CD. Diehard fans would buy both.

  2. brooklyn habitat

    Or “Why Singles Are Destroying the Industry”
    Albums = markups = profits. map label revenue on top, you’ll see

  3. Arron

    I’d like to see a graph like this but showing genre and age group of the buyers etc.. I still love C.D and Vinyl albums and I own an ipod but never ever use it and have only downloaded a handful of songs ever. I just dont get or like that download experience. Im 36 and into all music but I guess my main genre would be the mainstream rock bands Bon Jovi, Aerosmith etc…

  4. radio & records vet

    Paul is correct in saying that the chart represents any one-off single track purchase, and that a “single” is essentially the “focus track” from an album that is used to promote via broadcast radio formats. Radio is still predominately a single oriented platform.