What’s the Most Popular Music Genre? Here’s a Breakdown

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What’s the most popular music genre? Here’s a closer look at some format data in America.

Here’s a breakdown of music genres from Nielsen Music, which compiled every sale across CDs, vinyl, digital downloads, and streaming to calculate which types of music are most popular. It offers some insight into what the most popular music genre is.

Here’s what they found:

I. Overall: CDs + vinyl + downloads + streaming

US, 2015.  Source: Nielsen Music.

Interestingly, Rock tops the list by a wide margin, though Rap/Hip-Hop isn’t far behind.  Interestingly, Spotify counted Rap/Hip-Hop as its most the popular of its music genres in 2015, though Spotify users may represent a younger subset of music listeners.

II. Albums: CDs + vinyl.

US, 2015.  Source: Nielsen Music.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, older formats lean towards older music genres.  And, Rock certainly pre-dates Rap/Hip-Hop, though its origins are equally controversial and generation-defining.  Incidentally, Rock tends to dominate vinyl sales, where formats like Rap/Hip-Hop don’t do so well (and, sales of EDM are almost nonexistent).

As for CD sales, shiny discs are still sold in the billions, though their buyers are typically older (and less interested in iTunes downloads or Spotify streams).

So how was all of this information calculated, you ask?

III. The Methodology.

All of these genre categorizations were determined by Nielsen, and counted by format accordingly.  In terms of delivery format, Nielsen counts each CD album and vinyl album, then aggregates all downloads and streams in to ‘Equivalent Albums’ to make ‘Track Equivalent Albums’ and ‘Streaming Equivalent Albums’.

Specifically, a ‘Track Equivalent Album’ counts ten songs from an album as an album unit, with the same methodology applied to streamed tracks.  The results can create some distortions because it isn’t counting every single track, though it does created an arguable method for comparing digital formats to CD-based and vinyl-based purchases.

And, for more fun with music genres, check out just how well different genres sell on different platforms.


55 Responses

  1. Me

    What constitutes “Rock” these days? Most of the stuff I hear on “modern rock” stations are either dance songs or pop-country songs disguised as rock tracks.

  2. Anonymous

    Well there’s your answer to why music isn’t selling- labels aren’t providing good new artists in the most popular genre.

    • Jim

      That seems to be it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s the Labels fault. The Radio Stations are more at fault. If you look at the Billboard 200, you’ll see a lot of classic rock acts that were played on Top 40 stations back in the day. If you look back over really old top 40 playlists you’ll see the classic rock that people are still buying and stuff that people don’t buy that is not rock. And today, top 40 is 100% stuff that people won’t be buying, and no rock.

      People do want new rock, people do want top 40 to play rock. The people in charge of almost everything big today basically all suck. Is there any area where you could argue that things are actually improved? Everything is getting worse. It’s because the people in charge suck. It seems to be an economy and government based on bribes. How do you get on the radio? There are definitely bribes involved there.

  3. Tom

    Anything that has rock outselling hip hop and EDM combined is complete crap. Sorry.

    • IJS

      I agree. What constitutes “Rock” ? I haven’t heard a good alt rock song since 2000 lol

      • Jim

        Rock includes Classic Rock. What’s interesting to look at, if you haven’t looked at it at all recently, is how many of the Billboard 200 are classic rock albums.

      • What

        Imagine dragon, Fall out boy, Avenged Sevenfold, cage the elephant, muse, etc.

        • Tony Jordan

          “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”-Duke Ellington.

    • Bill

      I agree. All you hear is rap and edm at sporting events, in clubs, commercials, movies, etc. Rock lost the spotlight long ago.

      • Mike

        Doesn’t make it dead though. You actually still hear rock on tv and in public. Queen for example are probably more popular than ever. Even people who think they don’t know them have heard their music on tv commercials for example.

    • will

      Im sorry, but rock is the best genre and the most talented and requires the most thought to fully take in. With the best history and fans

      • Mas

        I think maybe a close second to jazz in the skill required (speaking like hard bop). Even metal requires a lot of skill.

    • Rock

      Get used to it. Rock is awesome. Doesn’t matter about preference. It’s what’s most popular.

      • Tony Jordan

        Rock is fine but it’s really children’s music in that it requires the least knowledge for the listener. Don’t get me wrong I love and have played Rock and Blues for years but Jazz and Classical are at the top for the skill and musicianship required of performers even if they require a greater degree of sophistication for the listener

        • mike k

          I don’t agree.the band Muse is as complicated as it gets. also the band yes and obscure bands like guitarist gunthrie govan’s Tha Aristocrats are examples of great sophistication musically.heh thats what so great about rock. lots of variety.not to mention the beatles.

  4. Laura Estrada

    Take a look at the Indie/AltRock scene!
    Some musicians are amazing!
    Maybe not the classical Rock you might expect…..but for instance take a loot at TASH SULTANA (JUNGLE) on YouTube or THE ARMY BONES (Don’t Be Long)
    Commercial radio stations suck. Mainstream music is absolutely terrible. I totally agree with all of you. 80% of the world’s most important radio stations play the same 250 songs over and over again…..

    • mike k

      Its funny though,satalite radio and other pay for music stuff is pretty good.greed always seems to rear its ugly head.rememmber when tv was free.

  5. Andrew

    Today I question what is considered Rock. Most Rock I hear is usually rap or pop. I think to be honest that R & B is probably most famous due to the rise up in artists or “Rappers”

    • Mike

      Lots of new rock music, particularly hard rock, alternative rock, and metal, just know where to look. In the past year alone there is at least a dozen great rock albums released.

      • Mike

        I’m a different Mike to avoid confusion but I agree with this Mike. You have to know where to look. Aside from those you also have jazz rock, jam bands, indie rock, progressive rock(ie prog), post rock, punk rock and psychedelic(which these days would be a band like Tame Impala or King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard). Most of these are underground. Typically the stuff you hear on the radio is the least interesting.

  6. Robert Bryson Hall III

    Not a fan of rock, but I do love Hip Hop and Rap. If you’re a true fan of Hip Hop/Rap you don’t diss on Rock…….that’s where Rap originated from.

    • Jake

      Rap didn’t originate from rock it originated from jazz and funk. Taking the drum breaks in jazz and funk songs and looping it using 2 turntables. I love rock, but it’s just not true that hip hop originated from it.

  7. A randomguy

    If u are tryna to talk about whats most popular it’s not Rock jazz or any of that shit it’s rnb and hip-hop sells way people play on radio because it’s what majority people like so it is played so Rock people and shit gtfo outta hear

    • Kurt

      Sells don’t mean shit rock you can listen to for free and that’s why it’s the most popular if drake and future and Kendrick Lamar didn’t make it to where you had to buy there albums then rock would have way more sales and it’s still the most popular even though it’s not even mainstream anymore suck it up dude rock has been #1 for the past 60 years and it’s not leaving soon considering the popularity has risen 2% since last year and trust me that’s a lot more than it may seem considering rap/hip hop has lost popularity by about 4%

  8. Jacob

    It’d be neat to see Jazz become more popular in modern culture. It could really shed light on what it means to be a talented musician. A lot of what I hear my peers listening to is just a droning on of words and sounds with little tonal value and emotion.

  9. god

    hip hop/rap is the best music genres kin the world the other stuff are all shit

  10. X

    Can you provide a link to where you got this information? When I look up Nielsn 2015, your stats dont match what their pdf says (which mainly talks about Adele and Taylor Swift).

  11. Nafsi

    My mom & my dad thinks pop & country music is the best