Taylor Swift kept her music off of streaming services, which turned out to be a great idea. At the the year’s mid point, Swift has sold the most CDs and digital downloads–1,328,000 CDs (incl downloads) and a whopping 6,834,000 digital tracks downloaded– in other words, owned by er fans. But Taylor had only 188,000 streams– and didn’t care. The actual sales were more important.
Nielsen monitors all music and video sales, and they say today that audio and video streaming was 92% so far in 2015. Audio alone was up 74%. Fans are not buying CDs or downloading, the result being a 10% loss in that department (except for Swift).
Look at it this way: Drake, who allows streaming, sold only 965,000 copies of his 2015 CD. He sold a total 1,927,00 CDs and digital tracks. His streaming number was 409 million. That means his tracks were streamed 409 million times. But that was part of subscription packages and who knows what he’s been paid. Taylor Swift, on the other hand, put that music into fans’ players one way or another.
Overall digital downloading for tracks was down 10%, while full albums were unchanged from last year. Physical CD sales were down 7%.
Vinyl is up, way up, which is so weird because I was happy to get rid of hundreds of albums when CDs really broke through in 1986. But kids want turntables and the records, which you can buy pretty reasonably at places like Urban Outfitters. Nielsen says vinyl sales now take up 9% of all physical sales. Listen, go for it, kids. Of course, the vinyl now is all this special stuff. When we had records, they warped and woofed, and scratched and jumped. Nilsson’s “Nilsson Schmilsson” on RCA Dynaflex barely stayed on the turntable. Vinyl was up 38%.
What does it mean? The music today is not something kids need to own in their hand. Given the choice of ordering the CD, or downloading the track into their players, kids would rather just stream it casually as part of an overall plan– like having HBO and watching movies or shows whenever you want.
The days of waiting to see album art, read lyrics, read the tech notes– that’s like having a Gramophone. I used to clutch new albums like they were deliveries of the Ten Commandments. But of course, that’s when music was good, lyrics weren’t X rated, and teeny bopper meant something negative. Now it’s all teeny bopper all the time. And the music is disposable.
It will be interesting to see what happens next. Swift clearly should win the Grammy for Album of the Year. But Justin Timberlake should have won two years, and was basically shut out. Swift’s letter to AppleMusic made the company change their policy, but she was in the catbird seat: her physical sales had peaked. She’d made her money. Everything else is gravy. And she’s the captain of her own gravy boat.