It’s official: New music is SHRINKING in popularity in the United States

The biggest streaming track in the US in the first half of 2022, says Luminate, was We Don't Talk About Bruno by the cast of Disney's Encanto. It scored 342.5m on-demand audio streams and 628.2m total on-demand streams including video.

Some will blame a lack of blockbuster records being made during the pandemic. Some will blame a lack of emergent modern superstars. And some (hi Merck!) will blame the fact that young people – as evinced by Kate Bush’s current world-beating popularity – are simply enjoying ‘old’ music as if it were ‘new’ music.

But facts is facts: ‘Current’ music in the United States isn’t just losing market share. It’s actually getting statistically less popular.

That’s according to a new midyear report published by US market monitor Luminate (formerly MRC Data / Nielsen Music).

It shows that ‘Total Album Consumption’ of ‘Current’ recorded music in the United States in the first half of 2022 fell 1.4% in volume versus the equivalent metric from the same period of 2021.

Obviously, the words in inverted commas there could do with a little unpicking, so here goes:

  • Luminate’s ‘Total Album Consumption’ (TAC) metric combines all on-demand track streams, plus all track downloads, plus all album sales on digital and physical formats;
  • The formula for ‘TAC’ equates 1,250 premium streams, or 3,750 ad-supported streams, to one album ‘sale’;
  • It also equates 10 digital track purchases/downloads to one album ‘sale’;
  • In addition, Luminate defines ‘Current’ as anything released in the 18 months prior to it getting streamed/downloaded/purchased;
  • Anything older than 18 months when it’s streamed/downloaded/purchased is defined as ‘Catalog’.

In its H1 report (download here), Luminate reveals that there were 131.3 million album-sale-equivalent units (TAC) of ‘Current’ music registered in the United States in the first six months of this year.

That was down by nearly 2 million units on the 133.1 million TAC units recorded in the first half of the prior year (2021).

To reiterate: We’re not just talking about declining market share here.

We’re talking about ‘Current’ music actually getting less popular in terms of the volume of streams and sales it attracts.

This all has to be understood in the context of a growing market.

According to Luminate, Total Album Consumption of all music in the United States ( that’s ‘Current’ + ‘Catalog’) grew by 9.3% YoY in H1 2022 to 475.4 million.

This can only mean one thing: While the popularity of ‘Current’ music shrunk in the first half of this year, the popularity of ‘Catalog’ music grew considerably, up by 14.0% YoY to 344.1 million TAC units.

In turn, the market share of ‘Catalog’ continues to dwarf ‘Current’ music: Luminate’s report shows that ‘Catalog’ took a 72.4% market share in H1 2022, as ‘Current’ music’s share fell by a full 3% to just 27.6%.

Source: Luminate’s midyear 2022 report

A growing pattern…

This isn’t actually the first time that ‘Current’ music’s popularity has shrunk in real volume terms in the United States – it’s just the latest chapter in a post-Covid lockdown trend.

Luminate’s full-year report for 2021 (download here) showed that ‘TAC’ units of ‘Current’ music in the 12 calendar months of last year stood at 269.5 million, down 3.7% on the 279.9 million units recorded in FY 2020 (see below).

Again, we’re not just talking about a reduction in market share for ‘Current’ music here, but a reduction in actual streams/sales.

Source: Luminate’s full-year 2021 report

The streaming story…

Don’t think that ‘Current’ music’s popularity is somehow just being pushed down by the decline of the CD, or other formats outside of streaming, either.

One of the more surprising stats in Luminate’s latest report (see below) shows that in the US in H1 2022, the volume of on-demand audio streams of ‘Current’ music, specifically, fell 2.6% YoY.

And the fall in ‘Current’ music’s popularity on video streaming platforms (-10.4% in volume YoY) was even more severe.

Meanwhile, says Luminate, ‘Catalog’ music saw a 19.0% YoY increase in its streaming volume in the first half of 2022.

Source: Luminate’s midyear 2022 report

A lack of ‘high impacting’ releases?

So what’s driving these numbers?

Luminate attempts to offer some answers in its H1 2022 report, noting: “This trend is evident in the measurable decline in ‘high impacting’ new releases overall, which are defined as [any] album that debuts on the Billboard 200.”

“In Q2 of 2021,” says Luminate, “there were 126 ‘high impacting’ releases. By the end of Q2 of 2022, there were only 102.”

So we know that blockbuster new albums hitting the upper echelons of the US charts are becoming less frequent.

But what about the possibility of a decline in the power of blockbuster streaming tracks?

MBW has crunched the numbers on the Top 10 audio streaming midyear hits in the United States for the past four years, according to Luminate/MRC Data/Nielsen Music’s H1 reports.

(i.e. We’ve looked at reports showing the most popular on-demand audio tracks in the first six months of each year in the US, and added them up.)

You can see how that comparison looks below.

Simple version: The Top 10 audio streaming tracks in the US in H1 2022 were played, cumulatively, over 1 billion times less than they were in H1 2019 (2.74bn vs. 3.81bn).

[We stress that the below is not official Luminate data; it is based on MBW calculations from data published in official midyear reports of Luminate / MRC Data / Nielsen Music.]

Why ‘Catalog’ can – and often does – mean ‘music released the other year’…

We shouldn’t, however, jump to any obvious conclusions about golden oldie ‘catalog’ music gobbling up the listenership of today’s teenagers (Yes, even if Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill is still the No.1 global song on Spotify right now, nearly two months after it premiered in that episode of Stranger Things.)

According to Luminate’s H1 2022 report, over a third of all ‘Catalog’ streams that took place in the US in the first half of this year were actually plays of music released between 2017 and 2019 (see below).

(‘Catalog’, remember, simply means music that was released 18 months or more before someone played/purchased it.)

Music originally released in 2019 alone took a 14% share of all ‘Catalog’ streams in H1 2022; music originally released in 2018 took an 11% share.

And music originally released in either of these years was more popular on US streaming services in the first half of 2022 than all music released in the 1990s combined.

Same goes for all music released in the 1980s, and all music released in the 1970s.

Source: Luminate’s midyear 2022 report

The bigger picture…

Still, it is less ‘the rise of Catalog’ that will cause the music business big questions here than it is the statistical decline of new music’s popularity.

  • ‘Current’ music, remember, fell 2.6% YoY in the United States in terms of on-demand audio streaming volume in H1 2022;
  • It also fell 10.4% YoY in terms of on-demand video streaming volume;
  • Yet overall on-demand audio streaming volume, says Luminate, was up by a very healthy 24.7% in H1 2022 (to 1.6 trillion);
  • And overall on-demand video streaming volume was up by 28.1% YoY to 901.5 billion.

The volume of music streams continues to jump up by double digits, year-on-year, in the world’s largest music market.

But, for whatever reason, ‘new’ music – be it a temporary trend, or a pattern with more permanence – is officially losing ground.Music Business Worldwide