Over 66% of all music listening in the US is now of catalog records, rather than new releases

Olivia Rodrigo released the biggest single track in the US in the first six months of this year.

There were 555.3 billion streams of music on audio and video platforms in the United States in the first six months of 2021 – up by 54.3 billion year-on-year.

But the bigger story for the Stateside music industry is less about how much people listened, and more about what they listened to.

According to MRC Data‘s new mid-year report, the six months to end of June 2021 saw catalog music’s share of total album consumption in the US rise to 66.4% (whereby ‘catalog’ reflects anything released over 18 months before a consumer made a purchase and/or pressed play).

That 66.4% figure was up from 63.9% in the first six months of 2020, and, according to prior MRC Data / Nielsen Music reports, up from 60.8% in the first six months of 2018.

A quick explainer: MRC’s ‘total album consumption’ metric bundles together physical and digital album sales with single-track downloads and streams, with these single-track downloads and streams converted into ‘album equivalent’ units. To achieve this, MRC converts every 1,250 premium streams or 3,750 ad-supported streams of tracks on an album into a single ‘sale’ for that LP. It does the same for every 10 downloads of tracks from a single album. This formula is designed to be ‘revenue reflective’ – for example, with 1,250 premium streams roughly generating the same amount of money as a single album. ‘Total album consumption’ does not take into account digital or terrestrial radio plays.

Conversely, the percentage of total album consumption claimed by ‘current’ music – that’s music released within the prior 18 months of a consumer making a purchase and/or pressing play – keeps on falling.

In the first half of 2021, according to MRC Data’s report, ‘current’ music claimed just 33.6% of total consumption, down from 36.1% in H1 2020.

In real terms, here’s what that means: Of the 434.7 million ‘equivalent’ album sales in the US in H1 this year, approximately 288.6 million were of catalog records.

That’s nearly double the amount of album-equivalent units racked up by ‘current’ music in the period (146.1 million).

Looking at the growth patterns of ‘catalog’ and ‘current’ music sharpens the story of catalog’s flourishing dominance.

According to MBW analysis of MRC’s report, catalog music saw its album-equivalent consumption grow by 44.1 million units YoY in H1 2021 vs. H1 2020.

‘Current’ music, meanwhile, saw YoY growth of just 7.7 million units.

A fun exercise for you: What if this pattern (+44.1m per year for ‘catalog’, +7.7m for ‘current’) continues over the next nine years?

Well, in the first half of 2030, that would mean ‘catalog’ music had 685.5 million equivalent units, but that ‘current’ music had just 215.4 million.

In other words, in this extrapolated scenario, ‘catalog’ music would have a 76% market share. ‘Current’ music would weigh in with a lowly 24% – less than a quarter of the market.

Before jumping to conclusions, let’s see how the rest of 2021 plays out: From Adele to Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Drake, and Rihanna, some of the world’s biggest megastars may yet release new albums in the latter end of this year, which could help alter ‘current’ and ‘catalog’ music’s current commercial trajectory.

According to MRC Data’s report, Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album was the biggest album in the United States in the first six months of this year. It racked up 2.108 million total album consumption units, and 2.315 billion audio streams in the period.

The biggest single track in the period was Olivia Rodrigo’s drivers license, which racked up 460.2 million audio streams after being released in January.Music Business Worldwide