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Drake Rules, and the Paid Stream Also Rises, in 2018 BuzzAngle Music Report

Hip-hop, streaming subscriptions, vinyl and Ariana Grande shared in the good news. Rock, and digital sales of any sort, not so much.

BuzzAngle Music’s 2018 report is out, and it includes results both staggering and sobering for the music industry. The conclusions fall mostly in the positive category, especially when it comes to overall U.S. music consumption, which saw a double-digit increase on top of the previous year’s double-digit increase. While consumption was up a remarkable 12.8% from 2016 to 2017, this year it went up a whopping 16.2% further still.

And not even all of that was attributable to Drake, although he did hoard BuzzAngle’s honors for artist, album (“Scorpion”) and song (“God’s Plan”) of the year.

The core of the good news is that streaming is up. The even better news? Paid streaming is responsible for most of the growth. Just as the music industry used to bemoan a generation that grew up on Napster and didn’t remember that music used to be something to pay for, now there’s a generation growing up on paid subscription services that doesn’t remember a time when everybody thought all music should be free.

On-demand audio streams increased 41.8% for the year, coming in at 534.6 billion total listens during 2018, according to BuzzAngle’s report. Even more encouraging for the business was the fact that, during the fourth quarter, 85% of those audio streams came through subscriptions.

While both ad-supported streaming and subscription streams grew in 2018, the difference between the two was remarkable, and encouraging. Looking at year-to-year growth in the fourth quarter, “free” streaming supported by advertising was up 18.2% — but paid subscription service business had a hugely encouraging 50.5% growth.

“Consumers are exercising their choice to explore new music, which is a terrific sign for the industry,” said BuzzAngle CEO Jim Lidestri, pointing to the stat showing that the number of unique titles singled out by consumers for an audio stream in 2018 was up by 9.2%.

So is there any bad news amid this boom? Absolutely, if you’re of the old school that believes individual sales — of anything, be it digital or physical or singles or albums — is the more solid measure of success, or some kind of artistic ideal. Everything that involves the consumer paying out for an individual title versus unlimited access is essentially continuing to tank…. with the exception of the niche markets for vinyl and cassettes, which continue to experience against-all-odds annual growth.

Album sales were down 18.2% and song sales decreased by an even more marked 28.8%. If there’s any explanation for why singles suffered even more than albums in 2018, it’s undoubtedly just because album sales had already taken a much bigger hit in previous years.

Well, that’s not the only bad news. Anyone looking for ammunition for the “rock is dead” argument can find it in BuzzAngle’s report. Streams of songs identified as rock tracks decreased from 19% in 2017 to 11% in 2018, putting rock right on par with Latin songs as genre popularity goes. Hip-hop/rap was tops in total song consumption, rising from 20.9% the previous year to 24.7% this year. If you throw hip-hop/rap and R&B together to create an urban category, that hybrid genre represents 36% of all on-demand streams, well ahead of pop, in at No. 2 among genres with 19.3%. Yet when it comes to song sales, pop still outweighs urban by one slim percentage point.

For anyone that has been hiding under a rock (or under the shrinking rock genre), BuzzAngle reports that Drake was the most streamed artist of the holiday season (Nov. 16-Dec. 30), with 948.8 million streams, barely ahead of 941.4 million for the late XXXTentacion. Neither artist had the biggest song of the year’s final stretch, though. That honor belonged to Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next,” which had 315.7 million streams during the year’s last six weeks. For comparison, the biggest song during the 2017 holiday period, Post Malone’s “rockstar,” had to make do with 100 million fewer streams than Grande’s attention-grabbing tune got this season.

Drake took all three of what BuzzAngle considers the org’s top awards. When it came to consumers putting their dollars down for one title, though, the “Greatest Showman” soundtrack was singled out by BuzzAngle as the year’s top album seller. Drake was the most digitally consumed artist for 2018, and the Beatles sold the most physical albums in CD and LP format.

Mariah Carey continued to be the official queen of Christmas, in case there was any doubt, bringing in 51 million streams of “All I Want for Christmas is You” during Christmas week, topping non-seasonal hits from Grande and all other challengers.

As plummeting sales go, CDs were down by 18.5%, or from 74 million to 60 million. Digital album sales took a bigger plunge, falling 21.8% as the web-savvy part of the audience make a further shift to subscriptions. Meanwhile, vinyl sales continued to experience an intergenerational boon, leaping 11.9%. And cassette sales — which appeal almost to a strictly indie-rock market — grew by 18.9%, though the overall unit number that represents, 118,000, makes the number slightly less impressive.

Country music accounted for only 7.9% of overall song consumption — hardly a reflection of the genre’s overall popularity, but very much indicative of the fact that much of that audience is still content to get its music not on demand, via radio.

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