The U.S. recorded music industry got off to an auspicious start in 2020. Total audio consumption was up 15% in the first 10 weeks of the year and audio streaming was up 20%, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data’s 2020 Mid-Year Report. Sales of albums plus tracks, or track-equivalent albums, were down by just 11.3%. Vinyl album sales, while only a small piece of the music pie, continued to rocket upwards, gaining 45% or 1.41 million units, compared with the previous-year total. Even sales of out-of-fashion CDs were down only 8.3%.
But by mid-March, things quickly changed as the pandemic halted live events and upended people’s lives, triggering a turbulent first half of 2020. Subscription-based streaming services were the big beneficiaries in the early weeks of the pandemic, as people spent an extraordinary amount of time at home. Music video streams, which were slightly lower in the first three weeks of the year, recovered quickly and were 12.9% above the pre-COVID-19 baseline by early May.
CD sales, meanwhile, deepened their deficit to a 30% year-to-date loss through July 2. And the growth of high-flying vinyl sales shrunk from that lofty 45% pre-COVID level to year-to-date growth of 11.2% by July 2.
Despite the tumult, recorded-music consumption has proven resilient. For the first half of 2020, audio streams are up 16.2% to 420 billion. Total album-equivalent audio consumption — a measure of total consumption, including sales of albums and songs, as well as on-demand streams — was up 9.4% year over year, helped by new releases from Lil Baby, The Weeknd and Roddy Ricch.
Highlighting the power of a TikTok meme in the social media age, Ricch’s “The Box” topped all tracks with nearly 1.1 billion on-demand streams, and Doja Cat ranked fourth with 396 million streams with her hit “Say So.”
As people spent more time at home, country music was the big winner with a 21% gain in streams. Country’s market share of audio on-demand streams also grew, from 6.9% pre-COVID-19 to 8% post-lockdown.
“Time at home with devices and smart speakers were the nudge that was needed,” Nielsen Music/MRC says in its mid-year report. “Just as country listeners had lagged behind other music fans in download adoption, they have been relatively slow to adopt subscription services. But they quickly switched gears.” By the week ending May 7, country music streams had steadily risen 21.4% above the baseline even though a few key releases were postponed.
Following are first half 2020 highlights from the Billboard Hot 100 chart:
Thanks to Doja Cat’s “Say So” (featuring Nicki Minaj) and Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” (featuring Beyoncé), the Hot 100 dated May 16 marked the first week in which four Black female solo artists occupied the top two spots.
When Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” topped the Hot 100 on the last two tallies of December 2019 and the first of 2020 (her 19th No. 1), she became the first artist to top the chart in four different decades — plus 14 weeks in the 1990s and four weeks in the 2000s.
Drake broke the record for the most entries ever on the Hot 100 as he landed his 208th on the March 21 chart, “Oprah’s Bank Account,” with Lil Yachty and DaBaby. He has since upped his mark to 222 entries (through June 13). On the May 16 chart, Drake also tied Madonna for the most career top 10s on the Hot 100 — 38 — when “Pain 1993” debuted at No. 7.
Post Malone’s “Circles” broke the record for most weeks in the top 10, with 38 (through the chart dated June 13).
When Lady Gaga’s “Rain on Me” with Ariana Grande debuted at No 1. on the June 6 chart, Grande became the first artist with four debuts atop the Hot 100. The others were “thank u, next” in 2018, “7 Rings” in 2019 and “Stuck With U” with Justin Bieber on the May 23 chart.