Country music may be enjoying unprecedented success in terms of radio reach, but the sales of albums and digital downloads took a big dip in 2015.
According to Billboard, sales of country albums dropped 12 percent, and song downloads dropped 16 percent. That’s a significant decline for what Brad Paisley dubbed “country nation” last year.
And that drop far outpaces the average for all genres, which saw an overall decline of albums sales by 6 percent, and an overall drop in downloaded songs by 12 percent.
In total, just under 25 million country albums were sold in 2015. Which means fewer than 1 in 10 Americans bought a country album all year, despite country dominating the radio waves and being a big part of the robust live performance market. The numbers for overall album sales were at just over 241 million, meaning only 3 out of 4 Americans bought an album of any kind in 2015.
Country music accounted for more than 11 percent of all albums sold.
Yet despite the decline in sales, consumption of music through streaming services continues to grow. The number of songs and music videos accessed through streaming services doubled from 2014 to over 317 billion.
However, country music is streamed significantly less than other genres, such as pop. Country streams account for just over 4 percent of all streams, compared to nearly 15 percent for pop.
So what does it all mean for country music? For one, country artists are likely to increasingly focus on streaming as a model for access. Artists like Cam had great streaming numbers prior to her radio success with “Burning House”, and Maren Morris is on a similar path with streams in the millions for her debut EP.
Performing rights organizations and music associations such as The Recording Academy (they put on the Grammys) and the Country Music Association (CMAs) continue to fight for fairer compensation for artists whose music is streamed on services such as Spotify and Apple Music.
As artists struggle to find ways to support their art that more people are consuming but fewer are buying, we’re likely to see artists seek out commercial partnerships and branding opportunities. But in the face of an ever-changing revenue landscape, the simple fact remains that the best way to support your favorite artists is to go to a show and buy from their merchandise table.