How the music business is faring amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Anyone paying attention to the music industry knows that the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the touring business, thanks to the postponement of tours by the likes of the Rolling Stones and Kenny Chesney and the cancellation of festivals including Coachella and Bonnaroo.

But the coronavirus has also cut into the growth of digital streaming, which slowed significantly after widespread stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March.

That's according to a new midyear report from Nielsen Music/MRC Data that says activity on streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music began 2020 up 20.4% over 2019 -- then ratcheted back to an increase of only 13.8% between March 13 and July 2 as listeners spent far less time in the car or at the gym.

Predictably, the slowdown was worse for sales of recorded music, especially in physical form: After starting out the year up 4.6%, physical album sales plummeted amid the pandemic to finish the first half of 2020 down 20.3%.

Even so, listeners streamed enough music between January and the beginning of July -- the equivalent of 361.2 million albums, Nielsen says -- that total audio consumption (of which streaming represents 85%) was up nearly 10 points over 2019 for the year so far.

Here are 10 other takeaways from the report:


As in recent years, hip-hop and R&B unquestionably dominate the streaming market, with nine of the 10 most-consumed artists (including Drake, the Weeknd and Lil Uzi Vert) coming from those genres. And the 10th? Billie Eilish, whose brand of moody, beat-based pop draws deeply from rap.

Though her sweep at January's Grammy Awards now feels like ancient history, Eilish's historic victory powered a 53% boost in her streams. Other high-profile events from the pre-COVID era produced similar results, including the Super Bowl (which led to a 193% uptick for halftime performers Jennifer Lopez and Shakira) and the Academy Awards (which drove streams of Eminem's song "Lose Yourself" up 385%).

Verzuz, the series of Instagram Live beat battles curated by producers Swizz Beatz and Timbaland, has done much the same during the pandemic, with Erykah Badu and Jill Scott seeing a 217% increase in streams after their bout and Beenie Man and Bounty Killer enjoying a 216% boost after theirs.

Albums by men account for nine of the 10 titles on the list of 2020's biggest records so far, with Eilish's "When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?" the only album by a woman. Lil Baby's "My Turn" is at No. 1 with a sales-and-streams equivalent of 1.47 million copies, followed not far behind by the Weeknd's "After Hours" (1.42 million) and Lil Uzi Vert's "Eternal Atake" (1.37 million).


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