2009 Popular Music Report

Nielsen Research has just released  a fascinating amount of information in its year-end music report. This report provides a detailed look at music sales in the last year, the last decade, and even further back, right to the introduction of Nielsen SoundScan in 1991.

For those who haven’t heard of SoundScan, this is the system where sales data from cash registers is collected from 14,000 retail, mass merchant, and non-traditional (on-line stores, venues, digital music services, etc.) outlets in the United States and Canada and U.K . Prior to this, music charts were compiled through verbal reports of sales from a limited number of record stores and radio stations playlists which meant the system was open to mass manipulation. 

When SoundScan was introduced and a truer picture of buying habits emerged, the results were initially quite surprising  -– it was found that Americans were buying far more country music and heavy metal than the charts had previously indicated. This can be seen in the following chart:


(based on album sales from 1991—2009)

  Artist Sales
1 Garth Brooks 68,363,000
2 Beatles 60,370,000
3 Mariah Carey 52,388,000
4 Metallica 52,160,000
5 Celine Dion 50,933,000
6 George Strait 41,846,000
7 Tim McGraw 38,677,000
8 Alan Jackson 37,447,000
9 Pink Floyd 35,867,000
10 Eminem 35,326,000

A couple of key points stand out in the press release.

Firstly, the amount of music now sold by non-traditional means. Digital music now accounts for 40% of all music purchases in 2009, up from 32% in 2008. Digital track sales break the ONE BILLION sales mark for the 2nd straight year with 1,160,000 digital track sales in 2009. The previous record was 1,070,000 digital track purchases during 2008; an increase of 8% over 2008. The iPod generation is engaging with music that no longer has a physical component – i.e. an album/CD cover with liner notes.

Secondly, music sales do not seem to be in the trouble that recording companies keep moaning about. Looking at one of the key graphs in the release that tracks sales for the last ten years, yes, albums may be in freefall but overall music purchases (MP) are way up. Once again, we are seeing the influence of changing consumption patterns and new technology — single track sales and ring tones are in and albums are out.

There is so much information in the Nielsen press release that I do recommend that music fans take a look. To finish off, here’s the top selling albums of 2009 — Susan Boyle, who had the most watched You Tube clip of the year, comes in (horribly) at #2. I’ve included her singing the Stones’ classic “Wild Horses” below (and I hate to admit it, but it ain’t half bad!).


1 Fearless/ Taylor Swift  
2 I Dreamed A Dream/ Susan Boyle  
3 Number Ones/ Michael Jackson  
4 Fame/ Lady Gaga  
5 My Christmas/ Andrea Bocelli  
6 Hannah Movie Sndtrk/ Hannah Montana  
7 E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies)/ Black Eyed Peas  
8 Relapse/ Eminem  
9 Blueprint 3/ Jay-Z  
10 Only By the Night/ Kings of Leon  

6 Responses

  1. Excellent post. Thanks for sharing a great summary of the report. What amazes me is that urban music only has two artists in the top 10 sales of the decade (Mariah and Eminem). .. granted anyone could debate whether those qualify as “urban” music or not, but I’m defining it as R&B and Hip-Hop for this comment.

    Also, music sales have truly been increasing overall for some time now. Its reported decline is one of the myths we address in our free report at http://www.indiehitmaker.com, along with how to fully leverage SoundScan via our IndieHitMaker and beyond.

    • Thanks John. Yeah, you know, I’m not sure what makes me more depressed — all that country music or the fact that the Beatles are so frigging high on the list — still!. (Also, I must confess that I’ve heard anything by either George Strait, Tim McGraw or Alan Jackson. Maybe its where I live!).

  2. Yawn !!! I guess if Sarah Brightman et al were frumpy and RETARDED they’d be pipping everyone else at the post as well

    • Wass, knew you’d be commenting but honestly thought you would love a bit of frump as it would remind you of all your old girlfriends.

  3. Who the hell is George Strait?
    And does not knowing who he is mean I’m out of touch with “the kids” or out of touch with rednecks?

  4. Rednecks, he’s a good ole boy. Until the arrival of Garth(see what a marketing degree will get you)Brooks, Strait was the biggest selling country star ever seen. His albums still grace the top of the charts today

    4 on the list C&W and possibly only 2 (Carey and Eminem) who will cross over and leave their mark on digital charts

    Apparently the industry think that sales will end up at 50% digital 50% hard (across all formats)

    Despite all the hype, vinyl makes up less than 2% of music sales

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