Mid-Year Music Update: Streaming Is King as Downloads Fade Away

First half of the year saw 70 billion streams, while album downloads dropped 15 percent

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
July 7, 2014 11:25 AM ET

YouTube, Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody and other music-streaming services are booming like never before, according to new mid-year numbers released by Nielsen Soundscan. Total video and audio streams jumped from 50 billion in the first half of 2013 to 70 billion this year, an increase of 42 percent, while download sales continue to bust, with albums dropping 15 percent and tracks 13 percent. Part of the problem may be a lack of exciting new album releases, as the Top 10 best-sellers include 2013 retreads such as the resilient smash Disney soundtrack for Frozen, Beyonce's self-titled album and Lorde's Pure Heroine alongside warmed-over hit-single compilations like NOW 49 and NOW 50.

The State of Streaming Music

The most striking difference between the 2014 and 2013 mid-year numbers is this year's anemic individual album sales. Although Frozen beat last year's winner, Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience, 2.7 million to 2.5 million, 2014 Top 10 sales are strikingly thin. Every album from Number Two to Number 10 sold fewer than half of the equivalent albums last year; for example, Beyonce has sold 702,000 copies compared to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' The Heist last year at 1.7 million, and Eric Church's Outsiders has sold 642,000 compared to Bruno Mars' Unorthodox Jukebox at 1.6 million.

And while track sales have dropped overall, individual songs in the Top 10 remained relatively strong this year. Pharrell Williams' "Happy" sold 5.6 million, followed by Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" with 4 million and John Legend's "All of Me" with 3.8 million. Those sales numbers are close to those of last year's biggest sellers, including Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" (5.6 million) and Pink's "Give Me a Reason"(3.5 million).

As far as streaming hits, both audio and video, the big difference is 2014 lacks a new, all-consuming viral hit such as Psy's "Gangnam Style" — by this point in 2013, Baauer's "Harlem Shake" had streamed 488 million times. In 2014, DJ Snake and Lil Jon's YouTube phenomenon "Turn Down for What" racked up 102.3 million streams, hitting Number Eight, but failed to sell enough copies to hit the Top 10 on the download chart.

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