As the spread of COVID-19 isolates more and more Americans in their homes, many thought that they would be coping by streaming more music — and, in turn, helping to soften the inevitably catastrophic blow that the pandemic will have on the music industry.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case so far.
According to numbers from Alpha Data, the data analytics provider that powers the Rolling Stone Charts, streams in the United States actually fell last week, failing to offset a far more grim downturn in album sales.
During the week of March 13th through March 19th — the week restaurants and bars across the nation closed and more Americans self-quarantined — streams dropped 7.6 percent, to under 20.1 billion. Programmed streams on services like Pandora dropped 9 percent to just under 3.5 billion, while on-demand streams (audio and video) dropped 7.3 percent to 16.6 billion. Dropoffs off this magnitude are rare, with the exception being the week after Christmas, as listening starts to return to normalcy after a busy streaming week.
Digital song sales didn’t fare much better, dipping 10.7 percent to 3.9 million — the first time they’ve dropped below 4 million in the four years since Alpha Data started tracking these sales.
These drops coincided with a far bleaker — yet more anticipated — drop in album sales. Physical sales plummeted 27.6 percent last week, while digital album sales dropped 12.4 percent. And it’s bound to get worse in the next few weeks, as Amazon announced mid-last week that it was halting new shipments from U.S. music providers until April 5th to prioritize in-demand essentials like household products and medical supplies.
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For those who did turn to streaming last week, numbers from Alpha Data show a shift in the kind of music they gravitated toward. New songs — those released within the past eight weeks — dropped 14.5 percent, which is about twice the drop-off for catalog songs, released 18 months ago or earlier. Similarly, the most popular music saw a decrease notably higher than music overall, with the top 500 songs pulling in 12.9 percent fewer streams last week than the top 500 songs the week prior.
Listeners were less likely to stream pop, rap, R&B and Latin music, as those genres saw dropoffs higher than the overall trend. But three genres actually saw an increase in streams: Classical (up 1.5 percent), folk (+2.9 percent) and children’s music (+3.8 percent).
With the live music industry at a standstill for the foreseeable future, artists will inevitably rely more and more on streaming to get by. An online petition started by musician Evan Greer urged Spotify to triple its royalty rates to artists, saying, “This is a moment when Big Tech companies need to do their part to help.”