Indie Music

Old Music Is Outselling New Music For The First Time Ever

image from s.hswstatic.comEven Adele can't save the legacy music industry… Old music is outselling new music for the first time ever, according to Nielsen.  Some of its has to do with millennials preferring to consume music via streaming or not to pay for it at all.  But how bright is the future of any industry that generates more revenue from old products instead of new ones?


Despite the massive success of Adele's album 25, which sold a whopping 7.4 million copies in only six weeks, 2015 marked the first time in U.S. history that new releases were outsold by catalogue albums. Seems like everyone's been feeling extra nostalgic lately.

The term "catalogue" refers to albums released more than 18 months ago. According to Nielsen's annual year end music report, catalogue albums outsold current releases by 4.3 million copies, something never before seen in the industry. Just 10 years ago, current music sales outpaced catalogue music by over 150 million albums. Keep in mind that these stats don't include album streams, but regardless, it's a significant turning point.

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Digital sales of current albums still maintained a slight lead, but when it came to physical releases, more people opted for the oldies. And when it comes to individual tracks, not whole albums, catalogue outsold current in digital as well.

Perhaps it came to be due to the so-called vinyl revival.

In recent years, the sales of vinyl records have significantly increased as young music lovers are discovering the physical LP. In the first half of 2015 alone, vinyl sales increased by 52%. If they're building a physical collection, it stands to reason that people would want to buy a copy of their favourite album on vinyl and not necessarily the newest release. It seems plausible, judging by the fact that, according to the same Nielson report, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon sold 50,000 records this past year, the third highest selling album on vinyl.

Or, maybe it's a sign that a growing number of people are choosing to stream newly released digital albums rather than purchasing them. With the increasing popularity of platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, consumers now have instant access to all the newest music for roughly $10 a month. And they're not limited by shelf space or budget.

Whether or not digital sales of catalog albums will end up surpassing current releases is still yet to be seen, but based on the current increase in catalogue sales it's definitely a possibility. It seems as though artists are starting to take notice of the trend, too, judging by, for instance, Grimes' recent decision to release her back-catalogue on vinyl following her huge breakout, the labels, too, judging by Record Store Day's annual parade of reissues.

via Celebrity Access


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  1. Maybe the reason is the declining quality of music.
    To speculate, this is probably caused by a vicious cycle of declining revenues (due to piracy, streaming,lack of interest and loyalty from “fans”, etc), disappearance of artist development, etc.
    There is much good music still being produced, but nothing likely to stand the test of time the way “Dark Side of the Moon” did and still does.
    On the other hand, an industry based on selling “old” products is not necessarily a bad thing. It works for wines, after all.

  2. I’ve asked young people this question:
    “Why do you listen to old music?”
    Typical response: “I like it.”
    Followup question: “But isn’t the current music better than the old music (in terms of production, lyrics, playability, whatever…)”
    Typical response: “No. It’s not.”
    The young folks like old music because they think it sounds better than the new music. The revenue apparatus for digitally distributed music has nothing to do with it. New artists will still make money and resone with young listeners BUT ONLY IF IT SOUNDS AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN THE OLD STUFF.

  3. I’ve not moved the needle from the first record I cut in 96 to my new one coming in 2017, I’ve stayed the course and kept it real, country, cowboy, and make the records feel ‘live’. I’ve kept my following and it grows with each project and year. The compressed and formula written songs are making ‘sound alike’ for sure ‘sound alike’. People get enough after a while. Keep it real and it works.

  4. Where’s the real vocal talent, instrumental,,
    and NATURAL HONEST EXPRESSIVNESS? Plus , most new songs I hear on the radio are boring, as well as weak textually and musically. It’s also hard to know if the songs are brand new or not due to the DJ not specifying…

  5. I think auto-tuned recording is a factor. Subtle pitch variations in the human voice normally communicate emotion. Subtle pitch differences between two or more instruments produce natural chrorusing and phase-shift effects that are pleasing to the ear. Auto-tuning grinds these things away, leaving a relatively lifeless musical landscape. Music that predates auto-tuning literally has more sonic information for the listener to enjoy.

  6. Hi Gordon,
    Add to that the fact that some artists actually make auto-tuning part of the performance. Yuk. Can’t stand that.
    “Real” sound, to which you alluded, is much more pleasing to the listener and is much closer to the sounds of nature.

  7. Aside from the qualitative discussion on what music sounds better – What about the fact that older people are more likely to shop physical retail. And older people like older music? Plus, older music is cheaper, and my guess is the data is based on units. And does anyone else feel this is equivalent to debating red vs blue typewriter ribbons?

  8. With all the $ .001 streaming royalty payments now a days you are not going to see a whole lot of new creative acts. How can a producer, publisher, artist, and composer split $ .001 four ways and make a living?

  9. I always have, & always WILL use natural instrumentation (real) tunings. It’s such a joy to shake my tambourine & maracas to give my hi-tech drum machine that old authentic sound. Id love to make more music this way, if I could make money at it. 00.01 per stream, ain’t cutting it, dude. No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

  10. No here’s the deal:
    Most of the new music REALLY SUCKS
    Put on any beatle song and then
    play justin beaver or any songs
    that sound like justin stripped down
    and copied by other artists.
    suck ass
    You can only copy so much crap
    before it starts to stink.j g……….. j

  11. There is old music, that sounds better than new. There is new music, that sounds better than old. To me, Led Zeppelin music is superior to Katey Perry, but ANYTHING by the Black Keys kicks the shit outta that garbage by the Steve Miller Band. Including Fly like an Eagle.

  12. As someone on the label side in the business I’ve just been waiting for this to happen for years. It was obviously inevitable for anyone who thought about it.
    Aside from the “quality” argument, which I DO think older music is better, there are obvious and logical reasons for this.
    For physical it’s purely a demographics thing. Older people still prefer physical. Easy to figure that one out.
    For digital eventually it will be almost entirely catalog income, and this is because of streaming.
    The old model was: Make everything up front from a sale, and then the person owns it forever and has not additional cost to continue enjoying it… Or at least until the lost/scratched the playback medium so bad they had to repurchase. No repurchasing with digital downloads, but the same principle applies to all the money made being up front.
    The new model is going to be: A high amount of streaming on initial release, then a fairly quick decline while still being pretty frequently streamed a few months out, then evening out a little more, and eventually a steady amount of play forever. Basically it will follow the same arc that traditional radio airplay has always had for a hit song. Ultimately this spreads out the income over a longer period of time because it is consumption based, not purchase based.
    You might buy a car for 20K upfront, but you might ultimately spend more than that on gas over the period of time you own it. The car company is used to getting a big sum up front, but Exxon is fine with selling you 40 bucks worth of gas every week or two over a decade or two. Music business WAS the car company, now it’s becoming Exxon. Pretty straight forward to me.
    Obviously the last 18 months worth of music can’t compete with a century of back catalog in raw listening hours. This trend will only strengthen as streaming grows. Keep in mind what this means is that catalog will now have a longer, more even income stream… However initial release income will also necessarily be lower.
    I still don’t know if it will be good or bad in the long haul, but it will arguably make the music business more “stable” if not bigger overall once the importance of initial release sales are lessened. It will be less “boom and bust” if you will. Ultimately it’s a question of how many people get into paid subscriptions vs free as to whether or not this may be good in the long run.

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