Music Business

Morgan Wallen, Dua Lipa, and older songs dominated music in 2021

MRC Data’s annual year-end report on the state of music offers surprising insight into consumer behaviors, evolving trends, and the future of our industry.

Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix.

Another record year for audio on-demand streams in the US and further proof that so-called ‘cancel culture’ doesn’t impede someone’s ability to succeed are two of many talking points in MRC Data’s annual year-end music report. The report, which was released earlier this week, is available for free on the company’s website.

US audio streams racked up 988.1 billion plays in the period from Jan. 1 through Dec. 30, while combined on-demand streams of audio and video weighed in at 1.13 trillion, up 9.9% over 2020. MRC’s report shows global growth of 26.3% for on-demand audio streams over 2020, totaling 2.74 trillion plays.

Another astonishing fact. For the first time since MRC set up shop as SoundScan in 1991, vinyl was the music industry’s best-selling physical product, with the configuration rising 51.4% to 41.7 million, beating out the longtime former leader — the CD — by a little over a million units. However, CD sales were up 1.1%.

On-demand audio and video streams grew significantly slower than in 2020 — 9.9% in 2021 versus a pandemic-driven 17% gain in on-demand audio streams last year — and a 19.4% decline in current music streams for the first time since MRC began clocking streams. But don’t let that dip fool you because there is still much to celebrate.

“Pandemic highs from the lockdown of 2020 would definitely be tough to lap in the following year, so I would have expected more of a moderation in 2021, relative to 2020,” says Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities. “The robustness of the numbers shows that streaming music continues to see accelerated growth.”

Speaking to specific artist performances, country star Morgan Wallen defied the odds and his many critics by securing the most consumed album of the year. The hitmaker’s January 2021 double album, Dangerous, racked up 3.2 million album units (reflecting digital and physical sales, plus the equivalent value of songs streamed and sold), easily surpassing the runner-up, “Sour” by rookie Olivia Rodrigo with 2.8 million.

On the single side of things, no one had a bigger 2021 than Dua Lipa. The pop star’s hit single, “Levitating,” was crowned the queen of digital song consumption with 5.7 million project units, combining song sales with the equivalent value of streams (in which 125 subscription plays or 375 ad-supported plays equal one sale). Rodrigo owned the second and third most consumed songs, with “Drivers License” at 5 million units and “Good 4 U” at 4.8 million.

Read about all this and much more in the full report.

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company’s podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.

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