The Nielsen SoundScan numbers for 2012 are out, as Billboard reports, and while it might take awhile longer for think-tankers to figure out what the numbers actually mean, there are some very interesting highlights to talk about.
Perhaps the most intriguing insight is just how popular Adele continues to be. In a year where she basically stayed home and had a baby, her album from last year, 21, outsold all others in the United States for the second year running. Not only is it remarkable that she did this with virtually no additional promotion, but it’s also the first time since SoundScan started tracking these things that a major release topped album sales two years in a row.
Now—does this mean that Adele is just a pop goddess, the first real superstar in years? Or was she able to accomplish this simply because the album market in general is languishing, and she didn’t have much in the way of competition? Well…consider this: the report says that overall music sales in America hit an all-time high in 2012, at 1.65 billion units. (That’s physical and digital sales combined.) This essentially means that despite all the hubbub about music piracy, Americans are buying more music than ever before, and doing it honestly. Not only does this bode well for the music recording industry in general, but it does point to the first theory: Adele is, in fact, a pop goddess.
Another interesting point of note is the nation’s second top-seller for the year: Taylor Swift’s Red, coming in at a close second behind Adele after being on the market for only three months. (Say what you will about Taylor Swift—she can sell records.)
Some other numbers in the Nielson report should be of particular note to up-and-coming musical artists. Specifically, if you want to sell records in this market, you should seriously consider putting your music out in two formats in particular: digital downloads…and vinyl.
The digital download thing should come as no surprise: the overall total of units sold in 2012 includes a record high of 1.336 billion downloaded tracks. Things have been trending that way for awhile, and that momentum doesn’t look to slow anytime soon. But sales of vinyl records were also up for a fifth consecutive year, up 18 percent from 2011. In fact, 2012 saw more vinyl records sold than in any year since SoundScan started tracking 21 years ago. Granted, even with the jump in vinyl record sales, the numbers are miniscule compared to digital downloads (just over 4.5 million vinyl records verses 1.3 billion downloads). But given the trends, a growing number of music fans are going back to the warm sounds, hisses and pops of vinyl records, and indie artists would be remiss not to tap this part of the market.
One other thing the vinyl sales tell us? Don’t write off independent record stores. Over two-thirds of last year’s vinyl sales came from independent retailers.
Overall, industry executives and artists alike should be quite encouraged by this year’s numbers. This is more speculation on my own part than anything, but what I take away from the Nielsen SoundScan report is what I’ve been surmising the whole time: the music industry is not dying—it’s just transitioning. Eventually, the market adapts and balances out. I expect that we’ll see these trends continue in 2013.