Country Music & Its Problems When It Comes To Streaming

Streaming has completely taken over the music industry, there is no arguing that. By now, it has turned the once-faltering business around, and some genres have exploded in popularity because of it. Hip-hop, in particular, is growing faster than ever before, thanks in part to the format. It is now the top genre in America for the first time ever, and it’s no coincidence that it moved up to No. 1 at the same time that the number of songs streamed in the U.S. grows by several multiples every year.

Other genres are seeing streaming benefit artists at all levels as well, but there is one popular style where fans haven’t adopted the new technology quite as quickly.

Country music, which for a long time has been steady as one of the biggest genres in the U.S., doesn’t seem to be in on the fun. According to Nielsen’s 2016 Year-End Music Report, country represented 10% of all music consumed in America last year, but just 6% of all streams. For comparison, hip-hop represented 22% of all music consumed and 28% of all streams.

The list of the biggest albums combining all metrics last year featured just one country title, Chris Stapleton’s Traveller, at No. 7, though it earned the fewest streams of any of the top 10 records, including Beyoncé’s Lemonade, which was only available to play online via Tidal, while Traveller was an option everywhere. The country blockbuster moved up a few slots when the ranking was narrowed down to just sales, but it disappeared entirely when looking at the biggest streaming titles.

Billboard recently noted that when country newcomer Kane Brown’s latest single “What Ifs” broke onto the Streaming Songs chart, it was just the second (non-holiday) track from the genre to do so in all of 2017, following Sam Hunt’s “Body Like A Back Road.” It’s incredibly telling that on an all-encompassing 50-spot listing which is refreshed every week, only two country songs have even managed to appear throughout the entire year.

Over on the Billboard 200, which measures the 200 most popular albums based on sales and streams every week, country releases still perform well, but they’re selling a lot more than they’re streaming, while the opposite is taking place with other genres. For example, this time around, country artist Chris Young’s new full-length Losing Sleep begins at No. 5 with 39,000 equivalent units. Of that sum, 32,000 were actual sales, meaning the other 7,000 came from either track equivalent albums (people buying one or several songs from the record and all those purchases adding up) or streaming equivalent albums (people listening to a handful of songs or the entire title on streaming platforms). Quick math shows that less than 18% of units shifted in his first frame came from streaming. To compare that with another nearby just-released album, just three slots above at No. 2 comes Future and Young Thug’s Super Slimey, which counts 58,000 of its 75,000 total units from streaming alone.

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