Country Fares Relatively Well in Downward Sliding Album Market

Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Garth Brooks, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert Score High

If you count Taylor Swift as a country artist who’s simply deviated into pop music with her newest album, 1989, then country music sold pretty well last year. So says the Nielsen Music 2014 Year-End Report released Wednesday (Jan. 7).

Even without taking Swift into account, the report reveals that Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Garth Brooks, Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert were among America’s best-selling album artists.

The cheeriest statistic was the significant rise in the number of songs streamed (via both audio and video) — a jump from 106.1 billion in 2013 to 163.9 billion in 2014.

Another notable number: The average American spent $109 on music in 2014, the largest portions of which went to buying concert tickets (35 percent) and purchasing CDs (12 percent). Satellite radio subscriptions, music gift card purchases and admission to festivals and clubs accounted for smaller slices.

Overall albums sales — including physical albums, track equivalent albums (TEA) and streaming equivalent albums (SEA) — were down slightly from 2013 totals, dropping from 486.1 million units to 476.5 million.

Also slumping were sales of CD albums (from 165.4 million to 140.8 million) and digital albums (from 117.6 million to 106.5 million).

Vinyl albums, however, increased in sales — from 6.1 million to 9.2 million.

Country music was the fourth largest selling format, accounting for 11.2 percent of the pie. Rock led with 29 percent, followed by R&B/hip-hop at 17.2 percent and pop at 14.9 percent.

The report sliced-and-diced the statistics to come up with a variety of Top 10 album rankings by purchase.

In the overall Top 10 list, the multi-artist soundtrack album Frozen was No. 1 (selling 4,471,000 copies), Swift’s 1989 was No. 2 (4,399,000) and Bryan’s Crash My Party was No. 10 (1,341,000).

In the Top 10 by U.S. sales alone, 1989 (3,661,000 units) was No. 1 and Church’s The Outsiders (811,000) No. 10.

Country was also represented well in the Top 10 CDs list, where Frozen (2,264,000 units) and 1989 (2,228,000) occupied the No. 1 and No. 2 niches, respectively. In this array, Brooks’ Man Against Machine (518,000) was No. 7, Crash My Party (516,000) No. 8, Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt (512,000) No. 9 and Gilbert’s Just as I Am (490,000) No. 10.

1989 also crowned the Top 10 digital albums list, on which no country acts were represented.

Nor were there any country artists among the Top 10 vinyl albums sellers, although Nashville-based Jack White’s Lazaretto and the Black Keys’ Turn Blue stood at No. 1 and No. 6, respectively.

Within the Top 10 digital songs sales, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” led the pack with 6,455,000 sold. Nashville newcomer Meghan Trainor took No. 4 with “All About That Bass” (4,357,000), and Swift was No. 8 with “Shake It Off” (3,431,000).

No country or Nashville-based acts made the Top 10 list of most played radio songs. Here John Legend’s “All of Me” led the list with 816,000 spins.

Radio, according to the survey, continues to be the No. 1 source for the discovery of music.

Other statistical nuggets worth mulling:

93 percent of Americans listen to music, by Nielsen’s estimate, racking up an average of 25 hours of ears to the speakers a week.

23 percent of the listening — the biggest amount — occurs in cars. Country is the second most-listened-to radio format at 9.8 percent of the total listening audience, with pop contemporary leading at 12.3 percent.

A new list — “Global Top 10 Artists Based on Social and Web Engagement” — was compiled from global Facebook “likes,” global Twitter “followers” and global Wikipedia page views.

Shakira tops the list, followed in order by Swift, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Eminem, One Direction, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.