Country Music Fares Admirably but Not Spectacularly in Nielsen 2015 Summary

Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Chris Stapleton Stand Out in Year Dominated by Adele

Despite the substantial album sales and media presence of such artists as Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt and Chris Stapleton, 2015 was not a banner year for country music.

According to Nielsen Music’s 2015 year-end report released Wednesday (Jan. 7), country album sales constituted only 8.5 percent of the total U. S. market, with rock dominating at 24.5 percent and R&B-hip hop and pop coming in at 18.2 percent and 15.7, percent respectively.

Nielsen methodology powers the Billboard music charts.

Latin albums, a growing market, stood at 4.5 percent of the total, more than half of country’s share.

The year’s big news, of course, was the remarkable sales performance and excitement generated by Adele’s 25 album. It alone constituted 3.1 percent of the year’s total album sales and 16.4 percent of sales during the six weeks since 25 was released.

In a chart spotlighting the year’s major musical triumphs, Nielsen noted that Chris Stapleton’s performance with Justin Timberlake on the CMA Awards show boosted sales for his Traveller album by 6,000 percent.

Nielsen’s year-end figures are an extravaganza of slicing and dicing, a method of finding distinctions undetectable by normal vision.

In addition to particular albums that are purchased whole either physically or digitally, there are “track equivalent albums” (TEA) and “streaming equivalent albums” (SEA). In these categories, 10 track downloads equal one album and 1,500 streams does the same.

Including TEA and SEA equivalencies, overall album consumption in the U.S. was up 15.2 percent over that of 2014 — from 476.9 million to 549.4 million albums, according to Nielsen.

However, albums sales calculated only in the CD, cassette, vinyl and digital formats were down by 6.1 percent from those in 2014 — from 257 million to 241.4 million.

In 2015, country sold 37 percent of its albums in physical configurations, 20 percent in digital, 24 percent in TEA and 19 percent in SEA.

Sam Hunt’s Montevallo was the only country title among the Top 10 overall album sales (including TEA and SEA). It came in at No. 9 on sales of 1,378,000 copies. Adele’s 25 topped the list at 8,008,000 units. Former countryite Taylor Swift’s 1989 sold 3,105,000 copies to rank No. 2.

In the Top 10 albums without TEA and SEA figured in, Luke Bryan’s Kill The Lights — the lone country title — ranked No. 10 on sales of 851.000 copies.

Kill the Lights stood at No. 3 among the Top 10 albums sold in CD format.

Stapleton’s Traveller earned the No. 10 spot among the Top 10 bestselling digital albums, the only country title to make the cut. It sold 411,000 copies in this format.

There was no country presence in the Top 10 vinyl albums list. Nor did any country product show its sunny face within the Top 10 digital songs or Top 10 on-demand audio or video streams compilations.

Alas, no country artist had a Top 10 “N-Score,” a measure of the fans’ perception of artists according to such attributes as “awareness,” “likeability,” “influential” and “trendsetter.” How an artist stacks up here is used to establish his or her value as an endorser of products or services.

The Top 10 artists in this sphere during 2015 were, in descending order, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift, Adele, Beyonce, Pink, the Beatles, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson and Usher.

The report says that radio continues to reach more Americans with music than any other medium.

Country was the No. 2 radio format last year among “millennials” (ages 18 to 34), commanding 9.1 percent of the market. Pop contemporary hit radio led the pack with a 12.4 percent share.

There were no country titles among the year’s Top 10 radio songs.

Surprisingly, the CMA Awards show did not make the Top 10 TV specials. Topping this category was February’s Grammy Awards special which netted 13,317,000 viewers and generated 13,432,000 tweets.

No country acts ascended to the Global Top 10 Artists list, a rarefied assemblage based on an artist’s “social and web engagement.” Katy Perry reigned here.

Nielsen says the average American fan spent $152 on music during 2015, with the lion’s share of that amount lavished on live concerts. Those aged 13 to 17 spent an average of $80, while the typical music spender in the 18 to 34 crowd doled out $163.

So did you find yourself wandering anywhere in this statistical jungle?

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