Canadians continue to adopt streaming music, and there’s no going back: Alan Cross

A woman streams music while waiting for transit. Getty Images

A year ago in this space, I wrote an article about how streaming is changing Canadians’ relationship with music. After noting that the country had passed the one billion streams/week milestone, the story ended with this line: “I have a feeling that if we were to revisit this column a year from now, all these numbers will appear laughably small.”

Time for an update.

Canadians now regularly stream well over a billion songs a week

According to Nielsen, the counter and tracker of these things, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime, and the rest of them served up 1.431 billion streams to Canadians last week. That represents a 40.2 per cent increase from the same period last year.

If we look at cumulative streams for the year to date, consumption is up 38.3 per cent to 18,876,550,522. Given the clip at which things are growing, we’ll hit the 20 billion mark this week.

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And we love YouTube, too

YouTube is its own animal when it comes to music. On-demand video streaming has jumped 72.5 per cent since this time last year to about 428 million views per week.

Record labels love streaming more than ever

Remember when the recorded music industry was dead set against streaming? It spent years insisting that it stick to its 100-year-old business model of selling pieces of plastic to music fans. After more than a decade of disruption, it’s now all smiles.

Labels are making so much money from streaming that if CDs disappeared tomorrow, the industry would be OK with that. Universal Music Group’s Q1 revenue for 2019 were up 18.8 per cent over a year ago, thanks largely to the money it’s making from streaming. In just three months, UMG brought in US$833 million in streaming money, which is up 28 per cent from the same period in 2018. Today, UMG’s streaming revenue is approaching US$10 million a day.

If we take into account the fortunes of the three major labels (UMG, Sony, and Warner), they brought in US$1.5 billion just from streams. Each of them is now making more money from streaming than from physical product — at least in the West.

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If we step back a bit, we see that globally, streaming accounted for only 38.4 per cent of revenues, so there’s still plenty of room for growth, especially in places like India, which just got Spotify earlier this year. And interestingly, global sales of physical product like CDs are down a modest five per cent from a year ago, thanks largely to countries like Japan, South Korea, and Germany, where people still love to buy stuff they can hold in their hands.

When it comes to streaming, it’s all about hip-hop, rap, pop and R&B

Canadian rock and country fans are very stubborn when it comes to adopting streaming. I couldn’t find a single rock or country song in the top 200 most-streamed songs last week. Armed with that data, labels are investing the majority of their marketing energies into those genres. Rock and country get the dregs — if there are any left, that is.

There can be a disconnect between popular streams and what we hear on the radio

You may have heard about the controversy involving hip-hop Lil Nas X whose song Old Town Road was removed from the Billboard country charts because someone determined it wasn’t country-sounding enough. The hype pushed Canadian streams of that song to beyond 11.5 million, good for the No. 1 spot, light-years ahead of second place Bad Guy by Billie Eilish. Yet Old Town Road ranked as the 620th most-played song on Canadian radio.

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The CD death spiral continues

According to Nielsen, year-to-date CD sales in Canada are down over 25 per cent from a year ago. Each week, the weekly number of units slips toward staying below the psychological 100,000 mark. Last week, 103,900 CDs were sold across the land.

Remember how digital albums were supposed to take up the slack from the CD’s failing fortunes? They’re down 18 per cent so far this year.

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But the hardest-hit segment is individual paid digital tracks. Why buy a song from iTunes when you can stream that song for free? No wonder sales are down by 30 per cent.

Music piracy continues to drop but it’s far from dead

With almost the entire archive of human musical endeavour available for free (or close to it) with a couple of pokes at your phone, why would anyone go through the hassle of stealing music? Yet it’s still a problem. According to a recent report from the International Federation of Phonograph Industry (IFPI), 38 per cent of global music listeners insist on acquiring music in illegal ways. The biggest issue is stream-ripping, sites that allow anyone to turn any stream — Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and so on — into a downloadable file that can be kept permanently. Lawsuits abound, but since many of these sites — and, for example — are in places like Russia, success has been mixed at best.

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Vinyl? It’s hanging in there, but…

Vinyl has been on a tear since 2008 with a decade of double-digit, year-over-year growth. However, things have slowed substantially. Sales of new vinyl are still ahead of last year but only by four per cent. Then again, this figure doesn’t include the sale of used records in stores, at record shows, or from online sources like or eBay.

What about the much-hyped cassette revival?

Dream on. So far this year, only 2,100 pre-recorded cassettes have sold across the entire country, the same amount as last year for a growth rate of 0.0 per cent. As you were, hipsters.

Alan Cross is a broadcaster with 102.1 the Edge and Q107, and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s Ongoing History of New Music Podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

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