Album sales were up in 2011 – is the music industry back?

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Music sales are up. That was the big news at the beginning of the year, and it’s an encouraging sign that maybe things have leveled off in the music industry – apart from the sale of EMI and the drama involved with that. Sorting through the numbers, there are some interesting things to note, and other curiosities to get you thinking.

Total albums sold in 2011: 330.6 million. That’s up 1.3% from 326.2 million in 2010, and it’s the first increase since 2004, which is the big reason why this is welcome news.

Sourcing this info from multiple reports, the numbers don’t add up precisely, but here’s the general idea.
– Physical albums sold in 2011: 228 million
– Of the physical product sold, 225 million were on CD, nearly 4 million were on vinyl. How about that? Vinyl sales were up 36% from last year.
– Digital album sales in 2011: 103 million
– Digital singles sold 1.27 billion

Some reports went on to say that for the first time, digital album sales eclipsed physical sales, and this figure is arrived at by counting 10 singles sales as an album. I guess that makes sense, though to me, singles and albums just aren’t the same animal. CD sales were down 5.7% in 2011, which marks a rather drastic difference from the 19% decline seen in 2010.

AdeleAdele’s 21 was the biggest selling album (by a long shot), selling 5.82 million copies: 4 million were physical, 160,000 on vinyl – so that means 83% of those sales were physical. Adele also had the #1 single with “Rolling in the Deep.” On a side note, she wrote that tune in an afternoon – not a bad day’s work. “Rolling in the Deep” sold 5.81 million downloads, which, by the above logic, translates to another 581,000 albums, pushing her over 6 million mark. That still falls short of Usher’s Confessions, which sold 8 million copies in 2004.

BeatlesThe biggest selling vinyl album in 2011 is the same top seller from 2010 – and 2009. The Beatles’ Abbey Road has seen increasing vinyl sales in the last three years, selling 34,800 copies in 2009, 35,000 in 2010, and 41,000 in 2011. That album was originally released in September 1969. By the way, 93 of the top 100 vinyl sellers in 2011 were from the rock or alternative genre.

The breakdown of music sales by label:
1. Universal Music Group: 29.9%
2. Sony Corp: 29.3%
3. Warner Music Group: 19.1%
4. EMI Group: 9.6%
5. Indies: 12.1%

According to the USA Today article, “the industry” released 76,875 new albums (that sold at least one copy). These new releases accounted for 34% of the year’s sales; 90% of that take was from the top–selling 1,500. Bear in mind, CD Baby added 61,339 new indie albums in 2011. Not all the CD Baby albums show up in the “industry” figure, and not all of those new additions were “new” releases – but looking at those two figures indicates that 80% of new music albums were added to CD Baby in 2011.

Of course, these are the industry numbers, and trying to gauge all the indie sales that don’t show up, and aren’t even considered in the standard industry figures, is an impossible task. For whatever it’s worth, these are the numbers being reported, and they do tell a story. We’ll have to wait and see if it’s a happily ever after situation.

Album sales up in 2011, especially for Adele (USA Today)

U.S. 2011 album sales up for first time since 2004 (Reuters)

Album sales up for the first time since 2004 (Entertainment Weekly)

Cue the Music: Driven by Digital, Music Sales up in 2011 (Nielsen)

US Music Sales Increased 6.9% in 2011 (The Stranger)

Nearly $42 million paid to independent artists by CD Baby in 2011! (Echoes)

31 thoughts on “Album sales were up in 2011 – is the music industry back?

  1. Many people think that if the record on a computer using millions of plugins they’ll have the greatest recording that money can buy. This reminds me of the rap artists that fuel the MPC vs SP12 vs whatever sampler wars.  All formats have definite pros and cons. Yet, from Lyn Collins song “Think(About it)”, You’ve got to use what you got to get what you want. I don’t have a 8-track reel to reel analog tape deck. But I do have a 24bit/96khz 24-track recorder that allows me to record my analog equipment at a great rate. Then, in turn, dither down the master mix to 16bit for CD burning that many of my friends think I am renting expensive Otari recorders.  It’s all about how you manipulate what you have to get the desired effect. Use what you got to get what you want.

  2. I like CDs.  I like the liner notes, the feel, the smell etc.  Digital media is great for when you travel and want to take your CD collection with you.  I guess when I pay money I like to get something I can hold in my hand.
    Technophiles can pontificate all they want but music is an art and art is about emotional response.

  3. Hey, from a different source I read that the biggest selling vinyl in 2011 is Dark Side of the Moon!? Is that so just in UK?

  4. This article makes me feel like there is still hope for indie artist. Now if major retail chains would only carry independent material, they would have a bigger catalog and give the mainstream public an outlet for discovering new music and artist.

  5. DCD this is a measurement of sales not of music produced bro. So, as hard as it may be to digest it is a good look. You can smile if you’d like. =)

  6. “for the first time, digital album sales eclipsed physical sales”….something about that statement just doesn’t seem right. That can’t be accurate, can it??

  7. Audio simply still sounds better on Record. I am a full time engineer and producer in a studio working in digital along with the chances for the last 15 or so years and when people ask to fire up the 24 track analog machine, I’m back truly recording again. Don’t get me wrong, using both of these platforms in the right way yields for best results, outside of keep it analog all the way down the chain which to this day is the Best for Audio Quality,,hands down……..25 years in the business and so thankful people are really open to what music audio can really sound like, and how it sounded. This is why we keep coming back to these older records. They have heart and depth and width, and harmonic overtones occurring on REAL TAPE that no plug can reach, no matter what they say, and how much our minds want to believe it. Yes it is easier and i jumped on that wagon as well. But at the end of the day,,,,,,,,Analog Still Wins………amen    


      Don’t Confuse me with
      the facts!




      in comparison with “digital” recording.




      Vinyl  About 50 dB


      Digital usually more than 96 dB




      Vinyl  About 3%


      Digital About 0 %




      Vinyl  About 50 Hz –
      15 K Hz


      Digital About 20  Hz–
      22 KHz


      Wow and Flutter


      Vinyl  Measurable


      Digital Not measurable


      Speed stability


      Vinyl  May be


      Digital  Not


      Channel Separation


      Vinyl about 35 dB (?)


      Digital Probably infinite (unmeasurable?)


      So, in terms of the “facts” of the hard numerical,
      scientific, objective measurement of the two formats, I don’t see much room for
      any more than a cursory comparison.

      Next question?


      Vinyl  Ticks, pops,
      inner groove distortion, playing repeated times can cause “groove wear”.


      Digital  None
      of these appear.

        1. Yes Ripprok. The word lengths are bigger as was said above so more audio information can be enjoyed, but the greatest reason which we all don’t want to face because of connivence sake, we all have a natural body, and this medium is more on the natural side so we relate to it better. Even without knowing. We have young guys come in the studio often and say,” how can we get that sound and that emotion  ” and they mention an older record that their parents had. When you hear this from a newer generation, there’s something to listen to here, for those who have an ear to hear these statements. Vinyl hits the spirit in a different way. We are very grateful for digital and it’s connivence and work with it Everyday all Day,and still if you ask those who have come through the other side that have nothing to loose or gain, analog is warmer deeper wider, more welcoming as was said before and there are harmonic overtones that play a big part as well. Recording digital places everything separate. o’s and 1’s. Then it’s our job to blend them together. It separates the signal, were tape brings the elements together and makes them unique and working as a team before going into digital. This conversation has been going on for a long time, but if you want to hear Music in a special way, put on some vinyl and hear how it surrounds you so much more. Last note” Most of our business is still all in the box, so why would we be advocating this if it were not true?           

        2. David – question: Would it help to bounce or mix down a digital project into 2 channel stereo tape before mastering?

        3. Luciano, there is a degree where this can benefit even after the fact of conversion to digital, though keeping the signal if possible analog as far down the chain on the Front End prior to conversion, would yield the higher degree of results. Also if you do this before mastering, keep as much processing off the mix as possible. This gives you more leverage at mastering, and the tape if you will acts like a great compressor as well, so the mastering will even begin there. Hit it as hard as you can, with your ear guiding you. Don’t be afraid, see what db level she’ll take.      

        4. ultimately the CD format 16 bit word length is the main limitation. as sounds get softer they begin to experience quantinization anomalies because they become 12, the 10, then 8 bit in length. so going to 24 or 32 bit or some of the newer single bit stream with variable lengths should eliminate those issues and then increasing the sample rate to 192Khz should finally make digital recordings as fully nuanced as vinyl.

      1. Thank you Jack for your hard facts. What sounds better to the ear? Vinyl has bigger groves for bigger grovin..ha ha;;;;;;;;   shrink in down, not much left around. Heah that rimes.
        Convenience almost always wins over quility,,,but does it really win?
        Even with the pops and crackles which we are all aware of prior to making our statement, put on a try,,,,,,,,,,,,you’ll be surprised. Digital isn’t natural. It’s  zero’s and ones. Analog is, and our ears are as well. Keep in mind dear Jack, we have been trying to get what Vinyl has in digital for many years and some may say you cannot tell the difference. Listening over long periods of time on both and the digital will burn the ear off over time. Most of our sessions 90 percent have been on the daw for 15 years. We are very informed about both and the analog just hits the souls of men in a warmer welcoming way, artifacts and all.
        Thank you for your time JAck.      

        1. The thousands of magnetic particles found in the tape are being flipped one way or the other as they pass by the record head of the tape machine, so in essence, magnetic tape could be considered ‘0’s and 1’s’ because there is either a positive or negative charge.  I love tape, don’t get me wrong, but its digital brother can eventually emulate it, and some companies, like UA and their ampex and studer emulations are coming pretty close!  take care.


        2. Hello Heath, it’s amazing how there is an interest to continue in these articles, so please suffer this probably last response, unless someone may ask a question that may help them, we use those plugs, and you are correct that to the ear you may not notice the difference, but you also mentioned    ” ” there is a positive or negative Charge. ” This is a physical connection and not a Conversion. The charge says,,, I’ll connect with you,,,,the conversion says… ” I will cut you, and place you where i want you. Digital is and has been a big brother and a blessing, and we have faced the fact for years now and even decades that we live with our brother digital and are thankful for him, but again, a home cooked meal from our mothers is remembered and hard to forget. We are not advocating taking one away as they both serve in wonderful ways, but our ears after listening to records we made Still have a special beauty and thickness that’s hard to find in creating without this platform,,,brother analog. Thanks for considering this Heath. Have a good one,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,      

      2. regardless of the measurements, CD is still a substandard format. For some odd reason, old vinyl records that were 100 % analog seems to sounds superior to me and many others. It sounds more natural, like a real performance. 96k-24 bit files sound pretty good to me though, much better than CDs


  9. Nor do they don’t count all the indie releases from people who don’t/can’t get the Soundscan reports turned in (they need to be faxed !!) on time.

  10. This could just mean there are more people producing and releasing music, and even the most microscopic scales per artist add to a larger percentage of total music sold. 

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