Final figures from Nielsen Music confirm that Drake's "Views" was the most "consumed" album of 2016.
Meanwhile, Adele's mega-smash "25," released in late 2015, rang up the biggest numbers at physical and virtual cash registers. Neither musician, however, finished as the year's top-selling artist.
In a year marked by a number of deaths of high-profile musicians — from David Bowie and the Eagles' Glenn Frey early in the year to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell near year's end, Prince's overall catalog sold more records than anyone else in 2016.
Nielsen Music reported a slight gain in overall music consumption in 2016 compared with the prior year.
Overall album consumption, which combines physical and digital sales, as well as track equivalent album and streaming equivalent album numbers from on-demand services, increased 3.1% for a total of 560.7 million last year.
Subtracting the physical sales component, which declined year-to-year, the increase in overall consumption was even stronger, up 8.9% over 2015 results.
Yet the trend toward streaming music on audio and video platforms — on-demand audio now represents 38% of total audio consumption — again raises the issue of whether the on-demand services will be sustainable long-term, as virtually all forms of music sales — physical and digital — continue to shrink.
Digital album sales dropped more than 20% in 2016 compared to 2015.
"You can look at the digital numbers and say, 'The sky is falling,' but what we're seeing is that digital consumption of music is more about streaming now than about purchasing," said Dave Bakula, Nielsen Music's senior vice president of industry insights.
"What's happened is that the industry has taken the generation that has wanted all access to all music all the time and given them a legal and monetizable option to do that," he said. "That's the demographic we're now capturing."
The track equivalent album, or TEA, number counts the sale of any 10 songs from a single album as one album sale; a streaming-equivalent album, or SEA, credits 1,500 streams of any songs from the same album as a single album sale.
"We put those ratios in place for a reason, and that is to say that we know the stream isn't the same as an album," Bakula said. "We know a stream is worth about 1,500th of a [physical] sale. But when you mash it all together, that should be the true revenue.
"The question," he added, "is does that revenue ratio that works great for a distribution company trickle down to the artist, and that's a question the distribution company or record label would have to address."
Daryl Friedman, the Recording Academy's chief advocacy and industry relations officer, said Thursday that increases in overall music consumption tend to reward the industry's heaviest hitters.
"The top 1% of artists and labels are seeing very encouraging numbers, but the reality for middle-class songwriters, producers and publishers is very different," Friedman said. "Selling an album creates immediate revenue far greater than the potential of a song being streamed thousands of times."
Bakula noted that the overall music consumption increase came "despite the fact that we had Adele last year and we didn't have anything close to an Adele this year."
The outpouring of emotion over Prince's death in April at 57 translated into massive physical and digital sales that demonstrated a couple of important points, Bakula said.
"Prince controlled his catalog, and before he died it had been available for streaming only on Tidal, so there was limited access," he said. "For people who were demanding Prince's music, purchasing was the only option for a lot of them.
"But it wasn't like there was a spike only on the day of the announcement of his death, or in the first week or two after," Bakula said. "Prince is one of those artists, much like a Michael Jackson, for whom interest on his entire catalog stayed up for the entire year. "
Prince's albums sold more than 2.2 million units, and Nielsen's report notes that he was the only artist to sell more than 1 million digital and physical albums during the year. When taken together with digital sales of 5.4 million songs, the ultimately combined albums and track equivalent sales pushed him ahead of Drake and Adele.
Still, Adele's "25" was the top-selling individual album, with 1.7 million copies, while Drake's "Views" easily topped overall album consumption thanks to billions of song streams, giving him a total volume figure of 4.1 million albums.
The most streamed song — combining audio and video streams — was Desiigner's "Panda," with 791 million streams, followed by Rihanna's "Work" featuring Drake with 708 million streams, Chainsmokers' "Closer" featuring Halsey (611 million), Drake featuring WizKid & Kyla's "One Dance" (558 million) and Rihanna's "Needed Me" (516 million).
The resurgence in vinyl LPs also represented a positive note in the overall sales picture, up 10% over 2015 and constituting 11% of total physical sales.
The top-selling vinyl titles were Twenty One Pilots' "Blurryface" (68,000 copies), David Bowie's "Blackstar" (66,000), Adele's "25" (58,000), Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" (58,000) and Radiohead's "A Moon Shaped Pool (56,000).
The top-selling digital songs were Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling" (2.5 million), Chainsmokers' "Closer" featuring Halsey (2.3 million), Flo Rida's "My House" (2.2 millino), Lukas Graham's "7 Years" (2.1 million) and Drake featuring WizKid & Kyla's "One Dance" (2 million).
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