What’s Going on?

For the last few years, the music industry has only known one direction: up. Global sales have climbed 5 years in a row, buoyed by the rise of streaming services Spotify and Apple Music, while concert ticket sales eclipsed $10 billion, a new high.

The pandemic changed all that. Concerts have been canceled for most of 2020, and music listening has fallen by about 550 million streams a week (3.4%) for the last 10 weeks, according to Billboard/MRC Data. The decline has impacted almost every kind of music, with dance, latin and hip-hop/R&B suffering the most.

But three genres have been spared the covid crunch: Gospel music, children’s music, and country. Country and Gospel in particular have thrived. U.S. residents have listened to an average of 11.1% more country since mid-March—an increase of 127 million streams a week.  And while growth in kids’ music has subsided as more people return to work, country and Gospel have only accelerated. Country music streaming climbed 22.4% and Gospel music 23.2% in the final full week of May.

New releases from Kenny Chesney, Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini helped. Chesney ranks No. 30 in the latest edition of Bloomberg’s Pop Star Power Rankings, while Hunt is No. 109.

But that doesn’t explain why Luke Combs, whose record came out seven months ago, had one of the 10 best-selling albums in the U.S. last month. Nor does it explain why Morgan Wallen, whose album came out two years ago, is also in the top 100.

There is something about being in a crisis situation that cleans out some of the dross that has accumulated over the years on the radio and internet. We always point to the sixty’s, seventy’s, and the beginning of the eighty’s as eras of songs with substance. No doubt, the eras produced some master pieces -“Like a rolling stone, “I want to know what love is,” “Time after Time,” “Owner of the lonely hearts,” to name just a few.

We try to forget that these eras also had some duds as well – “Wake me up before you go go,” – but they were the exception not the rule.


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