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Adele Saved Music, Rock Recovered, and 12 More Fun Facts From SoundScan’s Year-End Spectacular


The Nielsen SoundScan 2011 year-end review is in, and to the surprise of no one, Adele blew away her competition, locking up nearly superlative SoundScan has to offer, from Best Selling Album to Best Selling Digital Song and everything in between (except, sadly, Top Selling Seasonal Album). The Grammy favorite sold a combined 5.8 million copies of her Album of the Year-nominated 21, and “Rolling in the Deep” alone was downloaded 5.8 million times on digital music services. In short, it was a good year to be Adele, and shockingly, the music industry as a whole ended 2011 on a positive note after a half-decade of decline.

The biz’s best news is that overall music sales — an amalgamation of digital sales, physical sales, music DVDs, etc. — reached 1.6 billion in 2011, an 6.9 percent increase over 2010’s overall numbers. Even better: For the first time since 2004, total album sales were up from the previous year: 330 million albums in 2011, bettering the record low of 326 million LPs sold in 2010. While CD sales were down 5.7 percent compared to last year, digital sales skyrocketed: Digital album sales reached triple-digit millions for the first time, and digital songs were up 8.5 percent.

Here are more fun facts from the SoundScan’s year-end review:

• Adele’s complete parade of 2012 SoundScan accolades: Best Selling Artist, Best Selling Album, Best Selling Physical Album, Best Selling Digital Album, Best Selling Internet Album, Best Selling Digital Song, Best Selling Digital Track, and Most Played Song on the Radio. With 1.8 million downloads, 21 also scored the title of Best Selling Digital Album of All Time. To further put Adele’s impact in perspective, the music industry sold 330 million albums in 2011, a 1.3 percent increase over 2010’s total of 326 million. Subtract 21 and its 5.8 million copies from the equation, and total record sales are down. So, Adele saved the music industry, who are now counting the seconds until 23, 24, or 25.

• Let’s talk about Lady Gaga and Born This Way, which many pegged to be the biggest album of 2011 before Adele’s surprise domination. BTW ended the year with 2.1 million copies sold, good for No. 3 on the year-end chart behind 21 and Michael Bublé’s Christmas (2.4 million). However, Amazon’s much-criticized decision to charge only 99 cents for Born This Way accounted for 440,000 digital copies of the album, or more than half of the total 877,000 digital BTWs sold in 2011. One would have to assume that Little Monsters would have purchased the album regardless of it being 99 cents or $9.99, so we won’t question its seemingly inflated stats. Still, it’s strange that a Christmas album from a Canadian crooner not named Justin Bieber outsold Gaga, arguably the biggest artist on the planet right now.

• All hail surface noise! For the third consecutive year, vinyl sales are up as more and more music fans rebel against CDs and MP3s by purchasing their parents’ medium of choice. 3.9 million records were purchased in 2011, a 36 percent improvement over last year’s numbers. Radiohead fans once again led the resurgence by scooping up 64,000 of the band’s vinyls. However, only 20,800 of those were copies of The King of Limbs, which means a lot of people stocked their budding collections by repurchasing OK Computer and Kid A. Surprisingly, TKOL only finished 5th among top selling vinyl in 2011, though that’s likely because SoundScan’s total doesn’t include those deluxe “Newspaper Albums” Radiohead sold independently. As always, The Beatles’ Abbey Road was No. 1 with 41,000 record sold, and Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues (29,700) was the best selling vinyl that actually came out in 2011.

• Vinyl sales were up, and that’s great, but it wasn’t all good news for independent record stores: Indie shops only accounted for 23.7 million of the physical music purchases in 2011. That’s less than the 29.3 million Amazon and their brethren shipped, or the 64.6 million copies mall-based music stores like Sam Goody and FYE sold. Digital services, led by iTunes, were responsible for roughly 103.1 million albums sold. But the biggest mover, unfortunately, was the Best Buys and Walmarts and their ever-shrinking music sections. The big box retailers sold 103.6 million under-priced CDs in an effort to weed out their competitors and move plasma TVs.

• Same as it ever was: In 2010, 13 albums went platinum while another 35 sold over 500,000 copies. In 2011, 13 albums went platinum while another 35 sold over 500,000 copies, again.

Watch the Throne had a four-month head start, but Drake’s Take Care still managed to outsell Kanye West and Jay-Z’s collaborative disc. But your No. 1 Rap Album of 2011: Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV, which sold 1.9 million copies to finish fourth overall on the Best Selling Albums list behind Adele, Michael Bublé’s Christmas, and Gaga. Take Care landed at No. 7 and WTT No. 9.

• Despite having only one album in the Best Selling Top 10 — Mumford & Son’s Sigh No More at No. 5 — overall sales in the rock genre were up 1.9 percent over last year’s dismal totals. The biggest gainer on the genre front: Jazz, thanks to a staggering 26 percent increase over 2010 sales. Did everyone suddenly discover Charles Mingus or something?

• Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” was both the most streamed song (84 million times!) and most watched music video of 2011. Despite it’s high production value, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” finished sixth on Music Video Stream list, behind Selena Gomez and the Scene’s “Love You Like…”

• Besides Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” only one other song was downloaded (legally) over 5 million times: LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” (No. 3) sold just over 4 million; the rest of the Digital Songs Top 10 sold in the vicinity of 3 million. “Rolling” now stands at No. 7 on the all-time top selling digital songs list; the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” remains No. 1.

• Congratulations, Universal Music Group: You once again locked up the highest percentage of music sales with a 29.85 percent share of the market. Thanks to Adele, however, Sony Music was hot on their heels with a 29.29 percent share. The beleaguered, cut-to-shreds EMI had yet another awful year as their foothold in the music industry fell to single digits: 9.4 percent.

• New York City and its neighboring boroughs bought more music than any other metropolitan area, of course. Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. rounded out the Top 5. Houston, the nation’s sixth most populated city, didn’t even make the Top 10. Step it up, guys.

• Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album,” which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, remains the best selling album of the SoundScan era with 15.7 million copies sold. Meanwhile, the 20th birthday and subsequent reissue of Nirvana’s Nevermind wasn’t enough to finally get that album in the Top 10 of SoundScan’s all-time bestsellers.

• It was a rough year for our late-’90s pop stars. Britney Spears is mentioned only twice among the 2011 honorees: No. 10 on the Artist Airplay list and No. 8 on Artist Streams. Beyoncé? She only shows up as the seventh most streamed artist.

• Adele’s 21 is well on its way toward being one of 2012’s top sellers, as the disc topped the Billboard 200 yesterday for the 14th time, selling another 144,000 copies along the way. By this time next week, 21 will have crossed the six million threshold.