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This Canadian Artist Boosted Streaming Music to a New Record in the U.S.

January 5, 2017, 4:57 PM UTC
Squamish Valley Music Festival
Andrew Chin — Getty Images

Canadian rapper Drake helped music streaming services explode in 2016, rising by 76% in the United States to overtake digital sales of music for the first time in history, Nielsen Music said on Thursday.

Americans used on-demand streaming platforms, such as Apple Music (AAPL), Google Play (GOOG), Spotify, Pandora (P), and Amazon Music (AMZN), to listen to 431 billion songs in 2016, led by hip hop and R&B artists like Drake, The Weeknd, Kanye West, and Rihanna, Nielsen said in its 2016 U.S. year-end report.

Some six songs, including New York rapper Desiiigner’s “Panda” and Rihanna’s “Work,” surpassed 500 million total on demand streams in 2016, compared with just three that hit that mark in 2015.

The growth in streaming was more than enough to offset declines in other formats, particularly digital sales, leading to an overall 3% increase in music consumption compared with 2015, the report said.

“The music industry continues to grow at a healthy rate, and 2016 showed us that the landscape is evolving even more quickly than we have seen with other format shifts,” said David Bakula, senior vice president of industry insights at Nielsen Music.

Drake, 30, was by far the biggest beneficiary. The singer had the most digital song sales, the most streams—more than 5.4 billion—by a huge margin, and the most heavily consumed album of the year with Views.

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But the “Hotline Bling” singer had competition from Britain’s Adele and rock star Prince.

Adele’s 2015 release 25 was the best-selling album of 2016 for the second straight calendar year with total sales of 1.7 million units. It was also the best-seller for 2015.

Prince became the best-selling artist in terms of album sales, selling more than 2.2 million units following his death in April at age 57 of an accidental painkiller overdose. The day after his demise, Prince sold over 1 million digital songs and more than 200,000 digital albums. His catalog was tightly controlled on streaming services.

Among other bright spots for 2016, physical album sales became a larger share of total album sales than the prior year for the first time in a decade, the report said.

Vinyl continued an 11-year upward trend, reaching sales of 13 million in 2016—the largest number since 1991.