Digital or Physical? Data Illustrates the Evolution of Music Consumption

The right album sounds pretty good no matter how it’s played. If you could somehow play music out of a toaster, Shania Twain’s ‘Come On Over’ would still sound sweet as sugar cane. But there is something about the crisp sound of an original vinyl playing from an old-timey record player that makes a good song sound even better. 

It’s crazy to think about the evolution of how we consume music. Like almost everything in life, as technology advances and the needs of society change, the way we perform our day-to-day actions goes through drastic reformations. But music consumption in particular took a particularly interesting life path over the past few decades. 

Between digital and physical copies of music and CDs versus vinyl, there has been no shortage of different ways we can tune into our favorite artists and albums. Though unlike many other trends where digital has entirely taken over and eliminated the need for any physical alternatives, the rise of digital music has correlated with a nostalgic return to the tried and true record player. 

In fact, a recent data analysis of music consumption over time, it was found that vinyl sales, despite being over 10 times lower than CD sales in 2013, surpassed revenue for CD sales in 2020. Record players are no longer just a throwback decor piece for the older generations, they’re now a trendy addition to any music lover’s home. 

Digital music downloads are on a steep decline too. Roughly a decade ago digital music downloads accounted for $2.92 billion in revenue. In 2020, this number dropped to $67 million. While that’s no shabby figure, it’s certainly a daunting drop comparatively. 

Just because digital sales are down doesn’t mean consumers are trading all their iPods for hard copies. Digital accounted for 90.4% of music sales in 2020, compared to just 64.1% in 2013. So if music sales are dropping in almost every aspect, how are people consuming it? 

Streaming services. Platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora contribute to the $8.92 billion music streaming industry. The convenience these platforms offer to their customers to keep their favorite tunes on repeat while exploring new and upcoming artists is unmatched, and it’s got the numbers to prove it. 

No matter how you hear it, there’s no argument that music has the power to bring people together. So, jam on!