Pop is still king of the world’s music genres


With the decline in recorded-music sales reaching something of a
turning point in a number of markets, it seemed like a good time to
analyze the retail sales of several music genres to see whether the
downturn and subsequent stabilization have been equally divided across
genres or whether some genres have suffered more than others. The
analysis shows that pop and rock have strengthened their hold on music
sales, while rap/hip-hop, the darling of the 1990s, has suffered a

The discussions surrounding recorded-music sales and what to do to
solve the decline in recent years has often dealt with recorded music as
a single entity. There is also a commonly held assumption that all the
musical genres and subgenres have suffered in equal measure. Music & Copyright has analyzed the retail sales of the different music genres over the previous decade to establish whether this is the case.

The results are, in part, not totally surprising, with pop and rock
music tightening their grip on retail sales in the 2000s. But
rap/hip-hop, which surged in the 1990s, slipped as public criticism
mounted. Sales of jazz, classical and other smaller genres also fell

It is probably worth stating that the classification of any artist’s
music into a single genre is fairly arbitrary and can differ between
record company, music retailer and national trade association.
Categorizing music within a genre can often have multiple influencing
factors, such as musical technique, style, context, target audience and
geographical origin. Moreover, many genres have subgenres that can
overlap others. For example, media-management service Gracenote
categorizes music into more than 1,600 individual genre categories. To
confuse things even more, several studies have been published in recent
years describing theoretical and scientific approaches to determining a
music genre. However, for the purposes of this study, Music & Copyright
has limited itself to the most commonly used genre categories by most
national trade associations when presenting a breakdown of sales by

The two most popular music genres in terms of retail sales over the past 10 years are pop and rock. According to Music & Copyright,
retail sales of pop music stood at US$7.4 billion in 2009, while retail
sales of rock music stood at US$6.5 billion. In terms of revenue share,
pop accounted for 29.2% of global music-retail sales last year, with
rock taking a 25.7% share. The closeness of the two genres at the end of
the last decade was also apparent at the beginning. In 2000, pop had a
global sales share of 27.8%, with rock at 22.7%. Despite a difference in
year-to-year share performance, the retail-sales decline of the two
genres in the previous decade has been fairly even: For pop, retail
sales decreased 27.7%, while retail sales for rock fell 22.1%. However,
both genres outperformed total music-retail sales, which fell 31% in
2009, to US$25.4 billion, from US$36.9 billion in 2000.

With pop and rock accounting for a combined retail-sales share of 55%
in 2009, other genres have clearly underperformed when compared with
the global sales decline. Music & Copyright has found that
the retail value of rap/hip-hop sales dropped almost 50% between 2000
and 2009. It should be noted that the performance of particular genres
of music that are more popular in some larger markets, such as the US
and Japan, will also be reflected on a global level because of the high
share of retail sales in those markets. However, rap/hip-hop has
received criticism in recent years, particularly in the US, for its
close association with violence. A poll a few years ago of black
Americans conducted by the Associated Press and AOL-Black Voices found
that half of all respondents described the genre as having a negative

Retail sales of classical music and jazz have also experienced a
faster decline than the global average. For these genres, as well as
some other genres grouped in this study as part of “other,” the
reduction in floor space by brick-and-mortar retailers of slow-selling,
low-margin genres in favor of better-selling items, such as DVDs, video
games and consumer electronics, has had an impact on availability and
subsequently sales. Moreover, the transition to digital and away from
physical soundcarriers could be having a negative effect on the retail
sales of the more-niche genres. For example, classical music is
available online, but this on its own is not enough to secure sales.
Except for searches for specific titles, browsing for classical music
can be more restrictive online than in a physical store, because a
consumer can see only what is displayed on his monitor at any one time.
If digital-music services do not have helpful links, charts, submenus
and subgenres, freely browsing a genre without significant background
knowledge is almost impossible.

Although some genres that are more popular in a limited number of
countries are included in this analysis, some are not. Country music,
for example, is included, because it is more popular in the world’s
biggest market, the US. The number of country-focused radio stations
outnumbers most other genre-based stations. Because of this, a large
number of country tracks figure in the Billboard Hot 100
singles chart, which is based on airplay rather than sales. However, in
terms of retail sales, the genre accounts for about 12%, compared with
more than 30% for rock. Even so, despite much-lower retail sales of
country music elsewhere in the world, the high level in the US resulted
in a global share of 5.9% in 2009.

In contrast, religious and Latin genres – such as Musica Popular
Brasileira, which itself incorporate subgenres such as samba and
samba-cancao – sell well in many Latin American countries. But because
Latin American countries account for a much lower share of global retail
sales, these genres have been grouped as part of “other.” [Editor’s
note: please check the more recent genre blog which has more up to date
figures for 2010]

Music & Copyright is a fortnightly research service published by Informa Telecoms & Media.

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