FGL Loom Large in Country Music’s Embrace of Streaming in 2016

Country album sales continued their annual downward trajectory, though Chris Stapleton’s “Traveller” became the first country set in three years to sell 1 million.

When executives look back on shifts in country music in future years, they might well point to 2016 as the moment when the transition was most evident. Country streaming grew by 57 percent while country track downloads shrunk 23 percent, according to Nielsen Music, indicating that the genre’s customers are increasingly comfortable with the music industry’s new paradigm of accessing music instead of owning it.

At the same time, Chris Stapleton‘s Traveller became the first country album in three years to sell 1 million units from January through December, suggesting that consumers haven’t completely abandoned the idea of possessing a collection of songs.

Despite Stapleton’s achievement, country album sales continued their annual downward trajectory, with the genre totaling 26.1 million sales, a decline of 11 percent from 2015. Only once since 2005 has country sold more albums in a single year than it did in the previous 12-month frame.

Country’s track sales, which for years ate away at the album market, dropped significantly, sinking to 87.5 million, off from the 2015 mark of 113.9 million. It was the first time that country’s track volume fell below 100 million units since genre-specific download data was introduced in 2011.

Soaring streaming results, of course, offset some of that decline. On-demand audio and video for country rose to 22.1 billion from 14.1 billion in 2015.

Florida Georgia Line‘s “H.O.L.Y.” led the way in single-track activity, topping both the download and streaming charts for 2016. Thomas Rhett‘s “Die a Happy Man” was likewise key, finishing at No. 3 on the download list — 113,000 units behind Tim McGraw‘s “Humble and Kind” — and No. 2 in on-demand streaming.

Younger consumers have been quicker to move to streaming. Sam Hunt, whose brand of country folds in youthful elements of pop and hip-hop, landed four of the genre’s 10 most-streamed songs in 2016: “Break Up in a Small Town” (No. 3, 127.3 million streams), “Take Your Time” (No. 4, 95.4 million), “Make You Miss Me” (No. 6, 92.9 million) and “House Party” (No. 9, 79.8 million).

One other notable piece of the 2016 sales profile is the performance of Joey + Rory‘s Hymns. Released by the Gaither Music Group on Feb. 12, 2016, just weeks before Joey Martin Feek‘s March 4 death from cancer, the gospel album tallied 518,000 sales to finish at No. 3 on the Nielsen list. That figure includes sales at Christian retail outlets. Without that volume, the project would have ranked at No. 5 with 410,000 sales.

The business as a whole was in sync with country in the advance of streaming and the decline of track and album sales. Total album sales across all genres reached 200.1 million units, a 17 percent falloff from 2015, while total track downloads slid 25 percent to 724.1 million. The music industry racked up 431.7 billion on-demand streams, 39 percent more than the previous year.

Following are the 10 best-selling country albums and tracks for 2016, as well as the genre’s 10 most-streamed titles:

Top-Selling Country Albums, 2016

1) Chris Stapleton, Traveller, 1,085,000
2) Blake Shelton, If I’m Honest, 540,000
3) Joey + Rory, Hymns, 518,000
4) Garth Brooks, The Ultimate Collection, 421,000
5) Keith Urban, Ripcord, 412,000
6) Florida Georgia Line, Dig Your Roots, 325,000
7) Jason Aldean, They Don’t Know, 305,000
8) Sam Hunt, Montevallo, 284,000
9) Thomas Rhett, Tangled Up, 266,000
10) Carrie Underwood, Storyteller, 256,000

Top-Selling Country Digital Songs, 2016

1) Florida Georgia Line, “H.O.L.Y.”, 1,379,000
2) Tim McGraw, “Humble and Kind,” 1,023,000
3) Thomas Rhett, “Die a Happy Man,” 910,000
4) Maren Morris, “My Church,” 830,000
5) Dierks Bentley, “Somewhere on a Beach,” 697,000
6) Cole Swindell, “You Should Be Here,” 681,000
7) Keith Urban, “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” 660,000
8) Jon Pardi, “Head Over Boots,” 626,000
9) Dan + Shay, “From the Ground Up,” 607,000
10) Kelsea Ballerini, “Peter Pan,” 604,000

Most-Streamed Country Songs, 2016

1) Florida Georgia Line, “H.O.L.Y.,” 175,400,000
2) Thomas Rhett, “Die a Happy Man,” 156,400,000
3) Sam Hunt, “Break Up in a Small Town,” 127,300,000
4) Sam Hunt, “Take Your Time,” 95,400,000
5) Chris Stapleton, “Tennessee Whiskey,” 93,000,000
6) Sam Hunt, “Make You Miss Me,” 92,900,000
7) Luke Bryan, “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day”   85,500,000
8) Tim McGraw, “Humble and Kind,” 83,800,000
9) Sam Hunt, “House Party,” 79,800,000
10) Thomas Rhett, “T-Shirt,” 78,700,000