Nielsen Music/MRC Data Release 2020 Canada Mid-Year Report; Pandemic Has Accelerated Streaming's Rise & Physical Music's Decline

Nielsen Music/MRC Data unveiled their 2020 Canada Mid-Year Report, which provides a comprehensive overview of Canadians' music consumption in the first half of this year. Overall, it reveals that despite a very tumultuous year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, recorded-music consumption has proven resilient as audio streams are up 16.6% to over 42 billion. This is despite early indication and worries from many corners of the record music industry that listeners' disrupted routines would mean lower stream counts.

Total album-equivalent audio consumption — a measure of total consumption, including sales of albums and songs, as well as audio on-demand streams — was up 5.7% year over year, helped by new releases fromThe Weeknd, Justin Bieber, and Eminem. Highlighting the power of a TikTok meme in the social media age, Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” topped all tracks with 82 million on-demand streams, and Doja Cat ranked 12th with 41 million streams with her hit “Say So.” And as people spent more time at home, country music was the big winner with a 22.7% gain in audio streams.

Vinyl sales, which were already dipping before March after a decade-long revitalization, have taken a big dive as record shops were forced to close. Through March 12, vinyl sales in Canada were down -8%; post-lockdown, the deficit had increased to -28.5% by June 4.

No surprise then that overall physical music sales have taken a big post-COVID dive. A 26.2% pre-COVID-19 deficit in physical sales from March 12 deepened to a 48.8% year-to-date loss through June 4.

To download Nielsen Music/MRC Data's 2020 Canada Mid-Year Report, go HERE.

Here is Nielsen Music/MRC Data's report overview:

The recorded-music business was celebrating great results on all fronts before the Coronavirus pandemic impacted the industry:

  • Through March 12, total audio consumption was up 10.8% to 13.8 million album equivalent units. Audio streaming showed continued growth, posting a 21.3% increase.

The slate of early-year events that put music on the national stage gave a select group of artists — including some new global superstars — substantial boosts in streams:

  • The Grammy Awards on Jan. 26 gave performers and winners a major spike in consumption activity. Tracks by Billie Eilish posted a 38% streaming increase for the week of the ceremony. Camila Cabello’s “First Man” rocketed 711%; Lil Nas X’s “Rodeo” climbed 119%; and Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You” rose 82%.
  • The Pepsi Super Bowl LIV Halftime Show (Feb.2), starring Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, provided a 224% boost in audio and video consumption to the artists’ combined catalogs the week of the game.
  • Eminem’s surprise performance at the Academy Awards on Feb. 9 gave his track “Lose Yourself” a 163% consumption increase for the week.


Subscription services were the big beneficiaries in the early weeks of the pandemic as people spent an extraordinary amount of time at home:

  • Music video streams were 9.3% higher than the pre-COVID baseline (the period of Jan. 17 to March 12) in the first week and rose to 13.4% the following week.
  • A 26.2% pre-COVID-19 physical sales deficit from March 12 deepened to a 48.8% year-to-date loss through June 4.
  • Vinyl, revived from a moribund state over the past decade, was also hit hard. Through March 12, sales were down 8%; post-lockdown, the deficit had increased to 28.5% by June 4.

Genres that saw streaming increases:

  • Country Music: By the week ending May 7, streams of country music had steadily risen 10.5% above the baseline even though a few key releases were postponed. Country’s market share of audio on-demand streams also grew, from 5.5% pre-COVID-19 to 6.4% post-lockdown.
  • Christian, Children’s and Blues also posted increases.

Comfort during uncertain times:

  • People looked to music for comfort: 87% of consumers listened to music they usually listen to, and 55% revisited music they hadn’t heard in a while.
  • Catalog — music titles older than 18 months — took a slightly larger share of both on-demand audio streams — 61.9% in the first half of 2020 versus 59.8% in the first half of 2019 — and year- to-date audio consumption (sales plus streams) — 62.1% in H1 2020 vs. 59.1% in H1 2019.
  • On April 26, Canadian musicians, along with actors, athletes and activists, took part in the nationally televised broadcast “Stronger Together, Tous Ensemble” benefit concert that raised millions of dollars for Food Banks Canada’s COVID-19 relief efforts. The show also introduced ArtistsCAN, a collective artist initiative created by Tyler Shaw and Fefe Dobson to raise funds. Over 25 performers appeared on a recording of Bill Withers’ classic hit “Lean On Me,” which was released to radio, digital and streaming services. It debuted at No. 1 on the Digital Songs chart and in the top 15 on three radio format charts, and has totaled over 1.5 million streams in Canada to date.

Connecting with music fans in their digital lives:

  • Travis Scott: His appearance in the video game Fortnite was viewed by 12.3 million players. Fortnite boosted Scott’s catalog totals: Audio streams climbed 69%, video streams jumped 135%, and song sales rose 318% in the week following the event.
  • Verzuz Battles: Verzuz battles consistently gave participants’ tracks a boost at streaming services.
  • Black Lives Matter: On their most prominently featured playlists, streaming services showcased songs from America’s pantheon about black civil rights, discrimination and protest. The following tracks got big lifts across all streaming services (the average daily audio streams for May 22-27 compared with May 28-June 4):
  • Childish Gambino, “This Is America,” +278.6%
  • J. Cole, “Middle Child,” +6.6%
  • Kendrick Lamar, “Alright,” +271%
  • 21 Savage featuring J. Cole, “a lot,” +10.4%
  • N.W.A, “Fuck Tha Police,” +157.4%
  • Rage Against the Machine, “Killing in the Name,” +9.8%
  • Tupac, “Keep Ya Head Up,” +136.6%
  • Nipsey Hussle, “Grinding All My Life,” +31.4%
  • Ludacris, “S.O.T.L. (Silence of the Lambs),” +182.6%
  • Killer Mike, “Don’t Die,” +10,192.7%
  • Sam Cooke, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” +112.2%
  • John Legend & The Roots, “Hang On In There,” +13,422.7%


  • The Weeknd: His latest album, After Hours, spent six nonconsecutive weeks atop the Billboard Canadian Albums Chart, the most for any title so far this year. After Hours had the highest one-week consumption-unit total for the period and is the most-consumed album of 2020 so far. Its first single, “Blinding Lights,” ruled the Billboard Canadian Hot 100 for seven weeks, matching his longest-running chart-topper, “Starboy.”
  • The Weeknd is one of five Canadian artists to reach the peak on the albums chart this year, surpassing the three who topped the list during the same period in 2019. Justin Bieber landed his sixth straight No, 1 with Changes, Tory Lanez picked up his second with The New Toronto 3, NAV scored his second consecutive chart-topper with Good Intentions, and Drake hit No.1 for the 10th time with Dark Lane Demo Tapes.
  • Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” his first solo appearance on the Billboard Canadian Hot 100, spent 10 consecutive weeks at No. 1, the longest-running track to rule the chart since Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” in mid-2019. It’s the most- streamed title in Canada so far in 2019.
  • Post Malone’s “Circles” became the only song in the first six months of 2020 to reach the top of the CHR, Hot AC and Mainstream AC charts. It was his first No. 1 at all three formats.


  • TikTok propelled three of 2020’s most-streamed tracks: Doja Cat’s “Say So,” Trevor Daniel’s “Falling” and Roddy Ricch’s “The Box.” Of the year’s 15 most-streamed songs (audio plus video), eight have gone viral on TikTok.
  • TikTok also helped tracks that would have performed well without it. For “Toosie Slide,” Drake with social media influencer Toosie and hip-hop duo Ayo & Teo to create a dance built specifically for the app. As a result, Toosie’s video has 1.5 million views and #toosieslide has over 4.2 billion tags.


  • NEIL PEART: Total consumption of Rush’s Hall of Fame catalog posted a gain of 767% the week of the legendary drummer- lyricist’s death on Jan. 7.
  • KOBE BRYANT: The basketball star’s death on the day of the Grammy Awards was a constant topic during the telecast with mentions by Lizzo and Alicia Keys. Boyz II Men dedicated a performance of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” to Bryant.
  • POP SMOKE: The rapper-songwriter’s latest album, Meet the Woo 2, set a new high chart peak following his death on Feb. 19, moving to No. 8 on Billboard Canadian Albums while his debut release placed inside the top 100 for the first time.
  • KENNY ROGERS: Following the country star’s March 20 death, total consumption of his catalog posted a 1,476% increase, while The Best of Kenny Rogers: Through the Years entered the Billboard Canadian Albums chart at No. 12 for the week ending March 26.
  • JOE DIFFIE: After the country singer’s death on March 29, total consumption of his catalog posted a 1,070% increase.
  • BILL WITHERS: The singer-songwriter’s two biggest hits, “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” both entered the Digital Songs chart in the top six following his death on March 30. Total consumption of his catalog increased by 773%.
  • ELLIS MARSALIS: Ellis, who died April 1 at the age of 85, was the father of jazz musicians Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis. Some of the students he taught as an educator included Harry Connick Jr. and Terence Blanchard.
  • ADAM SCHLESINGER: Total streaming of his catalog with Fountains of Wayne jumped 93% after his April 1 death from complications due to COVID-19. He was also a member of the band Ivy and wrote the theme song to the film That Thing You Do!
  • JOHN PRINE: Total consumption of the country- folk singer-songwriter’s catalog grew 368% following his April 7 death after developing COVID-19.
  • FLORIAN SCHNEIDER: Streams for pioneering German electronic group Kraftwerk posted a 260% increase following the announcement in the first week of May of his death on April 21.
  • LITTLE RICHARD: Following the rock’n’roll legend’s passing on May 9, his catalog posted a 683% streaming increase, while his Twenty Greatest Hits album entered at No. 23 on the Top Albums sales chart.


  • A large number of Canadian artists reached top of the various consumption and airplay charts in the first half of the year. The Weeknd, Tory Lanez, Justin Bieber, NAV and Drake all reached the summit of the Billboard Canadian Albums chart. The Weeknd’s smash hit “Blinding Lights” ruled the Billboard Canadian Hot 100 and spent a personal best 14 weeks at No. 1 on Hot AC airplay. Bieber’s duet with Ariana Grande also hit No. 1 on the Canadian Hot 100, and his own single, “Intentions,” landed at the peak of the Hot AC chart.
  • A number of Canadian rockers had strong first halves, including Billy Talent, whose “Reckless Paradise” spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on Mainstream Rock, the band’s longest-running chart-topper. The Beaches scored their first No. 1 airplay hit with “Want What You Got,” and The Blue Stones reached the summit for the first time with “Shakin’ Off the Rust.”


  • POP: Five of the top 10 most-consumed albums in the first half of the year came from the pop genre. Led by Justin Bieber at No. 2, the list also includes Billie Eilish, Lewis Capaldi, Harry Styles and Dua Lipa. Tones and I’s “Dance Monkey” (No. 2), Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” (No. 6) and Bieber’s “Intentions” (No. 10) also place in the top
    10 on the year’s Overall Streaming list. Pop artists who have scored No. 1 albums so far in 2020 include Bieber, Selena Gomez, BTS and Lady Gaga. \
  • ROCK: Veteran acta like Elton John, The Tragically Hip and Queenhave the most-consumed albums so far in 2020 in the rock genre. A number of artists who haven’t released albums with new material in a while posted top 10 debuts on Billboard Canadian Albums, led by James Taylor, who scored his first chart-topper with American Standard. They also included Tame Impala, Pearl Jam, Fiona Apple — delivering her first album in eight years — and Ozzy Osbourne, who picked up his first chart-topping song in the Nielsen Music/MRC Data era at Mainstream Rock with “Under the Graveyard.”
  • R&B/HIP-HOP: Four of the top 5 most-consumed albums of the year belong to R&B/hip-hop, including The Weeknd’s After Hours at No. 1. The genre has six of the top 10 songs on  the Overall Streaming year-to-date chart, including Roddy Ricch’s “The Box” at No. 1, The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” at No. 3 and Future’s “Life Is Good” at No. 4. Eminem’s Music to Be Murdered By spent four straight weeks at No. 1 on Billboard Canadian Albums, the most consecutive weeks for a chart- topping album in the first half of the year.
  • COUNTRY: Luke Combs’ What You See Is What You Get – which topped the album chart in November 2019 — is the most-consumed country title so far in 2020. He also has the runner-up, This One’s for You. Dan + Shay & Justin Bieber’s hit duet “10,000 Hours” is the genre’s top streaming song for the first half of the year. On the Country Airplay chart, eight songs from Canadian artists have hit No. 1 to date, including first-time chart-toppers Jess Moskaluke, Jade Eagleson and Tyler Joe Miller.
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Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Musician and Canadian Music Trade magazines. He also hosts the Canadian Musician Podcast.
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