The music industry brings in billions of dollars each year through recorded music sales and streaming alone. Given these colossal profits, you may wonder – “what kind of music sells?”
The answer is more complex. Overall sales by genre can change from year to year and differ across regions.
As the name suggests, pop music typically dominates overall worldwide sales, but other genres such as R&B/Hip Hop, Rock, and Country have all spent time at the top of the charts.
We’ll break down the most popular music genre and give you a rundown of what kind of music sells.
Let’s dive in!
The Music Industry
Let’s begin by taking a quick look at the music industry overall, particularly how much revenue it has earned in recent years and what noteworthy trends are contributing to the sale and popularity of certain genres, artists, and individual songs.
As previously stated, the music industry is a juggernaut, bringing in enormous profits year in and year out.
According to a report published by The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), in 2021 alone, the music industry in the United States raked in a whopping $14.9 billion in recorded music revenue, up an incredible 23% from the year prior.
The global revenue is estimated to be significantly larger, bringing in a staggering $50 billion in value in 2021.
Contributing to this astronomical figure is the prevalence of streaming, including paid subscriptions, digital radio, and music streaming services supported by ads.
The same report from the RIAA indicates that 83% of all recorded music profits for that year came from streaming services – which includes the aforementioned apps and services as well usage by social media platforms, including Tik Tok and Facebook.
New Trends in Social Media
The inclusion of social media applications as key platforms for discovering and streaming music is having a marked impact on the industry.
Tik Tok especially is altering the way the music industry operates, providing listeners with a new way to discover new artists and songs while also introducing old hits to a new generation.
For example, Celine Dion’s 90s power ballad “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” set records across streaming platforms like Spotify following the song’s reemergence as a popular lip-syncing meme on Tik Tok, and over 2.3 million users made use of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” in their content.
Other artists like Tik Tok user Jax (“I Know Victoria’s Secret”) hit the Billboard charts by creating original songs and sharing them widely on the platform.
Top Selling Music Genres
Now that you have a foundational understanding of the type of revenue the music industry earns as well as some insight into how music is discovered and consumed by listeners let’s take a deeper look at music genres that consistently bring in major profits for the industry.
According to an analysis from Music Business Worldwide, in the United States, R&B/Hip Hop was the most streamed music by genre in 2020.
In fact, analysis indicates that a whopping 34% of all recorded music streams from that year were R&B/Hip Hop.
R&B/Hip Hop began its industry dominance back in 2017 with the release of major albums like Drake’s “More Life” and Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN”, both of which were the two best-selling albums of that year.
While R&B/Hip Hop continues to dominate, data that indicates that the genre may be on trend to lose its spot as the number one type of music in the United States.
A recent report from Luminate that addressed overall trends and insights into the music industry showed that while R&B/Hip Hop kept its top spot over the past year, its overall market share declined slightly from the year prior.
While this may just be an outlier, it is possible this could signal a downward trend for the genre moving forward.
R&B/Hip Hop may have only recently secured the number one spot as the U.S.’s favorite genre of music, but R&B/Hip Hop has long been a top seller and fan favorite.
Take, for example, Rihanna and Beyonce – arguably two of the most popular and best-loved artists of all time and certainly stars of the R&B/Hip Hop genre.
Rihanna is the richest female musician on the planet thanks to other investments and dealings and has sold over 250 million records across the world, with Beyonce following not far behind with over 100 million records sold.
Artists with astounding popularity like this are what keep R&B/Hip Hop at the very top of the U.S. Charts!
Up until R&B/Hip Hop claimed industry dominance in 2017, Rock was king.
Rock has been emblematic of American music for decades. Of the top nine best-selling albums of all time (albums that have sold over 40 million copies or more worldwide), six of those albums are considered Rock or some subgenre of Rock, including Soft Rock, Folk Rock, or Progressive Rock.
Rock’s indomitable selling power is further illustrated by the top-selling music artists of all time (artists who have sold 250 million records or more).
Artists like the Beatles, Queen, Elton John, Elvis, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin stand head and shoulders at the top of the list, still selling records long after their peak.
It’s right there in the name – pop music remains one of the most beloved and top-selling genres out there.
By some measures, while R&B/Hip Hop has been clearly defined as the top seller in the United States, pop appears to dominate throughout the rest of the world.
Pop music can be difficult to define in its current iteration and, therefore, difficult to quantify solidly.
Pop started as a genre that was interchangeable with rock n roll music in the early 1950s and 1960s when the genre first emerged and has since evolved to become a cross-cutting, genre-defying moniker for artists and songs that tear up the charts.
Pop ebbs and flows with current trends and cuts across other genres. There is no question that Rihanna is a pop superstar while still being a legend in R&B/Hip Hop.
Pop, Rock, and R&B/Hip Hop are just three broadly defined genres that make up the bulk of global sales across the music industry, but they are certainly not the only genres that rake in beaucoup bucks.
According to recent figures, country music remains a hot seller, with revenue reaching over $7 billion dollars as of 2020.
Country music remains consistently competitive in the broader music industry generating over $4 billion dollars of revenue annually since 2017.
Many country artists end up crossing over to pop music, rock, and other genres with great success.
Artists like Taylor Swift and Shania Twain started out as country artists and have now cemented themselves as some of the top-selling pop artists of all time.
Final Thoughts: What Kind of Music Sells?
“What kind of music sells,” you may ask.
Major industry genres like R&B/Hip Hop, Pop, Rock, and Country music all bring in significant sources of revenue to the music industry.
While very current trends seem to indicate that these kinds of music have staying power, it is unclear how industry shake-ups like the emergence of Tik Tok as a top streaming service will have an effect on overall sales by genre.
Keep your ears peeled for your new favorite song and your eyes open for emerging trends within the music industry!