Mono-Genre Watch: 2012 End-Of-Year Sales

January 10, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  20 Comments

The Mono-Genre Theory in short states that all popular music is coalescing into one big genre where influences and styles from country, rap, rock, blues etc. coexist without any true lines defining their differences. As the mono-genre forms, micro-genres pop up, and the popularity of independent music rises as disenfranchised consumers seek out choice. The good thing about the formation of the mono-genre is the breakdown of musical prejudices. The bad thing is the death of contrast and diversity in popular music, a lack of choice, and the bleeding of regional influence out of popular music.

In recent years when the end-of-year sales numbers are released by Nielsen Soundscan, it has revealed evidence of this mono-genre coagulation. 2012 was no different. NPR even got in on the game, calling 2012 The Return of the “Monoculture.” Every genre except for the two super-genres of rock and country saw sales decreases in 2012.

  • Alternative – down 4.3%
  • Christian/Gospel – down 3.4%
  • Classical – down 20.5%
  • Dance/Electronic – down 12.0%
  • Jazz – down 26.2%
  • Latin – down 17.6%
  • Metal – down 0.3%
  • New Age – down 12.9%
  • R&B – down 10.2%
  • Rap – down 11.4%
  • Soundtracks – down 5.2%

Rock sales were up 2%, and country sales were up 4.2%.

With all these declining numbers, it may seem like the music industry is still in the tailspin that plagued it in music’s lost decade of the 2000’s, but overall music sales were only down a very moderate 1.8% in 2012. 2011 will go down as the year the music industry finally righted the ship and stabilized from the fluidity the move to digitization caused. 2012 may go down as the year that a lack of substance stalled this upward trend.


(chart from Glorious Noise)

Rock has always been the most dominant American genre in regards to sales because it is America’s “catch-all” term for music. But as time goes on, country is acquiring some “catch-all” attributes as well, accounting for sales from artists that sonically are much more akin to mainstream arena rock than country. Meanwhile looking into the sales numbers for rock, many bands at the very top could just as well be called country, and are considered country, Americana, or “roots” by many fans and industry types. Babel by Mumford & Sons was 2012’s 4th best-selling album and artist, with 1,463,000 units sold. Sales by other Americana artists like The Avett Brothers and The Lumineers also accounted for rock sales despite their heavy roots influence.

Within the mono-genre theory is the idea that aside from rock, the two most dominant sonic influences in its formation would be country and rap. However rap sales were significantly down in 2012, bucking the trend of being one of the few areas of strength during music’s decade-long decline. Similarly, unlike 2011 when Jason Aldean’s country-rap “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best-selling single in all of country, 2012 did not see either a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboard’s Top 10 on the country chart.

Meanwhile country dominated the top tiles and artists for 2012, with Taylor Swift coming in as the 2nd-highest selling album and artist, and Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Carrie Underwood all securing top 10 spots; the first time country has accounted for 5 of the top 10 spots in the history of SoundScan tracking. It’s also worth noting that Taylor Swift’s blockbuster Red was only given 10 weeks at the end of 2012 to tally up sales for the genre.

2012 Top Ten Selling Albums 2012 Top Ten Selling Artists
(Combines All Album Sales)
Title/Artist Units Sold Artist Units Sold
1 21 / ADELE 4,414,000 1 ADELE 5,167,000
2 RED / TAYLOR SWIFT 3,107,000 2 TAYLOR SWIFT 4,062,000
4 BABEL / MUMFORD & SONS 1,463,000 4 MUMFORD & SONS 2,149,000
6 BELIEVE / JUSTIN BIEBER 1,324,000 6 JASON ALDEAN 1,855,000
8 TAILGATES & TANLINES / LUKE BRYAN 1,105,000 8 MAROON 5 1,540,000
10 NIGHT TRAIN / JASON ALDEAN 1,024,000 10 LUKE BRYAN 1,432,000

Once again the sales numbers hint that the mainstream music public seems to be yearning for substance. While super hits like Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dominated the download numbers, Adele’s 21 was the best-selling album in 2012. That’s right, an album that was released in February of 2011, and was 2011’s best-selling album, retains its crown in 2012 as the industry continues to labor to find legitimate titles and artists that can deliver both substance and commercial viability.

Of course physical sales were down once again, with CD sales declining 13%. But vinyl continued its upswing, accounting for 4.6 million in sales, breaking the previous record of 3.9 million in 2011. Even more interesting, 67% of that vinyl was purchased at independent music stores. These numbers parallel the point that the mono-genre’s formation will cause a flight to independent music by independently-minded consumers seeing choice.

Looking from a broad perspective, the 2012 music sales numbers continue to corroborate the theory of the formation of a mono-genre, with the one important addendum being the possible decline of the rap influence, and the rising dominance of the country and roots influence; a trend that promises to be carried in part into 2013 by the continued commercial success of Taylor Swift’s Red.

See Complete 2012 Nielsen SoundScan Data


20 Comments to “Mono-Genre Watch: 2012 End-Of-Year Sales”

  • I’m scared for the future of music in 2013. I’ve been listening to the radio in my car this last week I’ve noticed a few things. There are some songs that should not ever be on a country station, both Carrie Underwood’s new songs, Blake Shelton’s new song, and some others. Now I am aware that there have been other songs in the past that had no business being called country, but I have never been so blown away by how not country these songs are. On the “rock” side of things I refuse to listen to mumford and his sons or any of that other wannabe bluegrass BS. They should all get their asses beat behind a bar. End rant.


    • I agree that Carrie Underwood should not be played on country radio, but is M&S really all that bad? I mean, they’re not a true bluegrass band but I think they’re better than a lot of other stuff the mainstream has to offer.


      • well I almost see them as the nickelback of popular roots music. I haven’t heard any of their songs that aren’t on the radio but all of the songs I have heard sound the same. They just seem so formulated with the overdone chorus parts and slow verses. They just doesn’t strike me as authentic or unique in any way.


        • “well I almost see them as the nickelback of popular roots music. ”

          I’d give that title to the Lumineers. I think M&S are more like the U2 of the roots music world.


          • I’d call them the Creed of roots music. Pseudo-spiritual, Christian-esque songwriting on occasion, and very serious in musical and lyrical tone. I like a couple of their songs (and a couple of Creed songs for that matter, go ahead and hate me for it but I like post-grunge every now and then), but they really fit that Creed-type mold for a rock band – only difference is they have a banjo instead of electric guitars.


        • Fair enough.


    • Mumford is always going to catch grief from some folks because they’re so popular. It’s not really what I care to listen to, but if Mumford was the worst popular music out there right now, the music world would be a much better place.


    • pop country gets a pass but Mumford & Sons don’t huh? i don’t know about that…


      • It feels like M&S is contributing to mainstream roots music becoming more generic and pop influenced. It’s only going to get dumbed down even more in the coming year.


  • Thank God for Texas/Red Dirt music. I have viable options and radio stations that play them and venues that support them and it makes enough people enough money to maintain itself. We have are share of crap in the scene but still a lot of solid options that lean hard country to blues to folk to rock etc. Alternative country is out there and strong etc. So as the industry goes the way it goes support your regional scenes so the major labels can’t suck quite all the indivduality out of todays music industry.


    • Amen.

      Best new band I managed to hear in person this past year was a little red dirt band out of Waco, Texas, called The Chris Low Band. If it wasn’t for little bands like that playing holes in the wall all over the place here in Texas, I don’t know if I’d bother going to live shows anymore. I’ve given up completely on country radio if it’s not 98.1 out of Austin or 92.9 out of Waco, the rest are just 100% pop-country crap, and even those two play too much of it.

      This mono-genre crap… it pisses me off. I like my hip hop, I like my rock, and I like my country, but I like them for different reasons and in different situations, and I like them separate!


    • Im scared for the Texas/Red Dirt Scene more and more each day. People like Casey Donahew, Josh Abbott, latest from Randy Rogers, etc. may have a fiddle in their band, but their songs are just as bad as mainstream Nashville. Thankfully, there are still some good ones out there like The Damn Quails, Reckless Kelly, Jason Boland, Turnpike Troubadours and Walt Wilkins that get decent radio play.


      • Texas/Red Dirt music is fine. The RRB single is just that a single lets see what the whole album gives is before deceding the RRB has gone to “the dark side”. JAB and CDB are what they are and have never deviated from how they do what they do. Really when you look at the history of the scene there have always been artists whose song craft was far over shawdowed by the draw of their live performances. Case in point Pat Green. The cool thing about the scene is it allows for talent as diverse in style as Reckless Kelly and a Walt Wilkins all the way to Asleep at the Wheel to all thrive in the same scene.


  • The reason Adele is still selling so well is three-fold – for one, the material is actually good and not throw-away club junk. She’s a talented singer, her sound is unique in pop music, and the music is more or less organic with few. She isn’t releasing a new album every year and isn’t releasing as many singles as possible from albums to get more number-one singles. Second, she is tapping into the long-neglected AC base that got a diamond album out of Norah Jones. And third, no other albums are having as much success in their catalog eras as her album is. With those three combined, it isn’t hard to see why it is still selling at a high level.


    • speaking of Norah Jones,that new album from her “alt-country” band Little Willies was fantastic and went basically unnoticed…


  • Ford/Aldean’s attempt at marrying country and rap is the equivalent of mixing ice cream and manure … neither one gets any better .


  • I think this mono-genre thing is alarmism. It’s a symptom of the world becoming smaller due to the internet. The entire history of recorded music is available online FOR FREE, so why should anyone be surprised that artists of all stripes are going to listen to lots of different things? If anything, that’s what a good artist does. To me, the most boring country music out there is made by artists who only listen to country. If you don’t think there are jazz, R&B, or rock records in the collections of guys like Willie Nelson and George Strait, you’re mistaken. And who knows, Tim McGraw might actually listen to Lil Wayne on his iPod (but I don’t think so really.)

    Lil’ Wayne will never sound like Jason Aldean, who will never sound like deadmau5, who will never sound like Sting. Musicians have been taking influence from other genres than their own since the beginning of time. Just because Jason Aldean raps in a song doesn’t mean country as we’ve known it is going to cease to exist.

    If anything, the newer modern country that sounds a lot more like rock is a more “authentic” take on the 21st century country living experience than some guy coming on like he’s the second coming of George Strait. I’ll bet few under 27 really listen to George Jones (their loss really) much less even know who he is and could name a song he’d sung. The “golden demographic” doesn’t listen to the older country that their parents did (not all of them anyway.) They listen to radio rock, 80’s stuff, hip hop, etc, and now they are in the music business and aren’t afraid of genres outside of their own, which is why you’re seeing a lot of those influences enter the country genre.

    Country seems to be the only genre of music that gets shit on for evolving, something any healthy and vital genre should do.


  • Wow. I never thought I’d come to a site called “Saving Country Music” and be able to find hate for Creed. The general dislike of the band is unreal. Anyways, back to Country.


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