How Much Music is Really Released per Year?

Every time I read a statistic about how much music is released for any given period I have more questions than I had before. 

For example, from a 2010 Billboard article: “In 2000, 35,516 albums were released. Seven years later, 79,695 albums (including 25,159 digital albums) were published”. I also have stats that the number of new releases was 98 thousand in 209 and 105 thousand in 2008.

80, 90, 100 thousand album released per year? Almost 2,000 albums released per week? Really? How much of this is rereleases, alternative versions, compilations etc. etc. How many actual new music is commercially released per year?

For a more recent statistic we were informed that “close to 40,000” tracks are now being uploaded to the Spotify platform daily. Of course the number is huge, as the barriers of entry are so low, but this also does not look like a meaningful statistic. 

It is more relevant to know that the universe of songs that have been streamed at least once during the year increased from 33.2 million in 2017 to 36.3 million in 2018. That’s a 3.1 million increase in songs per year. In the previous year the increase was of 4.9 million. These two numbers give an average of 4 million new songs per year: that’s still 11,000 songs per day, but much less than 40,000.

For a more granular look, let’s dig a bit into the Discogs database. I don’t know if it the most complete database, but it is quite comprehensive and easy to explore. Besides, being mentioned in Discogs serves a base level of relevance for any given record.

The total database has 12.7 million “releases” of all kinds, places of origin, formats and periods. A lot of releases are a repetition of the exactly same material. Searching for “Earthling David Bowie” yields 138 releases, some 70 of which are the same 1997 album we have in mind. The solution is look for what Discogs call “Masters”, where all this double counting is eliminated and there is one Earthling album to consider in our statistics. 

So, instead of the 12.7 million releases, let’s turn our focus toward the 1.8 million “Masters” available. Of these, 504 thousand were released in the US.

Let’s use the year 2000 for more focus. It is a good year because it is peak CD era and we can worry less about cassetes, LPs, downloads etc. 

In the 2000 Decade Discogs has 74,896 masters for the US. The year 2000 lists 8049 masters.. That’s 77% less than “35,516” albums as reported by Billboard. Narrowing down to releases labeled “CD” narrow it down to 4.785 releases. (The “Album” format list 3,207 releases.)

Other formats like singles, “Promo”, maxi-single, HDCD etc. are not that critical for this analysis.

So perhaps it is fairer to say that 5.000 relevant “records” were released in the year 2000. That still a 100 a week.

By the way, this is funny: there were some 10 MP3 releases in 2000!

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