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A youth movement of sorts hit music’s top 10 tracks in the U.S. last year, even as music consumption generally shifted toward older recordings.
The average age of a track in the top ten on-demand streaming songs in the U.S. was nearly five months younger in 2022 (346 days) than in 2021 (492 days), according to a Billboard analysis of Luminate data. In 2021, the top 10 tracks were evenly divided between current (defined by Luminate as younger than 18 months) and catalog (older than 18 months), as of Dec. 31, 2021. Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves,” released in June 2020, was No. 5 that year. The No. 1 track, Dua Lipa’s “Levitating,” was released in March 2020. The No. 10 track, The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” was released in 2019.
In 2022, nine of the top 10 tracks were current releases, meaning they were less than 18 months old on Dec. 31, 2022. “Heat Waves” was the lone catalog track in the top 10. The top track, Harry Styles’ “As It Was,” was a spry 276 days old. Steve Lacy’s “Bad Habit,” the No. 9 track, was youngest at 185 days. “Levitating” still resonated with listeners but slipped to No. 20.
Outside of the top 10, however, the most popular music of the year continued to get older.
From 2021 to 2022, the average age of the top 25 on-demand tracks increased about a month and a half to 470 days old, excluding a notable outlier: Kate Bush’s 1985 recording “Running Up That Hill,” the No. 16 track of the year. Including Bush’s 13,620-day-old (as of Dec. 31, 2022) surprise hit, the average age of the top 25 tracks more than doubled.
Aging was more pronounced beyond the top 25. The average age of the top 1,000 on-demand audio streaming tracks increased from 3,287 days in 2021 to 3,462 days in 2022 — an increase of 176 days, or nearly six months. Notably, some younger catalog titles continued to defy gravity. Chris Stapleton’s 2014 track “Tennessee Whiskey” rose from No. 43 in 2021 to No. 33. Morgan Wallen’s “Whiskey Glasses,” from 2016, climbed from No. 62 to No. 32. The Neighborhood’s 2012 track “Sweater Weather,” a TikTok hit way back in Nov. 2020, improved from No. 76 to No. 34.
The aging of on-demand audio streams mirrors the continuing trend of catalog tracks accounting for a larger share of what Americans stream and purchase. According to Luminate, catalog’s share of total consumption — across all formats — climbed to 72.2% in 2022, up from 69.8% in 2021 and 65.1% in 2020.
Years ago, the line between current and catalog music meant more, since it usually followed the way stores shelved music. “That timeframe makes sense when you are talking about an artist’s typical album release cycle,” says Andy Moats, executive vp and director of music, sports and entertainment at Pinnacle Financial Partners.
In a financial sense, however, current music transitions to catalog over a long period of time. After an initial burst of earnings, music will earn less over some number of years — called “decay” — before settling at a consistent amount of annual royalties. “Most new release decay will occur in the first 36 to 48 months from release,” says Moats, and tracks typically level off and show growth from years 7 to 10.
Outliers like “Running Up That Hill” aside, increased catalog consumption stems mostly from music remaining popular beyond the 18-month mark. (Billboard wrote about the longevity of this “shallow catalog” in April 2022.) Today, catalog is as much about Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 song “Dreams” as The Weeknd’s 2020 song “Save Your Tears,” which remains popular on streaming services and was the No. 19 on-demand audio streaming track in the U.S. last year (down from No. 4 in 2021).
To the experts who value music assets, the ability of a relatively young catalog to increase its market share makes it more attractive. While older songs are typically more appealing to buyers because their earnings potential is more predictable than newer songs still experiencing annual decay, the trends seen in Luminate’s data suggest there could be more deals like Hipgnosis Capital Fund’s $200 million acquisition of Justin Bieber’s songwriting catalog and recorded music royalties. Nari Matsuura, partner at Citrin Cooperman, sees the catalog trends in Luminate’s data as a good sign for relatively young music. “This suggests that the value of newer catalogs should increase since their earnings will not decline as much in the near term but will be sustained at a higher level over a longer period.”
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