While much of the mainstream music scene seems to be permeated by pop and rap music, rock and metal music is actually being consumed and purchased at a much higher rate.
This might come at a surprise because of how often pop stations and Top 40 stations come up on the radio dial. There are a total of 464 Contemporary Pop Hit radio stations compared to just 165 Active Rock stations and just 73 Mainstream Rock stations as of May 2016 according to News Generation.
But when looking at other types of music consumption, pop took a backseat to rock and metal. Data from Nielsen Music about the US Market shows that rock music claimed 29 percent of total consumption across album purchases, track purchases and on streaming platforms in 2014.
Pop accounted for 14.9 percent of consumption, while R&B/Hip Hop took 17.2 percent and EDM music with just 3.4 percent.
In term of album sales, rock and metal music blew the other genres out of the water. Rock music took 33.2 percent of the market, which was ahead of R&B/Rap’s 13.9 percent and pop had just 10.8 percent sales. This makes sense, because pop and rap music are primarily driven by singles, with certain popular songs making it to the radio instead of whole albums.
Surprisingly, pop music was even edged out by rock in the single-track download category. Digital Music News shows that rock took the number one spot with 21.3 percent of the sales compared to pop’s 21.1 percent.
The results from Nielsen Music’s 2015 data is more of the same. Rock music had a higher percentage of album downloads and physical CD/vinyl sales than pop music.
Metallica had one of the best opening weeks for an album release when they put out Hardwired … to Self-Destruct, their first new album since 2008. According to Nielsen, the band sold 281,000 copies in its first week out, which was the third best release of the year behind Drake and Beyonce. Hardwired also had a total of 9.3 million streams, which brought its “album equivalent” sales to 291,000 sales. A number that high is impressive for any genre, let alone metal music.
Spotify also published data that showed that the genre of heavy metal has the most loyal fans out of all genres, by quite a large margin too. They’re also dominating the music streaming service as well.
The researchers at Spotify’s Insights identified the “core” artists for every genre, beginning with major acts like Metallica and Slayer, which are on a global level. They then did the same thing with local genres in different countries around the world, such as Swedish metal. Spotify’s researchers then divided the number of streams each core artist had by the number of total listeners to determine their “loyalty” factor.
Metal came out on top, with pop sitting in second place. The dedication of metal fans in not surprising to Bob Lugowe, the director of promotions and new media at Relapse Records.
“Whether it’s wearing a ‘battle jacket’ full of sewn-on patches of their favorite bands, buying every vinyl color and edition of their favorite album, tattooing their favorite band mascot on their arm or traveling exceptionally long distances to concerts and festivals, metalheads are extremely diehard and dedicated to their favorite bands and the genre as a whole,” he said in an email to the website Mashable.
While music festivals are a relatively new craze when it comes to music EDM, metal music has a long history of giant music festivals with tons of headliners, especially in Europe. Dynamo Open Air was a longstanding music festival held almost annually between 1986 and 2005, and grew to over 110,000 visitors in 1995. It was recently brought back in 2015 as Dynamo Metal Fest.
Wacken Open Air is held annually in Germany since 1990, and sells about 80,000 tickets a year. They attract some of the biggest names in metal music, and have sold out of tickets in as little as 12 hours in 2015. Rock over the Volga, a rock and metal festival held annually since 2009, had a massive attendance of over 690,000 people in 2013.
There are also over 20 current active metal festivals featuring all kinds of metal in the United States, including Rock on the Range on Columbus, OH, that attracts over 120,000 people a year, as well as 70,000 Tons of Metal, a festival on a cruise ship with an intimate setting of less than 3,000 people.*
Despite the appearance of pop domination in the mainstream, rock and metal show that they’re still powerhouses in the music world.
*All attendance data collected from the festival websites.