Is old music killing new music? A new study suggests that old songs make up a larger share of the market than ever before.

In a new essay, jazz critic and music historian Ted Gioia lays out the facts on modern-day music consumption. According to the most recent information collected by MRC Data, “old” music — released more than 18 months ago — makes up 69.8 percent of the current American music market. That’s a 19.3 percent change in volume from 2020, when its share was only 65.1 percent.

“Just consider these facts,” he writes, “the 200 most popular tracks now account for less than 5% of total streams. It was twice that rate just three years ago.” Gioia goes on to use iTunes purchase trends as evidence of old music’s rising popularity. Apparently, the list of the currently most-purchased tracks on Apple Music’s platform is “filled with the names of bands from the last century, such as Creedence Clearwater and The Police.”

He also points to the steady decline in viewership of the Grammy Awards as an arbiter of new music’s impending doom. And it’s true that traditional viewership has plummeted from 40 million at the 2012 telecast — which saw Adele take home six awards for 21 just one day after Whitney Houston’s tragic death — to a relatively paltry 8.8 million during last year’s socially-distanced ceremony. In fact, the only year that saw a noticeable bump in viewers during the past decade was 2017, which rose to 26.1 million from the previous year’s 24.9.


Without really taking into account technological shifts in the way viewers consume media, Gioia argues that all these signs point to something of a crisis in today’s music industry. “Never before in history have new tracks attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact,” he writes.

Check out the rest of Gioia’s essay here.