4 Decades of U.S. Music Industry Revisited

Zora Schärer
2 min readMay 22, 2021


The ups and downs of music sales between 1973 and 2019

I came across a post visualising the sales of the U.S. music industry in the context of my Data Visualisation Nanodegree at Udacity. The author, Nick Routley, shows nicely the rise and fall of CD sales and the begining of the streaming era — but the visualisations have some room for improvement. Here comes my take on the data.

How have the sales of the different physical and digital formats changed over the course of the past 40 years? Which revolutionising events might have influenced the development?

The data originally comes from RIAA, which limits it to the U.S. market. The revenue data spans over a long time period, so the amounts cannot be easily compared. The data set accounts for this by adjusting for inflation, taking the US $ in 2017 as reference.

The original post uses a stacked area chart to show the revenue development over time. Personally, I think stacked area charts are difficult to grasp at a first glance so I chose to take a different approach.

On the one hand, I wanted to show the change over time of the overall revenue of the music industry as well as the change over time separated by the different music formats. That’s why, in the first dashboard of my animated story, I comined a time chart of the total revenue with a joy plot that separated the formats into individual time charts. Using Tableau, I found a great post by Ken Flerlage explaing how that can be achieved. I used three events that in a sense revolutionised the music market as pit stops in the animation: the launch of the CD in 1979, the launch of Napster in 1999 and the U.S. launch of Spotify in 2011.

On the other hand, I wanted to emphasize how the revenue was distributed among the different formats in each year. So, in a second dashboard, I combined a stacked bar chart normalised to 100% of sales with a rank of the top 5 formats. To emphasize the change over time of the rank and the distribution of percentages, I separated the 4 decades in an animation.

Have a look at my data story and feel free to give me feedback!

By the way — have you noticed the comeback of Vinyl? Have you become part of that trend already?