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Streaming music pumps up the volume, crosses $1 billion in US sales

US revenue from streaming services like Pandora, Spotify and Apple Music crossed a key threshold in the first six months of 2015, according to data from the major labels' trade group.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
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Streaming, just 5 percent of US music revenue five years ago, now represents a third of the industry. CNET

The nation's music streams are creating a flood.

US sales from streaming music in the first six months of the year surpassed $1 billion for the first time, a music industry trade group said Monday.

The Recording Industry Association of America counted revenue from subscription services like Spotify and Apple Music, radio like Pandora and Sirius XM, and ad-supported operations like Vevo, YouTube and free versions of Spotify. Those sales jumped 23 percent to $1.03 billion.

That compares to a 4 percent drop in revenue from digital downloads, the music purchases typified by Apple's iTunes Store. However, at $1.3 billion, they continue to represent the biggest moneymaker for the recording industry.

Downloads may not hold their lead much longer. In the last five years, consumers have been shifting away from buying music outright in the form of a downloaded track to paying for tunes with an all-you-can-eat subscription or listening free by sitting through advertising. This underlying shift in the music industry has led to outcries from some and praise from others as they wrestle with the changes. The trend prompted downloads leader Apple to join the streaming bandwagon in June with Apple Music.

Now revenue from streaming services is about a third of the industry's total sales, up from about one-quarter a year ago. About five years earlier, these services were 5 percent of the total.

Downloads are 40 percent of the total in the latest RIAA data, whiles physical sales, like those of CDs, are 24 percent.

Overall, the rise in streaming hasn't helped total US music sales. In the first six months, they decreased 0.5 percent to $3.2 billion.