Music streams surged to 135 billion songs ahead of Apple Music debut

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During the first half of 2015 Americans streamed some 135 billion audio tracks and music videos over the Internet, despite the absence of any major new services such as Apple Music, according to newly-published data from market research firm Nielsen.

That number was almost double the amount from the first half of 2014, Nielsen said. The streaming tally includes not just dedicated music services such as Spotify, Rdio, and Pandora, but also YouTube, which hosts music videos and has been highlighting them through offerings like its Music Key service, still in beta.

At the same time, 2015 digital downloads dipped 10.4 percent to 531.6 million, and overall album sales fell 4 percent to 116 million.

Apple Music, which launched on Tuesday, may be critical to keeping Apple relevant in the music sphere. The iTunes Store is still the world's most successful music download outlet, but its fortunes have begun to decline as more and more people opt for streaming, which provides access to nearly inexhaustible content.

It remains to be seen how Apple will fare against its chief rival in the streaming space, Spotify. Whereas Spotify offers a free, ad-supported tier in addition to a $10-per-month Premium subscription, Apple has opted to gate all on-demand content behind a $10 monthly fee, leaving only Beats 1 and Apple Music Radio open to everyone. Users do however get three free months of full access.

Spotify is also available on more platforms, whereas Apple Music is currently limited to iOS devices and the Mac and Windows versions of iTunes. It should arrive on Android devices and the Apple TV sometime this fall.