The music industry reversed a four-year decline as album sales rose slightly in 2004 while overall music sales spiked thanks to a huge increase in digital track sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan (search).

The music industry was buoyed by chart-toppers from acts such as Usher (search), whose "Confessions" sold 7.9 million copies to rank as the year's best-selling album. The best seller of 2003, 50 Cent's "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," sold 6.5 million copies.

Last year's album sales increased 1.6 percent, versus 2003's decline of 3.6 percent. Some 666.7 million albums were sold in 2004, compared to 656.2 million in 2003.

Overall music sales — which includes albums, singles and digital tracks — increased to 817 million last year, up from 687 million in 2003. It marks the first time since 2000 that overall music purchases went over 800 million, Nielsen SoundScan reported.

"There were 817 million decisions made to purchase music in 2004," Rob Sisco, president of Nielsen Music, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "That's a number that we haven't seen the likes of in years."

Much of it was attributable to an explosion in digital track sales; in 2003, 19.2 million tracks were sold, while 141 million were sold last year, Nielsen SoundScan said.

"The iPod and other carriers of digital tracks are really important in ramping up digital distribution," said Geoff Mayfield, director of charts and senior analyst at the music trade magazine Billboard. "It's very promising that the category has grown as much as it has, and the recent growth has been almost startling."

Sisco noted that digital music sales did not adversely affect the sales of CDs.

"I think that what you're seeing in the results is that the marketplace has embraced digital downloads as a new format of purchasing music and at the same time hasn't lost any zest, and actually has increased its buying of physical CDs," he said.

The year's No. 2 seller was Norah Jones' "Feels Like Home" (search), which sold 3.8 million; in 2003, her debut album, "Come Away With Me," held the same spot with 5.1 million. Eminem (search) came in third with "Encore" in 2004, despite releasing his album in mid-November. Evanesence's "Fallen" made the list for the second year in a row. (It sold 3.4 million in 2003.)

"I think anytime sales are good it's a reflection of the fact that artists are connecting with the public," said Mayfield.

Nielsen SoundScan, which tracks music sales, monitored data from Jan. 5, 2004 to Jan. 2, 2005.

The top-selling albums of 2004:

1. "Confessions," Usher: 7,978,594

2. "Feels Like Home," Norah Jones: 3,842,920

3. "Encore," Eminem: 3,517,097

4. "When The Sun Goes Down," Kenny Chesney: 3,072,224

5. "Here for the Party," Gretchen Wilson: 2,931,097

6. "Live Like You Were Dying," Tim McGraw: 2,786,840

7. "Songs About Jane," Maroon 5: 2,708,415

8. "Fallen," Evanesence: 2,614,226

9. "Autobiography," Ashlee Simpson: 2,576,945

10. "Now 16: Now That's What I Call Music!": 2,560,316