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Independent music now makes up more than a quarter of all UK music consumption

By | Published on Friday 11 June 2021


Recordings released by independent artists and labels now make up more than a quarter of all music consumed in the UK, according to new stats published today by trade bodies BPI and AIM. This is the third successive annual increase for the independent sector, helped along by a strong showing for physical format sales from the indie community.

Based on what they call Album Equivalent Sales – so actual sales of albums in physical and download formats, mashed up together with all the streams into a confusing mess – independent music counted for 26% of all consumption in 2020. While the consumption share of indies in streaming is also increasing, it is physical sales that have really boosted the numbers. On vinyl, independents had a 35% share of AES, with 30% on CDs – and there are signs that those figures will increase again this year.

“The independent community lies at the heart of our vibrant music scene, consistently innovating to make the UK a dynamic and competitive incubator of diverse new talent”, says BPI boss Geoff Taylor. “Indie labels and their artists are harnessing the global reach of streaming, introducing new models for artist/label partnerships, and are playing a key role in the revival of vinyl and resilience of CD. They help to ensure the music industry is teeming with creativity, and that fans and artists have more choice than ever”.

Paul Pacifico, CEO of AIM, adds: “Independent music businesses are the home of innovation and experimentation in the UK music industry. Our community of creative entrepreneurs keeps music moving forwards. As streaming offers consumers ever more opportunity to discover and enjoy diverse and eclectic music, it is no wonder that independent market share continues to grow, even in the face of industry consolidation”.

Among the other stats announced today, the BPI also revealed that – with the vinyl revival continuing its upward trajectory – physical sales are becoming ever more important in getting records to number one in the charts. Which has been true for a while, but is more true than ever today. Meaning that, once streaming and physical sales data are shoved together for chart compiling purposes, it’s usually the latter that pushes albums to the top of the list.

“2021 is on its way to becoming a particularly strong year for CDs and vinyl, with eighteen out of the year’s 22 number one albums so far boasting a physical sales majority”, says Drew Hill, MD of Proper Music Distribution. “It’s clear fans appreciate choice, and the different roles that streaming and physical play – discovery v tangible ownership – are proving to complement each other well”.

The combining of streaming and physical sales data is always a bit complicated, of course, and the fact that physical sales gets you the number one is at least partly down to the metrics employed as the chart is compiled. But the point is that, for the vast majority of albums that have topped the charts this year, when streaming and physical data is merged, more than 50% of chart eligible consumption came from physical sales. Usually more than 60%. Sometimes 80%.

That’s not all down to the good old vinyl revival though. There are other physical formats remember. Don’t forget that before you go and write off MiniDiscs completely. OK, maybe MiniDiscs didn’t make up that big a percentage of sales. I bought a MiniDisc this year though. So, see, it’s starting! The MiniDisc revival is going to happen! Stayed tuned for those big MiniDisc stats once 2021 is over.

But for some of the artists who got to number one on the back of physical sales in 2020, that mainly meant CD sales. In fact, for Barry Gibb and Tom Jones, 81% of their combined consumption tally came from compact discs. And even for younger acts like Rag N Bone Man, You Me At Six, Celeste, Bring Me The Horizon and Tom Grennan, CDs made up more than half of their respective tallies.

Though, if all this mashing together of streaming and sales data is hurting your head, let’s move things along to something more fun like the big old cassette revival. More than 150,000 cassettes were sold in 2020, remember.

OK, maybe that doesn’t sound like much of a revival. But that’s approximately 150,000 more cassettes being sold than you would have expected a decade ago. For Bring Me The Horizon, cassettes counted for 10% of their overall chart consumption tally, while for Lana Del Rey it was nearly 20%. I mean, what?

If you’re enjoying the chart consumption stat headache this article has induced and would like to ramp it up to a full on migraine, you can get every single stat you could ever need in the latest edition of the BPI’s All About The Music report. Which, appropriately, is now out in physical form. Though not on MiniDisc. Which is no fun.