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UK music consumption up again in 2021, according to BPI year-end stats

By | Published on Tuesday 4 January 2022


Music consumption was up in the UK again last year, with the total number of tracks streamed topping 147 billion, up 5.7% on 2020.

Or at least that’s according to some new year stats published by record industry trade body BPI this morning. Fans of mysterious maths will be pleased to know that – by BPI and Official Charts Company criteria – that equates to 132.4 million album sales.

With 159.3 million albums (or equivalent) consumed in total in the UK last year, that means streaming accounted for 83% of music consumption overall. Yay streaming boom, woo!

But what about the remaining 17%? That’s what you really want to know, right? Well, for starters 5.3 million vinyl LPs were bought last year, because, you know, vinyl rival, woo!

And then let’s not forget the all important (aka not really that important) cassette revival – woo! – with 185,000 tapes being sold last year. That means vinyl sales were up 11% year-on-year, with cassette sales growing 19%.

And hey, if you find the cassette revival surprising, get this: the great British public bought 4.6 million digital albums last year. As in, they downloaded 4.6 million albums from iTunes et al.

And that’s on top of all the single track downloads that account for much of the 2.4 million ‘track equivalent albums’ recorded in the BPI stats.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, downloads are still very much in decline – digital album sales were down 23.1% and single track sales 24% – but the format isn’t dead yet. And how long can it really be until the MP3 revival gets underway?

Talking of declining formats, let’s not forget the good old compact disc. Though – mainly because of boosts from big releases from the likes of Adele, Ed Sheeran and Abba – the ongoing decline of the CD format slowed a little, to just 10.5%. So, in total, 14.4 million CDs were shifted during 2021.

The BPI’s figures also confirm that albums by UK artists were most popular among UK music consumers in 2021, with eight of the top ten albums of the year coming from British performers, namely Adele, Dua Lipa, Dave, Elton John, Queen, Fleetwood Mac and Ed Sheeran (twice).

Admittedly those pesky foreigners did somewhat better in the year end singles chart, but, you know, fuck the singles chart. Actually, fuck all the charts, who cares about them, what about the money?

Well, this first batch of year end stats is very much focused on consumption. The Entertainment Retailers Association will provide some figures later this week about how much money went through the tills of record shops, download stores and streaming services, while the BPI’s record industry revenue stats will follow later in the year.

But given streaming is only really good business for artists and labels once you’re talking about millions of streams, how many acts are performing at that level within the UK market?

Well, says the BPI, “all of the top ten streaming artists in 2021 achieved over half a billion UK streams, while well over half of the top 100 artists achieved over 200 million streams. 180 artists achieved more than 100 million streams in the UK over the past 12 months, and nearly 2000 artists (1918) saw their songs streamed at least 10 million times in the UK”.

“For an artist, 10 million streams generates at least the same royalties as 10,000 CD sales”, the BPI goes on, “and nearly 2000 artists will achieve at least 10 million streams this year in the UK alone – nearly double the number who sold the equivalent number of CDs and downloads in 2007”.

Those sorts of stats are interesting but also somewhat political, of course, given the ongoing conversation about whether or not the booming streaming market is working for artists.

Throughout the big streaming debate in the UK Parliament, the BPI was keen to stress that – while streaming has created unprecedented competition in the recorded music market place – it is also allowing an increasing number of artists to generate decent revenues from their recordings.

Of course, campaigners in the artist community would note that that’s decent ‘total revenues’ – and the extent to which artists benefit from that will depend on their record deal and what share of that income they receive.

Plus songwriters will almost certainly point out that – because of the way the digital pie is sliced up – they need to secure much higher levels of streams to generate similarly decent revenues.

The digital pie debate will continue throughout 2022, and maybe – at some point – there’ll be a re-slicing of that pie in some way that benefits certain groups of music-makers who are possibly being screwed over by the current framework in one way or another.

But at the same time the BPI’s stats demonstrate that – while the economics of streaming discussions in Parliament sometimes suggested there is only doom and gloom for artists in the Spotify age – actually, especially for newer artists, there are considerable opportunities if they can find the right audience and the right business partners.

Plus those are UK-only stats, and streaming is a much more global market. And it’s also worth considering the emerging digital opportunities in the direct-to-fan space that go beyond the kind of music consumption recorded in these BPI figures. So, look at that, we’ve started the year with some optimism. That can’t be right.

Maybe we caught the optimism bug off BPI boss Geoff Taylor. Says he: “As our lives continue to be disrupted, the past twelve months have reminded us again of the important role that recorded music plays in our lives”.

“At the same time”, he goes on, “the rise of streaming has empowered more artists than ever – from all backgrounds and eras – to build new fanbases around the world and to forge successful careers in music, while record labels have continued to provide the investment and support needed for British talent to thrive and reach a truly global audience”.

So that’s all lovely. Let’s celebrate with some charts courtesy of your best buds at the Official Charts Company. You now, despite you dissing the charts earlier. Don’t worry, I didn’t tell Team OCC. It will be our little secret.

UK Albums Chart 2021
1. Adele – 30
2. Ed Sheeran – =
3. ABBA – Voyage
4. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour
5. Queen – Greatest Hits
6. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
7. Ed Sheeran – Divide
8. Elton John – Diamonds
9. Fleetwood Mac – 50 Years: Don’t Stop
10. Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together

UK Singles Chart 2021
1. Ed Sheeran – Bad Habits
2. Olivia Rodrigo – Good 4 U
3. Olivia Rodrigo – Drivers License
4. The Weeknd – Save Your Tears
5. Lil Nas X – Montero (Call Me By Your Name)
6. Dua Lipa – Levitating
7. The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber – Stay
8. Glass Animals – Heat Waves
9. The Weeknd – Blinding Lights
10. Tion Wayne & Russ Millions – Body

UK Vinyl Albums Chart 2021
1. ABBA – Voyage
2. Adele – 30
3. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
4. Ed Sheeran – =
5. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
6. Nirvana – Nevermind
7. Queen – Greatest Hits
8. Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club
9. Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
10. Harry Styles – Fine Line

UK Cassette Albums Chart 2021
1. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour
2. Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together
3. Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club
4. Queen – Greatest Hits
5. Coldplay – Music Of The Spheres
6. Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
7. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
8. Elton John – The Lockdown Sessions
9. Demi Lovato – Dancing With The Devil: The Art Of Starting Over
10. Ed Sheeran – =

UK Most Streamed Tracks 2021
1. Ed Sheeran – Bad Habits
2. Olivia Rodrigo – Good 4 U
3. Olivia Rodrigo – Drivers License
4. Lil Nas X – Montero (Call Me By Your Name)
5. The Weeknd – Save Your Tears
6. Dua Lipa – Levitating
7. Glass Animals – Heat Waves
8. The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber – Stay
9. Tion Wayne & Russ Millions – Body
10. The Weeknd – Blinding Lights