Business News Labels & Publishers

UK music exports reach highest level since 2000, but Brexit threatens future success

By | Published on Thursday 6 September 2018


The combined export income of the UK recorded music business has reached its highest level since record industry trade body the BPI started totting up the numbers in the year 2000. But Brexit might be about to fuck it all. So that’s good.

The BPI this morning published its annual figures on UK recorded music export revenues, ahead of its AGM later today. It found that earnings reached £408.4 million in 2017, the highest since its exports survey began and a 12% increase on the previous year. The rapid rise in revenues from overseas – following an 11% increase in 2016 – means export income alone has brought in £5 billion for UK labels over the last eighteen years.

“British music is riding high once again around the world, boosted by the talent of our artists and songwriters and the innovation and investment of record labels”, says BPI boss Geoff Taylor. “Our music not only enriches the lives of fans around the world, it makes a major contribution to the UK economy through overseas sales and by attracting numerous visitors to the UK”.

This latest boost was aided in no small part by Ed Sheeran, whose ‘Divide’ album sold 6.1 million physical and download copies worldwide, making it 2017’s best selling album by any artist anywhere. In terms of physical and digital sales (ie no streams), Rag N Bone Man’s ‘Human’ was the forth best-selling album in the world, while Sam Smith’s ‘The Thrill Of It All’ was at number five.

The increase in revenues was also helped along by boosts for British recordings – sales and especially streams – in various countries. The highest percentage increase came from China, which was up 432%, which is pretty impressive, even if it was starting from a fairly low base. India also saw an increase of 120%, while Brazil was up 57%.

By far the biggest market for British recorded music remains Europe though, and there were significant increases in European Union member states too. In France, income for UK labels was up 57% last year, while there were rises of 33% in Spain, 22% in Italy and 9% in German. Overall European income was up by 29% year-on-year, and it now accounts for 42% of all UK recorded music exports.

Despite rises in income outside Europe, the continuing significance of our nearest neighbours when it comes to export monies will be of concern to UK labels. With the UK due to leave the EU next year – very possibly without any deal being reached with the Union – the BPI has again expressed concern that British music’s success could be scuppered.

Says Taylor: “With Brexit approaching, music can help to showcase what is exciting about the UK as we forge new trading relationships, but only if our government supports us by ensuring a strong Brexit deal that enables artists to tour freely, robustly protects music rights, and prevents physical music products being impeded in transit”.

Existing government-backed initiatives – such as the Music Export Growth Scheme and various BPI trade missions – have played a major part in boosting UK successes, said the trade body, and that work will continue. But if the right deals are not done with the EU now, these will simply be helping to fight the tide.

Of course, the UK music industry is not the only sector currently lobbying government to work out special deals with the EU in its favour. And many of the others – such as food and pharmaceuticals – are both more pressing and bring in a lot more money overall than that £5 billion every couple of decades.

Presumably recognising pop tunes may not be a top priority, the BPI again talked up how UK music could be an “international calling card” after Brexit. If we do actually leave the EU, we may indeed benefit from regularly sending out bright, young, happy people to sing to the wider world. Although if there’s no food or medicine, it might prove difficult to find any.