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US recorded music market grew 23% in 2021

By | Published on Thursday 10 March 2022


The world’s biggest recorded music market – the good old US of A – saw its revenues grow by more than 20% last year, with the retail value of the market up 23% to $15 billion, while on a wholesale basis revenues were up 22% to $9.8 billion. This is according to the latest stats pack from the Recording Industry Association Of America.

Although the new stats pack gives us lots of figures, the basic trends reflected in the numbers are consistent with how things have been evolving for a number of years now, ie streaming – and specifically premium streaming – is behind much of the growth.

All the streaming services combined – including social media platforms, online radio services licensed by collecting society SoundExchange, and fitness apps that are now licensing music – accounted for 83% of total recorded music revenues in the US last year.

But of that, 76% came from the sale of premium subscriptions by the likes of Spotify, Apple and Amazon, meaning premium streaming alone accounts for nearly two-thirds of total revenues.

The number of premium subscribers continues to grow in the US. According to the RIAA, there were on average 84 million subscribers in the US in 2021, which was up 11% of the average in 2020, 39% up on 2019.

One trend in the figures not seen in recent years before 2021, though, was that both CD and vinyl sales were up, though the former was really because of the COVID impact in 2020.

The vinyl revival continues at quite a pace in the US, with sales up 61% last year to just over $1 billion, the first time the vinyl format has generated more than a billion dollars since 1986. CD sales were up 21% to $584 million, though that’s still down on 2019, when CDs generated $615 million. The increase in 2021 was really the result of a significant dip in 2020 caused by the shutdown of high street retail during the peak of the pandemic.

Overall physical products accounted for 11% of 2021 US recorded music revenues, a slight increase on recent years. The remaining 6% of the money came from downloads (4%) and sync (2%).

With retail revenues for recorded music increasing to $15 billion, on one level the US record industry is back to where it was during the peak of the CD boom in 1999. Until you adjust for inflation of course. As the RIAA notes, once that adjustment is done, revenues are still 37% down on the 1990s peak. Although, of course, the profit margins on digital are generally higher than on physical.

And – even if there is still someway to go until the glory days of 1999 return – the latest RIAA stats show that the record industry continues to grow, grow, grow thanks to the streaming boom. Which is good news. For the record industry.

Though, of course, positive stats like this only heighten the debate within the wider music community over how streaming monies are shared out, both between labels and artists, and between the record industry and those on the songs side of the business.

Record industry trade bodies around the world are currently putting out 2021 figures that show similar trends in their respective markets to the US. Meanwhile, the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry will publish its big report, collating all those figures, on 22 Mar.