The UK recorded music market has just had its fifth consecutive year of growth.
According to the BPI and Official Charts Company data, consumption across all formats was up 7.5% year-on-year for volume in 2019. Based on the year’s AES total, the equivalent of 153.5 million albums were either streamed or purchased in the last 12 months. The annual rate of increase is up on the 5.7% recorded in 2018.
Of course, that follows a period of decline for the sector, which means that the 2019 result is still less than the total in 2006. Label revenue growth figures will be released later in the year, while ERA is set to confirm the retail value later this week.
But a half-decade of sustained growth marks the turnaround in the industry’s fortunes, as a result of streaming. Thanks to superstars such as Ed Sheeran, there was even an increase in the rate of streaming growth in Q3, the first time that had happened in two years.
Streaming equivalent albums (SEA) increased by 26% year-on-year to 114.2m units, 74.4% of the AES total (the industry metric used to measure sales and streams on a comparable basis). December saw the highest weekly total of streams – 2.7 billion – ever recorded, and the 2019 total of 114 billion plays on audio streaming services marks the first time the 100 billion landmark has been surpassed in a year.
Lewis Capaldi’s Someone You Loved – the biggest single of 2019 – was played over 228m times on audio streaming services. Other artists making the year-end top 10 included Lil Nas X, Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Billie Eilish, while Tones And I spent 11 weeks at the singles summit. The most popular 17 tracks were all played over 100m times each.
In contrast to the streaming result, physical sales were down 22.8% year-on-year and now account for less than 20% (18.2%) of the total. CDs slumped by 26.5% year-on-year to 23.5m units, although the value of box sets will likely soften the blow.
Physical sales were also significant in chart terms. They accounted for over half of chart-eligible sales of the Official Charts No.1 artist album in 29 chart weeks last year. For the last quarter of 2019, there were 13 consecutive weeks where physical accounted for the majority of chart-eligible sales.
Digital albums were down 28.2% to 7.3m units, as the industry faces up to a future in which downloads are likely to be a niche business. Digital albums now account for 4.8% of the total, compared to 21.1% in 2015.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive BPI & BRIT Awards, said: “British music proved once again in 2019 that it has a bright future. Strong demand for streaming music and vinyl, fuelled by the investment and innovation of UK labels in discovering and promoting new talent, boosted music consumption to levels not seen for 15 years. But the full benefits of this growth can only be unlocked if our new Government takes action to make the UK more competitive and encourage further investment, to require digital platforms to pay fairly for music and filter out illegal content, and to give all our schoolchildren the opportunity to play an instrument and discover the joy of making music.”
British music proved once again in 2019 that it has a bright future
Lewis Capaldi – Music Week’s Artist Of The Year – also scored 2019’s biggest album. Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent (EMI) moved over 640,000 albums across all formats and album equivalents, including well over 250,000 copies on CD and vinyl combined, according to Official Charts Company data.
Other international and UK debut artists in the end-of-year albums Top 10 include Billie Eilish at No.4 with When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (Interscope/Polydor) and Tom Walker’s What A Time To Be Alive (Relentless) at No.8.
Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project (Asylum/Atlantic) was in second place, while US star Ariana Grande finished at No.7 with Thank U, Next (Republic/Island). Christmas album chart-topper Rod Stewart finished at No.10 overall with You’re In My Heart (Rhino).
The Greatest Showman (Atlantic) was in the running to be the No.1 album overall again but finished at No.3. At No.9, Star Is Born (Interscope/Polydor) was the only other soundtrack in the Top 10. Other 2018 releases to finish strongly this year included George Ezra’s Staying at Tamara’s (Columbia) at No.5 and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody OST (Virgin EMI) at No.6.
British artists occupied six out of the top 10 year-end places, and 14 out of the top 20.
Vinyl LP sales rose for a 12th consecutive year, with Liam Gallagher’s Why Me? Why Not the most in-demand title, selling over 29,000 copies. The top 10 included new album releases by Billie Eilish and Lewis Capaldi, alongside catalogue classics such as Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Queen’s Greatest Hits. Vinyl LPs now account for one in every eight albums bought, with 4.3m purchased in 2019 – up 4.1% on the previous year and a rise of over 2,000% on the format’s low point in 2007.
Cassette sales are enjoying a boom, though they still only account for just a fraction (0.1%) of overall recorded music consumption. Demand has increased for seven consecutive years, and the 2019 sales tally of 80,404 units is the biggest annual total recorded in 15 years. The year-end chart topper on the format was Robbie Williams’ The Christmas Present – the fastest-selling cassette album since Now 52 in July 2002.
Although the compilations market continues to be impacted by the popularity of streaming playlists, the Now brand still accounted for over 1.25m CD sales and over a third of all full price compilations sales in 2019. Now’s digital platform saw over 1bn streams.
Vanessa Higgins, CEO Regent Street Records, and an independent member of BPI Council, said: “It’s great to see streaming continue to grow and smash through ever impressive landmark numbers. As an independent label owner I would always encourage music lovers to stream their favourite artists, as it’s such an easy way to support the smaller musicians.
“It’s also wonderful to see the continued growth of vinyl and the resurrection of the cassette, which shows fans still love a physical, tangible music artefact in their hands. Personally I would love to see a rebirth in the British manufacture of these products, supported by modern technology and government, to match the rediscovered UK physical market and the untapped potential that still lies there.”
Matt Ingham, of independent label and BPI member Cherry Red Records, said: “This year is further proof that music fans have never had so much choice in the way they consume music. The CD format is in a process of transformation; multi-CD boxsets are becoming a beautiful and collectible artefact that represent the best values of A&R, design, quality and research. It remains the format of choice for most artists to market and sell on the road and also remains a major asset to independent record labels.
“The LP is rightly cherished as a stylish, almost organic celebration of the album as an art form, while the multi-CD approach is becoming the best way to bring together a coherent, engaging musical narrative; be it a band’s journey or a genre’s history. Alongside initiatives like National Album Day and Record Store Day, the independent community is using all available physical and digital tools to ensure its place at the cutting edge of music going into 2020.”