UK recorded music market up 8.2% in 2020, audio streams surge to 139 billion

UK recorded music market up 8.2% in 2020, audio streams surge to 139 billion

Streaming consumption continued to surge ahead in 2020.

During a pandemic year in which streaming platforms clearly proved their value to subscribers on lockdown, the UK racked up 139 billion audio streams – an increase of 21.9% on 2019. Streaming equivalent albums totalled 125.2m, up 20.2% year-on-year.

Almost 200 artists achieved over 100 million streams or more in the UK over the past 12 months.

Official figures released by the BPI, based on Official Charts Company data, show that overall recorded music consumption in the UK rose by 8.2% in 2020, with 155.4 million albums or their equivalent (AES) either streamed or purchased by fans.

While Covid had a devastating effect on the live sector, the recorded music market remains robust with no sign of a streaming growth peak yet (physical music was, of course, a more mixed picture). 

Demand initially dipped around the start of the first lockdown in March and April, but listening rebounded across streaming and physical formats and grew throughout the year. 

As previewed last week, vinyl sales were actually up by 11.5% to 4.8 million units – a 13th year of consecutive growth. But physical sales overall were down and physical albums now represent just 13.6% of the market, according to the OCC data.

Streaming now accounts for 80.6% of UK music consumption. BPI figures have also shown the global impact of a new wave of UK artists via streaming.

Eight of the Top 10 albums of the year are by British artists. A pair of 2019 releases were the biggest sellers: Lewis Capaldi’s Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent (EMI) came out on top, followed by Harry Styles’ Fine Line (Columbia). Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia (Warner Records) was the third biggest seller and of the year and the biggest release of 2020.

Acts including D-Block Europe, Aitch, AJ Tracey, Headie One, J Hus, KSI, Nines and Joel Corry made a significant streaming impact last year. 

A new wave of British talent is capitalising on the immediacy of streaming to achieve fantastic success

Geoff Taylor

Geoff Taylor, chief executive BPI, BRIT Awards & Mercury Prize, said:  “A new wave of British talent is capitalising on the immediacy of streaming to achieve fantastic success, measured in the hundreds of millions, even billions of streams. Record labels are investing heavily in new artists to secure the future of British music, boosting the UK’s exports and soft power.

“The performance of recorded music in 2020 was remarkable, and reminds us how important music is to our country, even when our lives are disrupted. But any satisfaction we can take is tempered by the devastating impact of the pandemic on live music. Recorded music is only one element of artists’ incomes, and we renew our calls on government to support our culturally important venues, nightclubs and festivals until they can safely reopen.”

The Top 10 streaming artists in 2020 each achieved over half a billion streams in the UK alone. But below them in the Top 200, there were many artists achieving more than 200 million streams.

Taylor added: “Streaming means that there are many more artists active in the market than ever before. This is great news for fans, but means that it is harder than ever for artists to achieve success – so that continued support and investment from record labels in marketing and production is crucial."

Physical music sales came under pressure during the pandemic, although vinyl bounced back (see above). Overall physical sales were down 24.6% year-on-year to 21.1m, with CD sales down 31.7% to 16.1m.

Digital albums also continued their long-term trend, down by 19%, but they still contributed 5.9m unit purchases to the overall AES total. 

The audio cassette revival continued, with sales almost doubling (94.7%) to 156,542 copies – the highest total since 2003.

Despite the decline of CD, the BPI noted that in the majority of weeks (28) in 2020, physical sales accounted for 50% of chart-eligible sales of the Official Charts No.1 artist album.  

Drew Hill, MD Proper Music Distribution, said: “Once again physical music is proving the kingmaker in chart success, with over half of this year’s No.1 albums boasting a physical sales majority. As we celebrate this streaming boom, it’s important we also remember the ongoing fan demand for something tangible, and recognise that streaming and physical music coexist quite happily.” 

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