Recorded music grows in 2021

RIAA releases mid year report

Recorded music revenues in the US grew 27% in the first half of 2021 versus the prior year, from $5.6 to $7.1 billion at retail value, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)’s mid-year report. Paid subscriptions continued to be the strongest contributor to growth, comprising nearly two-thirds of total revenue, averaging more than 80 million paid subscriptions for the first time. The effects of COVID-19 continued to affect the industry, and year-over-year comparisons are significantly impacted by store closures, tour cancellations, and other disruptions from both 2020 and 2021.

Revenues from streaming music, a category including a wide range of formats such as paid subscription services, ad-supported services, digital and customized radio, and licenses for music on Facebook and digital fitness apps, grew 26% to $5.9 billion in the first half of 2021. Streaming accounted for 84% of total revenues for the period, about the same level as for the first half of 2020.

Paid subscriptions continued to account for the largest share of recorded music revenues in the US, up 26% year-over-year and totaling $4.6 billion in the first half of 2021. They accounted for nearly two-thirds of total revenues, and 78% of streaming revenue. That carries forward a multi-year trend of strong growth in this area extending beyond the unique circumstances of 2020 – in the two years since first half of 2019, paid subscription revenues have grown a total of 40%. This total includes $452 million in revenues from “Limited Tier” paid subscriptions (for services limited by factors such as mobile access, catalog availability, on-demand limitations, or device restrictions). Those types of services accounted for 10% of subscription revenues, a slight increase versus the first half of last year.

Advertising supported on-demand streaming music revenues (from services like YouTube, the ad-supported version of Spotify, and Facebook) rebounded significantly so far in 2021, growing 54% to $741 million. This category only grew 3% the prior year as it was significantly impacted by the post COVID-19 decline in advertising revenue growth across many forms of media. Even though these services account for hundreds of billions of streams to more than 100 million listeners in the United States, the category only accounted for 11% of total revenues. Digital and customized radio service revenues grew 3% to $585 million in the first half of 2020. This category includes SoundExchange distributions for services like SiriusXM and internet radio stations, as well as payments directly paid by similar services, included in this report as “Other Ad-Supported Streaming.”

Permanent downloads declined both in absolute dollars as well as share of total revenue. In the first half of 2021, revenues from digital downloads fell 6% by value to $319 million, accounting for 5% of total revenues. Revenues from digitally downloaded tracks and albums were down 12% and 4% respectively from the same period the prior year. Vinyl records continued a remarkable resurgence in the first half of 2021. Revenues from vinyl albums grew 94% to $467 million, though the comparison versus the prior year includes a period in which retail stores were significantly impacted by COVID-19, and Record Store Day 2020 was delayed and did not occur in the spring (as it did in 2021). Revenues from CDs increased 44% to $205 million, but still remain 19% lower than they were in the first half of 2019. CDs only accounted for 30% of physical revenues, while vinyl accounted for more than two-thirds of physical format revenues.

RIAA’s Gold & Platinum program has seen historic milestones including Dan + Shay’s Good Times becoming the first country album certified gold on day of release and Bruno Mars’s crowning achievement as the first artist to ever have five diamond certified songs while the Foo Fighters powered another successful Record Store Day 2021. All year long the charts have been flooded with wave after wave of compelling new music — the perfect soundtrack for a nation ready to “leave old habits and ways of thinking behind and dive headlong into something new.”

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Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites. Email:
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