Twenty-three percent growth in 2021 continues music’s incredible comeback story

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has released new data showing continued strong growth in virtually every recorded music format – including streaming, vinyl, and even CDs, which jumped 21% last year. That strong, broad growth – which includes TikTok music revenue for the first time – pushed overall revenues to a historic $15 billion last year, the highest figure ever reported by our industry (though when adjusted for inflation still nearly 40% off 1999’s peak). This data shows how artists and labels working together are achieving new heights of creative and commercial success and driving opportunities and income streams for songwriters, publishers, platforms, services, and apps.

“The incredible run of strong, industry-wide growth documented in this and prior reports speaks to the dynamic and vibrant creative and commercial relationships today’s labels have built with their artist partners,” says RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier. “Labels haven’t simply reinvented themselves, they have helped transform the entire process of music creation, discovery, and distribution to bolster creative freedom and artistic expression while seamlessly meeting fans everywhere and anywhere they want to be. The result has been an incredibly vibrant period delivering new opportunities, platforms, and experiences – from music-powered fitness apps to gaming platform livestream concerts to must-have vinyl exclusives to global surprise digital album drops. Creative genius unleashed in new ways driving shared commercial success and record payments to artists.

“No industry in history has embraced changing technologies and innovations faster than music over the last ten years – taking streaming from novelty to ubiquitous in the blink of an eye and now working to drive a new generation of social apps, shared immersive experiences, and blockchain/NFT opportunities going forward.”

Streaming encompasses a wide range of formats including paid subscriptions, ad-supported music streaming services, digital and customized radio, and licenses for music on Facebook and digital fitness apps. Revenues from paid subscriptions continued to account for by far the largest share of revenues, and grew 23% to $9.5 billion in 2021. They accounted for nearly two-thirds of total revenues, and 76% of streaming revenues. This total includes $907 million in limited-tier subscriptions (services limited by factors such as mobile access, catalog availability, product features, or device restrictions), which is 26% higher than for 2020.

Revenues from digitally downloaded music were the only major category that declined in 2021, down 12% to $587 million. Digital album sales were down 12% to $282 million, and individual track sales were down 16% to $256 million. Downloads accounted for just 4% of U.S. recorded music revenues in 2021, down from a peak of 43% of revenues in 2012.

For the first time since 1996, both CDs and vinyl records experienced revenue growth in the same year. The resurgence in vinyl records continued for the 15th consecutive year, as revenues grew 61% to $1.0 billion in 2021. The last time vinyl records exceeded $1 billion was 1986. Vinyl accounted for 63% of revenues from physical formats, and 7% of total music revenues. Revenues from CDs rebounded from 2020, when COVID-19 significantly impacted retail as many stores were closed and tours were suspended or canceled. In 2021, revenues from CDs grew 21% to $584 million, the first year-over-year increase in CD revenues since 2004.