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UK: More artists succeed as streaming drives music growth, fuelled by record label investment

PRESS RELEASE · London, United Kingdom ·
  • Rise of 2.5% in UK music consumption to 159 million albums (or their equivalent) – up for 7th year, driven by streaming (comprising total of 147 billion audio streams); growth in physical led by vinyl

  • Nearly 2,000 artists streamed over 10 million times in UK in 2021 (excluding global streams) – up by 25% in just two years; enabling more successful artist careers in music

  • UK artists led by Adele, Ed Sheeran, Queen, Dua Lipa & Elton John make up 8 of top 10 albums; new talent shines, incl. BRITs nominees Mimi Webb, Tion Wayne & Russ Millions, Glass Animals & Central Cee

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    BPI CEO Geoff Taylor hails strong investment by labels into talent development & digital marketing as a primary factor in growing music consumption; enabling success for more artists and greater fan choice

Official figures released by record labels’ association the BPI, based on Official Charts Company data1, show that recorded music consumption in the UK rose by 2.5% in 2021, with 159 million albums or their equivalent either streamed or purchased across all formats by music fans.2

The UK consumption total was made up primarily of streams3, comprising over 147 billion individual audio streams, up 5.7% on 2020 – and representing an equivalent of 132 million streamed albums (up 5.7%).

The ongoing growth in demand for music, fuelled by continuous record label support for artists and investment into new music, is great news not just for fans, who enjoy more choice than ever, but for artists of all backgrounds and eras – with many more now able to develop and sustain successful careers in music.

In 2021 nearly 2,000 artists (1,918) were streamed over 10 million times in the UK (excluding global streams, which tend to be x4 greater). This compares with 1,798 in 2020 and 1,537 in 2019, up a quarter in two years. It means nearly twice as many artists are now earning meaningful royalties as could do so in the CD era 4.

Additionally, there were over 14 million CDs and 5.3 million vinyl LPs purchased, with 185,000 cassettes sold and 4.6 million album downloads. Overall, streaming now accounts for 83% of UK music consumption, while vinyl LPs represent over a quarter of all purchases on physical format.

It was also another strong year for homegrown talent, with UK artists Adele, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Dave, Elton John, Queen and Fleetwood Mac accounting for eight of the year’s top 10 albums.

Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive BPI, BRIT Awards & Mercury Prize, said: “As our lives continue to be disrupted, the past 12 months have reminded us again of the important role that recorded music plays in our lives. At the same time, the rise of streaming has empowered more artists than ever from all backgrounds and eras – to build new fanbases around the world and to forge successful careers in music, while record labels have continued to provide the investment and support needed for British talent to thrive and reach a truly global audience.”

Streaming consumptions grows in 2021; first week of 3 billion audio streams

Streaming now accounts for well over four-fifths (83%) of UK music consumption, with people of all ages discovering and enjoying the music they love through the format’s seamless connectivity, complementing this by collecting their favourite albums on CD, vinyl and even cassette. In June 2021 the UK witnessed its first week when audio streams topped the 3 billion mark –a feat since repeated three times in December.

Streaming-led growth fuelled by label investment & innovation through new tech partnerships

With 180 artists achieving more than 100 million streams in the UK over the past 12 months, and nearly 2,000 artists (1,918) seeing their songs streamed at least 10 million times in the UK, their success contributed to a total of more than 147 billion audio streams served in 2021 – up by 5.7% on 2020. 3

A new wave of artists, who are successfully harnessing streaming and unlocking its commercial potential, are each generating tens and hundreds of millions of streams in the UK alone. These new stars are supported in their creativity and relationship with fans by rising investment into A&R (£250 million in 2019) and 24/7 global marketing by UK record labels, who are also creating new markets for their artists’ music by developing innovative partnerships with burgeoning consumer platforms such as Peloton and in-game experiences including Roblox and Fortnite.

Artists of all backgrounds & eras are thriving, generating 10s & 100s of millions of streams a year in the UK

Streaming is enabling diverse British talent of all backgrounds and eras – from established names to new artists – to build audiences and develop successful careers. From exciting new guitar bands from around the UK to rap, hip hop and dance – the next generation of artists is breaking through. At the same time, many groups that rose to prominence in the CD era are now enjoying a new lease of life through tens of millions of UK streams and more a year as fans discover or reacquaint themselves with their music.

Major established artists such as Adele, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, The 1975, Calvin Harris and Dave have been joined recently by the likes of Arlo Parks, Celeste, Joy Crookes, Sam Fender, IDLES, Glass Animals, The Lathums, Tom Grennan and Griff, to name a few, as the next wave of diverse UK talent fast emerges. Rap artists including Little Simz, Central Cee, Arrdee, D-Block Europe, AJ Tracey, Headie One, J Hus and KSI, plus pop and dance artists including Mimi Webb, Becky Hill, Pink Pantheress, Joel Corry and Bicep are just some of the exciting names that are finding new UK and global audiences through streaming, which is also enabling British icons such as Elton John, Queen and The Beatles to keep growing their huge fanbases.

Top 10 each achieve over half a billion streams; Popularity remains key determinant of streaming success

Streaming has made it easier for fans to discover new music or to reacquaint themselves with classics, in turn allowing more artists to connect with a greater number of fans. Streaming means nearly twice as many artists are now earning meaningful royalties compared to the CD era.

All of the top 10 streaming artists in 2021 achieved over half a billion UK streams, while well over half of the top 100 artists achieved over 200 million streams. Typically a track needs to achieve over 1.4million audio streams in a single week just to break into the Official Singles Charts Top 40.

Artists are now able to access distribution and streaming platforms independently, making the market even more competitive. Well over 8,000 different artists now exceed 1,000,000 annual streams in the UK.

For an artist, 10 million streams generates at least the same royalties as 10,000 CD sales, and nearly 2,000 artists will achieve at least 10 million streams this year in the UK alone – nearly double the number who sold the equivalent number of CDs and downloads in 2007.

Geoff Taylor added: “Modern artists _strive to build the biggest possible global audience and utilise 24/7 digital marketing to stand out in the streaming era. Record labels help bring artists’ creative visions to life and the hundreds of millions of pounds labels invest in the UK each year is supporting the emergence of a new wave of musicians connecting with millions of fans all over the world.

“Success today is gauged in the multi-millions, sometimes billions of streams, which generate micropayments that build over time, in line with relative popularity and demand from fans. This year’s growth shows there is a huge appetite for music and we believe that by working together we can increase the value of the whole music market, so that streaming can support even more artists in the future.”

Fans show their love of physical – highest vinyl sales in three decades; CD decline slows; cassettes up again

While the growth in streaming underpinned much of the rise in consumption, the enduring appeal of vinyl continued. Vinyl confounded supply and production challenges in 2021 to jump by 11% to well over 5 million (5.3m) copies purchased – representing a 14th year of consecutive growth. The continuing revival of the audio cassette, which grew by 19% to 185,000 copies purchased – the highest total since 2003 – further demonstrated the collectible appeal of recorded music on physical formats as a complement to streaming.

Compact Disc has been showing a decline in demand since 2004 – during rampant digital piracy and as fans first switched to downloads and then to streaming services. However, in 2021, boosted by CD-friendly releases from superstar artists such as Adele, Ed Sheeran and ABBA, the rate of decrease slowed to just 11%, suggesting that demand for the format, which is nearing its 40th anniversary, may solidify as baby-boomers and collectors remain committed to the audio format.

Physical remains a ‘kingmaker’ for No.1 albums: in the vast majority of weeks (40) in 2021, it accounted for over half of chart-eligible sales of the Official Charts No.1 artist album. This trend is best exemplified by Adele’s album 30, which in December saw 80% of its chart sales total made up of physical format sales. Digital albums also continued their long-term trend, down by 23%, but they still contributed 4.6 million unit purchases to the overall AES total.

Drew Hill, MD Proper Music Distribution, said: “It’s been an incredible year for CDs, vinyl and cassettes as they continued to drive albums up the charts. This year, nearly 90% of unique #1 albums hit the top spot off the back of a physical sales majority, with some hugely impressive numbers from the likes of Adele, whose new album maintained its chart lead with an increasing physical majority share, and ABBA, who claimed the title of fastest-selling vinyl of the century. It’s further proof that in this golden era of choice, music fans really cherish an album they can hold!”

British Artists Lead The Way

Eight of the best-selling artist albums were British, led by Adele and Ed Sheeran – both of whom achieved over half a billion streams in 2021 in the UK alone and billions more streams globally.

Releasing her fourth album in November, Adele’s 30 took the crown for the best-selling album of 2021. With first-week chart sales totaling 262,000 and a majority of sales coming on physical format in December (80%), 30 sat atop the Official Albums Chart for five weeks. It was also the second best-selling LP on vinyl, and has helped her win four 2022 BRIT Award nominations. One of those is for Song of the Year with Mastercard for Easy On Me, the lead single from 30, which scored seven weeks at No.1 on the Official Singles Chart.

Ed Sheeran also returned to dominate the Official Singles Chart, featuring on four tracks that reached No.1, including Bad Habits, which was the best-selling single of 2021, and was BRIT Certified 2x Platinum in October. He too has four nominations for the 2022 BRIT Awards.

When Dave’s We’re All Alone In This Together reached No.1 in the Official Albums Chart in July it had scored the biggest opening week of 2021, with 74,000 sales. Building on the success of his 2019 debut Psychodrama, which also hit No.1 and claimed both the Hyundai Mercury Prize and Mastercard Album of the Year at the 2020 BRIT Awards, the album was also the second-best selling cassette of 2021, and the best-selling rap album of the year. Dave is also nominated in four categories at the 2022 BRIT Awards.

Since winning the Critics’ Choice Award at the 2019 BRITs, Sam Fender’s career has rocketed. He followed his 2019 No.1 debut LP Hypersonic Missiles with another in October 2021, Seventeen Going Under. Taking less than a month to go BRIT Certified Silver, the release is nominated for Mastercard Album of the Year at the 2022 BRITs (one of Fender’s three noms), and is the eleventh-best-selling vinyl LP of 2021. The album also produced the lead single of the same title – his first to break into the top 10 in the Official Singles Chart.

The continued success of physical product aided the booming British band scene. Former Hyundai Mercury Prize winners Wolf Alice returned with their third album Blue Weekend in 2021, and as well as becoming their first album to hit No.1 on the Official Albums Chart, it was the ninth best-selling vinyl LP of the year, and sixth best-selling cassette of the year. The band are nominated twice at the 2022 BRIT Awards.

One of the global breakout stars of 2021 was Olivia Rodrigo. Alongside ABBA she was one of the year’s leading international artists. She claimed the fourth best-selling album of the year with Sour, spending five non-consecutive weeks on top of the Official Albums Chart (the equal-longest run, tied with Adele). Sour was the best-selling cassette of 2021, and Rodrigo became the youngest solo artist to score a UK chart double, with good 4 u also topping the Official Singles Chart. good 4 u finished as the second best-selling single of the year, with debut single drivers license the third. Both are BRIT Certified 2x Platinum, and spent a combined total of 14 weeks at No.1 (only Ed Sheeran was at the top of the Official Singles Chart for longer).

British guitar bands from all over UK enjoy strong revival year with string of Official Chart No.1 albums

A new wave of bands drawn from all over the UK enjoyed a strong year thanks to streaming and the appeal of physical formats, with established acts and new artists lighting up the Official Albums Charts. This breaking wave of talent, following in the slipstream of bands like IDLES and Blossoms, is exemplified by Wigan indie four-piece The Lathums, whose debut album How Beautiful Life Can Be topped the Official Albums Chart in October. The band contributed to an impressive run that saw the No.1 spot in 12 out of the 52 Official Chart weeks occupied by a British group – nearly a quarter (23%) of the total for the year. This upward trend compares with a figure of 17% in 2020 and 15% in 2019.

Other British bands that enjoyed breakthrough success in 2021 included Brighton-based Architects (For Those That Wish To Exist) and West Lothian band The Snuts (W.L.) – who in April became the first Scottish band to score a Number 1 debut album since 2007. Additionally Leicester’sEasy Life (Life’s A Beach) claimed a top 3 spot and topped the Official Vinyl Chart, while Oxford-based Glass Animals saw hundreds of millions of streams of their global hit Heat Waves – earning them two nominations for The BRIT Awards 2022.

There were also No.1s for established bands drawn from all over the UK: Sheffield’s Bring Me The Horizon (Post Human Survival Horror); Nottingham’s London Grammar (Californian Soil); Wales’s Manic Street Preachers (The Ultra Vivid Lament); Glaswegians Mogwai (As The Love Continues); London’s Wolf Alice (Blue Weekend); Manchester’s Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (Back The Way We Came Vol 1), Brighton’s Royal Blood (Typhoons); Surrey-based You Me At Six (Suckapunch); and Coldplay (Music Of The Spheres).

Many more British groups enjoyed Top 10 success on the Official Albums Chart this year, including Shame, Black Country New Road, Pale Waves, Black Honey, Dry Cleaning and Squid.

Notes

1 The reporting year in 2021 comprises 52 weeks (ending 30 Dec 2021). It should be borne in mind that the year-on-year comparisons throughout are with a 53 week chart year in 2020, and, as such, the year-on-year increase in Album Equivalent Sales would otherwise have been greater.

Consumption data reflects volumes consumed in 2021 (via streaming and purchases) only. Please note that volume growth should not be equated with growth in recorded music revenue the 2.5% consumption growth reported may therefore not be the same as any growth in revenues generated by this increase in UK consumption. The BPI will report on UK recorded music revenues for 2021 in Q1/Q2 2022.

2 Album Equivalent Sales (AES) is a standard industry metric enabling sales & streaming volumes to be measured on a comparable basis so that total music consumption can effectively be gauged. This analysis converts all streams & sales data to 'Album Equivalent Sales’ (AES). Physical & digital album sales have been included as per the Official Charts database, but the cumulative total for individual track sales has been divided by 10 (to provide a 'Track Equivalent Album’ (TEA) figure). Both audio and video streams are now counted in the AES figure, but are weighted according to whether plays are derived from a ‘premium’ or ‘ad-supported’ source. Premium plays are divided by 1000 and ad-supported plays are divided by 6000 to comprise the ‘Streaming Equivalent Albums’ (SEA) portion of Album Equivalent Sales. As the AES methodology has been revised in 2020, the 2019 AES figure has been restated in accordance. For estimated retail value contact the Entertainment Retailers Association https://eraltd.org/

3 Figures are for audio streams and for all artists of any nationality releasing in the UK. Streams are allocated to the primary artist listed.

4 The number of artists who achieved 10,000 CD sales in 2007, which is equivalent to 10 million streams today, is 1,092.

5 Official Charts best-selling UK albums 2005 – 2021: Adele ‘30’ (2021), Lewis Capaldi ‘Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent’ (2020), Lewis Capaldi ‘Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent’ (2019), ‘The Greatest Showman’ Cast Recording (2018), Ed Sheeran ‘Divide’ (2017), Adele ’25’ (2016), Adele ‘25’ (2015), Ed Sheeran ‘X’ (2014), One Direction ‘Midnight Memories’ (2013), Emeli Sandé ‘Our Version Of Events’ (2012), Adele ‘21’ (2011), Take That ‘Progress’ (2010), Susan Boyle ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ (2009), Duffy ‘Rockferry’ (2008), Amy Winehouse ‘Back To Black’ (2007), Snow Patrol ‘Eyes Open’ (2006), and James Blunt ‘Back To Bedlam’ (2005).

Official Charts – 2021 best sellers and most streamed

Chart 1 – OFFICIAL ARTIST ALBUMS CHART 2021 – © Official Charts Company - view full Top 40 albums

Pos. Artist & Title

  1. Adele – 30
  2. Ed Sheeran – =
  3. ABBA – Voyage
  4. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour
  5. Queen – Greatest Hits
  6. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
  7. Ed Sheeran – Divide
  8. Elton John – Diamonds
  9. Fleetwood Mac – 50 Years: Don’t Stop
  10. Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together

Chart 2 – OFFICIAL SINGLES CHART 2021 – © Official Charts Company – view full Top 40 singles

Pos. Artist & Title

  1. Ed Sheeran – Bad Habits
  2. Olivia Rodrigo – Good 4 U
  3. Olivia Rodrigo – Drivers License
  4. The Weeknd – Save Your Tears
  5. Lil Nas X – Montero (Call Me By Your Name)
  6. Dua Lipa – Levitating
  7. The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber – Stay
  8. Glass Animals – Heat Waves
  9. The Weeknd – Blinding Lights
  10. Tion Wayne & Russ Millions – Body

Chart 3 – OFFICIAL VINYL ARTIST ALBUMS CHART 2021 – © Official Charts Company

Pos. Artist & Title

  1. ABBA – Voyage
  2. Adele – 30
  3. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
  4. Ed Sheeran – =
  5. Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
  6. Nirvana – Nevermind
  7. Queen – Greatest Hits
  8. Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club
  9. Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
  10. Harry Styles – Fine Line

Chart 4 – OFFICIAL CASSETTE ARTIST ALBUMS CHART 2021 – © Official Charts Company

Pos. Artist & Title

  1. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour
  2. Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together
  3. Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club
  4. Queen – Greatest Hits
  5. Coldplay – Music Of The Spheres
  6. Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
  7. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
  8. Elton John – The Lockdown Sessions
  9. Demi Lovato – Dancing With The Devil: The Art Of Starting Over
  10. Ed Sheeran – =

Chart 5 – OFFICIAL CHARTS MOST STREAMED AUDIO TRACKS 2021 – © Official Charts Company

Pos. Artist & Title

  1. Ed Sheeran – Bad Habits
  2. Olivia Rodrigo – Good 4 U
  3. Olivia Rodrigo – Drivers License
  4. Lil Nas X – Montero (Call Me By Your Name)
  5. The Weeknd – Save Your Tears
  6. Dua Lipa – Levitating
  7. Glass Animals – Heat Waves
  8. The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber – Stay
  9. Tion Wayne & Russ Millions – Body
  10. The Weeknd – Blinding Lights

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About the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) – bpi.co.uk   

The BPI champions the UK’s recorded music community, safeguarding the rights of its members and of the artists, performers and label members of collecting body PPL.  The BPI’s membership consists of well over 500 independent labels and the UK’s three ‘majors’ – Universal Music UK, Sony Music Entertainment UK and Warner Music UK. Its total membership taken together accounts for around 85 per cent of legitimate domestic music consumption and 1 in 10 streams around the world.

The BPI promotes British music at home and overseas through its trade missions, the Music Exports Growth Scheme and The BRIT Awards, which it owns and organises. It administers The BRIT Certified Platinum, Gold and Silver Awards Programme, co-owns the Official Charts Company with ERA, and is home to The Mercury Prize. The BPI encourages and supports innovation and technology through itsMusic & Tech Springboard Programme, and additionally provides insights, training and networking with its extensive free masterclasses, networking events, Insight Sessions and reports alongside its communications and public affairs work.

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