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IFPI Global Report 2021: Music Revenues Rise for Sixth Straight Year to $21.6B

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The report says streaming revenues rose nearly 20% during the pandemic year to $13.4 billion, with 443 million paid users.

LONDON — Not even a global pandemic could stop the music industry’s inexorable, digital streaming-fueled, decade-long comeback story from continuing in 2020.

Global music sales grew for the sixth consecutive year in 2020, with total revenues rising 7.4% to $21.6 billion on the back of an 18.5% rise in streaming subscription revenues, which totaled $9.9 billion last year, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry's (IFPI) "Global Music Report 2021."

With billions of people largely shuttered indoors for months on end and entertainment options limited outside the home, people around the world streamed more music than ever before. At the same time, in 2020 developing markets -- including Latin America (up 15.9% in overall revenues compared to 2019), Asia, and Africa and the Middle East -- demonstrated that their large populations have the potential to generate substantial revenues as subscription services launch and mature, and as adoption increases with faster wireless networks.

Total recorded music sales revenues jumped by 10.5% in 2020, the highest growth rate ever recorded by London-based IFPI. Revenues from streaming formats grew by 19.9% to $13.4 billion and accounted for 62.1% of global recorded music revenue, a jump in share of 6.5% over 2019. Overall physical sales fell by 4.7% to $4.2 billion.

“These are not easy times, but the music community with its creativity, innovation and determination continues to drive forward, to an even greater future,” IFPI chief executive Frances Moore says in the report’s foreword. The rise in revenues at a time of global crisis highlighted “the enduring power of music to console, heal and lift our spirits,” she says.

IFPI’s Global Music Report 2021 topline figures:

  • Global music sales up 7.4% to $21.6 billion
  • Streaming subscription revenues up 18.5% to $13.4 billion
  • 4.7% drop in physical revenues to $4.2 billion
  • 10.1% fall in performance rights revenues to $2.3 billion
  • 443 million paid music subscribers
  • Streaming’s share of global music sales: 62%

Latin America was the fastest-growing market region for a sixth year in a row, while South Korea grew the fastest overall among major markets (up 44.8%), followed by China (up 33.6%). The U.S. retained its long-held position as the largest market, with music sales growing 7.3% in 2020, driven by an almost 13% rise in streaming revenues.

But the news was not all good. Even as streaming lifted the overall industry, the pandemic wreaked havoc on the live music and hospitality industries, and stymied music licensing for film and television because of production shutdowns. Public performance revenues across the globe fell by 30.4% to $572 million. Europe, where the top-five revenue generators for concerts are located, suffered the worst fall, with public performance collection dipping 30% to $413 million.

Overall public performance revenues slid 10.1% to $2.28 billion, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused the first hiccup in growth in that category more than 10 years, the IFPI said. Latin America (down 27%) and the Middle East and Africa (down 26.7%) were the hardest hit, with the U.S. and Canada (up 0.5%) emerging as the only region to not suffer a decline.

Sustained growth in record sales from streaming means that the industry has climbed back above 2003 levels -- when global revenue totaled $20.3 billion -- at least on an absolute dollar basis, not accounting for inflation. IFPI started reporting global music sales in 2001 when the recorded music industry was worth $23.6 billion. Piracy and declining physical sales saw the market bottom out at $14 billion in 2014.

There are now 443 million users of paid streaming services worldwide, up from 341 million in 2019. Streaming accounted for more than half of all recorded music revenues in 48 markets, up 12 from last year’s total.

In a sign of how streaming continued to surge during the pandemic, Asia passed the halfway mark (50.4%) for streaming’s share of the region’s overall revenues. France and Germany also crossed that divide for the first time. While traditionally a market where revenues from physical music sales dominate, Germany saw a 16% decline in physical revenues in 2020, dropping the country from third to fourth place among the largest physical markets globally.

Japan held steady in second place among the world top music markets, despite experiencing a 2.1% fall in revenues -- its second-straight year of decline.

The United Kingdom (up 2.2%) and Germany (up 5.1%), remained in third and fourth place, respectively. The rest of the top 10 is comprised of France, South Korea, China, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, respectively. Streaming revenues that shot up by 30% helped Latin America grow to $779.1 million, or 3.6% of overall global music revenues, up from 3.3%. Led by Brazil (up 24.5%), the region’s largest market, the top 10 Latin American markets except Peru all experienced revenue growth in 2020.

Dramatic devaluation in Brazil led to a loss of almost $100 million in revenue, pulling down overall numbers and resulting in Brazil dropping from the world’s 10th largest market in 2019 to 11th in 2020. Pandemic-related dips in performance and synch revenues also dragged down revenues. But, for perspective, Brazil still surpassed Italy (12th) and Spain (13th) in overall revenues.

CD sales are sliding in particular in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, while vinyl sales are doing the opposite -- jumping $169 million, or 23.5%, in 2020, the highest value growth on record and almost five times as much as 2019 (up 5.5%).

“We shouldn’t write off the demise of physical too early,” says Simon Robson, president, international, recorded music for Warner Music Group. “Vinyl is showing some very encouraging signs of growth. I don’t think in 10 years time it will become a purely streaming market.”

The IFPI said that pockets of physical growth remained strong, noting that Japan and South Korea are now dominating global CD sales, with Asia overall only seeing a 1% dip in CD sales last year.

Japan’s growing pains as it transitions away from CD and vinyl sales — it is still the top market for physical sales, including CDs —created a drag on Asia’s growth trajectory once again. Asia managed to grow 9.5%, outpacing the global growth rate of 7.4%. But without Japan, the region grew by 29.9% in 2020.

K-pop stars such as BTS, Blackpink, Seventeen and NCT, along with high-quality collectible CD album releases, led South Korea to pass the U.S. and become the second-largest market for CD sales in 2020.

Nevertheless, Japan and Germany joined the U.S. and U.K. in 2020 as the only four markets that generated $500 million each from subscription streaming alone.

For the first time, IFPI included regional data for Africa and the Middle East in its “Global Music Report.” Music sales there grew by 8.4% to $132.8 million, primarily driven by the uptake of streaming services in the Middle East and North Africa.

As previously reported, BTS topped IFPI’s “Global Recording Artist of the Year” charts, representing the bestselling and most popular artists worldwide in 2020. The K-pop phenomenon also had the year’s top two highest selling albums with Map of the Soul: 7 selling (4.8 million units) and BE Deluxe Edition (2.69 million units). The best-selling single across all digital formats in 2020 was The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights,” which generated 2.7 billion subscription stream equivalents globally.

IFPI also said that Puerto Rican star Bad Bunny became the first-ever artist to reach its top 20 global artist chart singing primarily in Spanish.

Additional reporting by Leila Cobo and Glenn Peoples

UPDATE: This story was edited at 8 p.m. EST to include more analysis.