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Global Music Copyright Revenue Grew 18% in 2021

Record labels' share of revenue increased as well — a consequence of streaming's dominance.

Global music copyright generated $39.6 billion in 2021, up 18% from the previous year, according to the latest report by Will Page, industry analyst and former chief economist for Spotify. “The post-pandemic fallout has seen consumer subscriptions and ad-funded streaming continue to soar,” he wrote, “whereas business-to-business licensing by CMOs [collective management organizations] has only partially recovered.”  

Streaming accounted for 55% of global copyright revenue, up from 52% in 2020. The industry’s shift to streaming has been dramatic: Just five years ago, in 2017, streaming accounted for just 30% of global music copyright revenues. 

Page brings together four sources of industry data for his analysis: IFPI’s annual Global Music Report, CISAC’s annual Global Collections Report, Music & Copyright’s analysis of music publishing and MIDiA Research’s estimate of royalty-free music licensing services such as Epidemic Sounds — a new addition to his study this year. He removes double counting in the reports, such as some mechanical royalties that are counted as revenue by both record labels and publishers.  


Record labels’ revenue grew to $25.8 billion in 2021 from $21.3 billion in 2020 and $19.8 billion in 2019. In terms of market share, record labels improved their percentage of global revenue to 65.2% in 2021 from 63.4% in 2020 and 60.6% in 2019 — a sign of healthy consumer spending on subscription services such as Spotify and Apple Music. 

On the flip side, publishers’ share of global revenue dropped to 34.1% in 2021, from 35.7% the year before. Still, as Page points out, this is more equitable than other points in history. In 2001, when labels’ revenues were peaking at the height of the CD sales boom, publishers received just 23% of revenues. In 2014, however, when label revenues had deteriorated, publishers were growing modestly and CMOs reported "record-breaking collections" up to 45% of global revenues. Record labels grew faster than publishers over the next seven years, however.  

Record labels' share of revenue increased due to "the recovery in consumer spend on music," according to Page, "which traditionally favors labels over publishers." The trend was amplified by the pandemic's impact on business licensing – such as performance rights blanket licenses for retail, radio and concert venues – that favors publishers over labels.  

Had the pandemic not occurred, performing rights income would have likely grown at 6% a year and would "arguably" be $1 billion greater today – a possible $9.4 billion rather than the actual $8.4 billion. On the other hand, wrote Page, "had the pandemic not happened, streaming may never have accelerated the way it did."

Royalty-free music is a small part of the global music business but growing quickly thanks to the increasing need for easily licensed music on online platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. MIDiA Research put the value of royalty-free music – meaning the license is a one-time purchase without residual royalties – at $250 million in 2021.