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The Ledger: The Majors’ $25B in Revenue in 2021 Is Just the Start

Universal, Sony and Warner can can expect double-digit growth in 2022 with investments bolstering top and bottom lines this year and beyond.

The Ledger is a weekly newsletter about the economics of the music business sent to Billboard Pro subscribers. An abbreviated version of the newsletter is published online.

Six years into the global music industry’s recovery, the largest labels and publishers are growing by leaps and bounds. The three major music groups — Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group — had combined revenues of $25.4 billion in calendar 2021, up 19.8% from calendar 2020, according to Billboard‘s calculations. That annual growth rate was more than a four-fold improvement from the companies’ 4.7% revenue growth in 2020 after a slowdown in physical goods sales during the pandemic. Combined, the companies had an operating profit was $4.1 billion in 2021, a 44.3% increase, with a combined operating profit margin of 16.3%, up from 13.5% in 2020.


Recorded music revenues were $18.7 billion, up 23.1%. Within recorded music, streaming revenues grew 27.8% to $12.5 billion and physical sales rose 16.2% to $2.8 billion. Combined publishing revenues climbed 19.3% to $4.1 billion. If Sony’s “visual media and platform” division is removed, which better reflects the companies’ music-focused operations, the majors’ combined revenue was $23.2 billion, up 22.2% from $19.0 billion in 2020.

The resumption of the touring business in 2021 also helped a smaller but important part of their businesses, merchandise. At Bravado, UMG’s merchandise division, revenue grew 28.9% to $429 million. WMG’s artist services segment, which includes revenue from both merchandise and touring, improved 25.9% to $651 million.

(UMG reported 2021 earnings on Thursday. SME’s and WMG’s fiscal years — both reported in February — are different than the calendar year. Billboard converted currencies into U.S. dollars using annual average exchange rates from

Between strong growth in streaming royalties and the resumption of touring, the majors can expect double-digit organic growth in 2022. But that’s just the beginning: Acquisitions and investments will bolster top and bottom lines this year and beyond. For UMG, catalog acquisitions will help its 2022 income statement. According to its earnings report, UMG spent 388 million euros (about $459 million) on catalog acquisitions in 2021, less than half the 929 million euros ($1.06 billion) it spent in 2020, when it purchased Bob Dylan’s song catalog for an estimated $400 million-plus. UMG has continued its M&A activity in 2022, purchasing the songwriting catalogs of Sting and Neil Diamond.

WMG and SME are growing with acquisitions of catalogs and entire companies. WMG’s acquisition of 300 Entertainment — which it previously distributed — for $400 million is a frontline label with a roster that includes Megan Thee Stallion and Young Thug. WMG also acquired the David Bowie songwriting catalog, bought a majority stake in the Africori digital distributor and picked up the assets of Doug Morris’ 12Tone Music. SME’s 2021 deals included Bruce Springsteen’s recorded music and publishing catalogsBob Dylan’s recorded music catalogPaul Simon’s songwriting catalog and a majority stake in Alamo Records. SME’s purchase of Brazilian label Som Live was cleared by regulators in February, and its acquisition of label services company AWAL was provisionally cleared by a U.K. regulator last month.

Separately, SME should get a boost from its strategic investment in merch company Ceremony of Roses, announced in January. Sony’s Thread Shop merch division will remain a brand under Ceremony of Roses.


Through March 4, the % change over last five trading days and year to date.

Spotify: $135.17, -11.2%, -42.2% YTD
Universal Music Group: 18.20 euros, -7.9%, -26.6% YTD
Warner Music Group: $33.02, -9.6%, -23.5% YTD
Live Nation: $114.38, -9.1%, -4.4% YTD
Eventbrite: $13.77, -7.8%, -21.0% YTD
CTS Eventim: 57.38 euros, -9.9%, -10.8% YTD
iHeartMedia: $19.94, -9.1%, +8.7% YTD
Anghami: $13.50, -31.1%, +32.2% YTD
NYSE Composite: 16,120.61, -1.8%, -6.1% YTD
Nasdaq: 13,313.44, -2.8%, -14.9% YTD