10 years ago, Warner Music’s Top 5 superstars generated 15% of its revenue. Today, that number is down to just 5%.

Credit: Evan Kheraj
According to WMG SEC filings at the time, its biggest-selling artists in FY2012 included Michael Bublé (pictured), Kobukuro, Flo Rida, Tatsuro Yamashita and fun. WMG's Top 5 artists generated over 15% of the company's recorded music revenue in the year.

MBW’s Stat Of The Week is a series in which we highlight a single data point that deserves the attention of the global music industry. Stat Of the Week is supported by Cinq Music Group, a technology-driven record label, distribution, and rights management company.

One of the most dramatic impacts that streaming has had on the record industry is been the democratization of listening.

The logic goes like this: In the pre-Spotify past, consumers would have to make a committed decision about the next record they wanted to buy. That transactional buying decision was narrow, and largely guided by media and broadcast channels – the fabled ‘gatekeepers’ – who were limited in the number of artists they could recommend to the great unwashed.

These days, there is no transactional buying decision required. No consumer need ‘gamble’ their money on an untested new record – they just need to load it up on Spotify/YouTube Music/Apple Music etc., click play, and see if they’re into it.

If they like it, they can keep on listening. If they don’t, they can simply skate off to some other auditory delight.

Year-on-year, this phenomenon is dramatically diluting the concentration of total music listening claimed by a handful of the world’s biggest megastars.

As a result, in any given year, an ever-greater share of total streams is drifting away from the Top 10 biggest hits, and towards a much wider array of ‘middle class’ artists with significant, but not necessarily chart-bursting, fanbases.

MBW has wheeled this stat out a few times this year, but it bears repeating: According to our calculations of Luminate figures, the Top 10 audio streaming tracks in the US in H1 2022 were cumulatively played over 1 billion times less than they were in H1 2019 (2.74bn vs. 3.81bn).

Streaming’s impact on the live business

This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the record industry.

In an upcoming interview in Music Business Worldwide‘s 2022/2023 Yearbook, Jay Marciano, the CEO and Chairman of AEG Presents, notes that the democratization of listening on streaming services has had a significant impact on his company’s “bars and theaters” business – i.e. venues that typically hold hundreds, rather than thousands, of ticket-holders.

“A club that would do 100 shows a year in 2012 is now doing 180 shows a year,” says Marciano. “That’s a direct result of there being more talent [with a viable fanbase] available. It’s a great byproduct of the benefits of streaming.”

“A club that would do 100 shows a year in 2012 is now doing 180 shows a year.”

Jay Marciano, AEG Presents

He adds: “What’s new is the frequency that the fans are going to [these] shows: The quoted stat, years ago, was that the average concert-goer goes to 1-point-something shows a year.

“In our experience, at the clubs and theaters level [today], where the audience is primarily 22- to 32-year-olds, it’s more like eight times a year.”

Warner Music Group
Warner’s ‘portfolio’ strategy

All of this, in turn, has impacted on the A&R strategy of major music companies.

You might remember that back in September, the outgoing CEO of Warner Music Group, Steve Cooper, noted that – thanks to streaming – his company had moved towards a “portfolio” A&R strategy.

“What we’ve done over the last number of years is reduce our [financial] dependency on superstars. reducing that dependency has allowed us to continue to reinforce our approach to A&R, which is long-term artist development.”

Steve Cooper, speaking in September

This strategy, Cooper explained, meant that WMG was now spreading its A&R budget amongst a wider range of artists, thus reducing the company’s financial “dependency on superstars”.

Or to put it another way: Warner is investing a smaller proportion of its growing A&R budget each year on a select handful of global stars, and spread-betting a bigger proportion of this budget on artists who haven’t yet troubled the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100.

A major new data point to play with

On Tuesday (November 22), speaking on Warner Music Group’s calendar Q3 earnings call, Cooper provided us with a milestone stat that reflected the commercial reality of the above trends.

Cooper revealed: “A decade ago, our Top 5 artists generated over 15% of our recorded music physical and digital revenue. In 2022, they generated just over 5%.”

To walk you through that again: The Top 5 biggest-selling artists at one of the major record companies, as a subset, has seen their cumulative share of generated revenue at that major record company slashed by two-thirds over the past 10 years.

Where have those two-thirds gone? We’ll come back to that – because it’s slightly more nuanced than ‘they all just disappeared into the “middle class” of artists that MBW keeps prattling on about’.

“A decade ago, our top five artists generated over 15% of our recorded music physical and digital revenue. In 2022, they generated just over 5%.”

Steve Cooper, speaking this week

For now, let’s keep our eyes on the prize, sift through some SEC filings, and do the numbers.

According to Warner Music Group’s annual fiscal reports, WMG’s recorded music physical and digital revenue (that’s CDs, vinyl, downloads, and streaming royalties combined) amounted to $3.868 billion in FY2022 (the 12 months to end of September this year).

A decade previous, in FY2012 (the 12 months to end of September 2012), the equivalent figure at WMG stood at $1.830 billion.

(A brief moment, please, to marvel at the fact that, under Steve Cooper’s leadership, this figure more than doubled in 10 years at WMG… and let’s get back to the math.)

Below, you can see how the approximate percentages Steve Cooper laid out this week – RE: Warner’s Top 5 annual artists in FY2022 and FY2012 – look like in (i) real monetary terms, and (ii) in pie chart form. [Click on the chart to view numbers.]

The key takeaway?

According to MBW’s calculations of Steve Cooper’s numbers, Warner Music Group’s Top 5 recorded music artists in FY2012 look likely to have cumulatively generated a larger sum of annual digital and physical royalties (≈$274.5m) than WMG’s equivalent Top 5 artists generated in FY2022 (≈$193.4m).

That isn’t just a decline in share of revenue; it’s a decline in actual revenue generated.

This, remember, represents a ten-year span when WMG’s overall recorded music royalties more than doubled ($1.83bn in FY2012 vs. $3.87bn in FY2022).

Warner’s ‘broadened and deepened’ artist roster

Steve Cooper took the time on Tuesday to explain some of the causal reasons behind the decline in revenue share of Warner’s Top 5 artists over the past decade.

He noted that, in addition to losing share to ‘middle class’ artists – as described above – today’s clutch of the very biggest superstars are also doing battle for share of listening with (i) artists from many more countries than ever before, and (ii) artists from many different eras.

Point (ii) was summed up this year by the Warner Music-distributed Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush, which was officially the world’s most popular hit on Spotify this summer following its appearance in Netflix‘s Stranger Things.

Point (i) is summed up when you look at the range of major-league stars from different parts of the world that have signed to Warner labels these past few years – including Anitta (Brazil), who’s just been nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy in 2023, as well as Burna Boy (Nigeria), Twice (South Korea), and Paulo Londra (Argentina).

“Ten years ago, we were an Anglocentric company. Today, we’re a truly global music entertainment company.”

Steve Cooper, WMG

Indeed, just this week, Warner announced a global deal with Dalia Mubarak, described by WMG as one of the ‘most influential female superstars in the Middle East”.

Said Steve Cooper on Tuesday’s earnings call: “As we broadened and deepened our artist roster, and prioritized a global approach to domestic music, our revenue composition has evolved… We’ve also proved once again that music can come from anywhere and resonate everywhere. Not only do we develop Anglo blockbusters, but also superstars within their domestic regions.”

Added Cooper: “Ten years ago, we were an Anglocentric company. Today, we’re a truly global music entertainment company, operating in over 70 countries.”

Cinq Music Group’s repertoire has won Grammy awards, dozens of Gold and Platinum RIAA certifications, and numerous No.1 chart positions on a variety of Billboard charts. Its repertoire includes heavyweights such as Bad Bunny, Janet Jackson, Daddy Yankee, T.I., Sean Kingston, Anuel, and hundreds more.Music Business Worldwide

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