The following exclusive op/ed has been written for MBW by Mitch Glazier, Chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). RIAA today (March 9) issued the official annual revenue figures for the U.S recorded music market in 2021.
With a 23% increase in total revenues over the prior year, today’s 2021 recorded music revenue report continues one of the most incredible comeback stories in modern commercial history.
After all, a little more than twenty years ago, music faced a wrenching transition in the face of devastating piracy. It took some time to find the right approach but we refused to give up, embracing new technologies while protecting creators’ work and forging creative partnerships with artists in new and mutually beneficial ways. Today, that work is paying off in a stunning music boom that is powering new opportunities and revenue streams for artists, labels, songwriters, publishers, digital services, and the entire music community – while giving fans unprecedented experiences, choice, access, and value.
Ordinarily, this would all be cause for celebration. But these are far from ordinary times.
The world faces a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine on the heels of a global pandemic that has stretched to two years and counting. No amount of financial recovery could ever outweigh the terrible toll these crises have exacted. In fact, for too many in our music family – road crews, venue staff, touring bands, orchestral and live musicians, and many, many more – financial recovery is still around the corner.
We are a single music community, and RIAA and our members work every day towards full recovery for music creators – including relief efforts and new business opportunities. And we won’t rest until the full music community can participate in the recovery.
We recognize that, for many, this report’s key takeaway is the topline figure of $15 billion in total recorded music revenues.
In nominal terms (not adjusted for inflation), that’s the highest annual revenue figure in our industry’s history, surpassing the $14.6 billion reported in 1999, just before digital piracy wiped out more than half of recorded music’s economic value. But in inflation-adjusted dollars, last year’s figure is 37% lower than it was in 1999. We still have plenty of room to grow – to reach and surpass historical values for music.
There are other messages embedded in today’s report as well, such as the new levels of choice for artists and fans reflected by the diversity of genres and formats. This year, for the first time ever, our release includes U.S. TikTok music revenues, building off labels’ innovative work to license new apps, services, and formats.
By format, streaming remains the most popular – representing 83% of total revenues – but vinyl and CDs both made big gains, with vinyl passing $1 billion in revenue for the first time in 35 years and CD sales jumping up 21% in a single year. When different formats and technologies thrive, it creates new pathways for diverse styles and voices, from classical to jazz to reggae to punk.
“in inflation-adjusted dollars, last year’s figure is 37% lower than it was in 1999. We still have plenty of room to grow – to reach and surpass historical values for music.”
The incredible run of strong, industry-wide growth documented in this and prior reports speaks to the dynamic and vibrant creative and commercial relationships today’s labels have built with their artist partners. Labels haven’t simply reinvented themselves, they have helped transform the entire process of music creation, discovery, and distribution to bolster creative freedom and artistic expression while seamlessly meeting fans everywhere and anywhere they want to be.
As Billboard recently put it, “as the recorded music business has shifted from one of its lowest points into yet another period of growth and strength, record labels have changed rapidly to stay on top of that change and maintain their value for a new generation of artists.”
No one invests more in new artists and their music than record labels. One recent study found double-digit growth in the number of new artists who choose to be signed. And all around us, a rising generation of urgent new voices are shaping the culture – from Olivia Rodrigo helping launch the White House’s vaccination campaign, to Doja Cat releasing the first ever codable music video with Girls Who Code, to Dua Lipa dominating TikTok trends and Fortnite emotes.
Artists and labels have pioneered new ways to build incredibly meaningful moments together based on core principles of shared success, no-boundaries innovation, and creative boldness. The result has been an incredibly vibrant period delivering new opportunities, platforms, and experiences – from music-powered fitness apps to gaming platform livestream concerts to must-have vinyl exclusives to global surprise digital album drops. Creative genius unleashed in new ways driving shared commercial success and record payments to artists.
“No industry in history has embraced changing technologies and innovations faster than music over the last ten years – taking streaming from novelty to ubiquitous in the blink of an eye and now working to drive a new generation of social apps, shared immersive experiences, and blockchain/NFT opportunities going forward.”
All at a time when artists have never had so many paths available – including whether and how to work with labels: from self-producing to working with DIY distributors to a whole range of label relationships and services. Labels help drive commercial opportunities for artists while shaping culture and inspiring a new generation of fans.
For labels, partnering with artists today means delivering unique creative and commercial value – the expertise needed to break through at a time when over 60,000 tracks are uploaded to a single streaming service every single day. Labels help artists find new audiences for both front-line and catalog music that creates and sustains value for more music for longer periods of time.
Turning the deep downturn into years of growth that led to today’s revenue report is a testament to the power of modern label-artist partnerships. To a forward-looking industry that takes nothing for granted, celebrates the unique power of music to connect and inspire, and refuses to stand still or accept the status quo.
No industry in history has embraced changing technologies and innovations faster than music over the last ten years – taking streaming from novelty to ubiquitous in the blink of an eye and now working to drive a new generation of social apps, shared immersive experiences, and blockchain/NFT opportunities going forward.
And despite all the success we report today – record companies and their artist partners are already looking ahead to new and innovative music experiences and connections that will define tomorrow.
We’ve come a long way together, and it’s only the beginning…Music Business Worldwide