Media release: Streaming breaks the 100 billion barrier, fuelled by exciting new talent


OFFICIAL figures released by record labels’ association, the BPI, based on Official Charts Company data, show that 2019 marked a fifth consecutive year of growth in the consumption of recorded music in the UK.

The equivalent of 154 million albums were either streamed, purchased on physical formats or downloaded – up by 7.5 per cent in volume on the total recorded in 2018. This is the highest amount since 2006, when the figure stood at 161.4m albums.

The continued growth in streaming, which rose by 26 per cent on the year, underpinned this rise in consumption. Streaming now accounts for three quarters (74.4 per cent) of Album Equivalent Sales (AES), the metric used by the industry to collectively measure music streaming and purchasing. December saw the highest weekly total of streams – 2.7bn – ever recorded, and the 2019 total of 114 billion plays on audio streaming services marks the first time the 100 billion landmark has been surpassed in a single year.

Rise fuelled by exciting new talent

The most-streamed track of 2019 – Lewis Capaldi’s Someone You Loved – was played over 228m times on audio streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Deezer.

Other artists making the year-end top ten included Lil Nas X, Ed Sheeran, Stormzy and Billie Eilish, while singer-songwriter Tones and I enjoyed an 11-week run at the top of the Official Singles Chart with her global smash, Dance Monkey – the longest run by a female singer in Official Charts history. The most popular 17 tracks were all played over 100m times each.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive BPI and BRIT Awards, said: “British music proved once again in 2019 that it has a bright future. Strong demand for streaming music and vinyl, fuelled by the investment and innovation of UK labels in discovering and promoting new talent, boosted music consumption to levels not seen for 15 years.

“But the full benefits of this growth can only be unlocked if our new Government takes action to make the UK more competitive and encourage further investment, to require digital platforms to pay fairly for music and filter out illegal content, and to give all our schoolchildren the opportunity to play an instrument and discover the joy of making music.”

Lewis Capaldi scores a year-end double top as new artists enjoy breakout years

Lewis Capaldi was undoubtedly the British breakout star of 2019. He topped both the Official Singles and Official Album year-end charts as his debut album, Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent, released in May, was BRIT Certified 2x Platinum, selling over 640,000 albums across all formats and album equivalents, including well over 250,000 copies on CD and vinyl combined, according to Official Charts Company data. It featured the smash hit single, Someone You Loved, which racked up over 2.3m chart-eligible sales. Lewis was also a huge success in the USA, hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in October.

Whereas soundtrack albums – such as The Greatest Showman, A Star Is Born, and Bohemian Rhapsody – dominated the best-sellers list in 2018, the story of 2019 was one of particular success for artists. All three soundtracks retained their place in the upper reaches of the year-end chart, but, among the new releases, it was new artists who shone as well as established acts. Alongside Lewis Capaldi’s debut, the top ten Official Albums Chart for the year included new albums by Ed Sheeran (No. 6 Collaborations Project), Billie Eilish (whose debut When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was both a critical and commercial smash), Ariana Grande (Thank U Next) and BRITs British Breakthrough recipient, Tom Walker (What A Time To Be Alive).

There were also top-selling new solo releases by Rod Stewart (You’re In My Heart, which claimed the Official Charts Christmas No.1 Album), Stormzy (Heavy Is The Head, the much-anticipated follow-up to his number one debut Gang Signs and Prayer), Harry Styles (his second full-length LP Fine Line), Dave (the Mercury Prize-winning Psychodrama), Robbie Williams (The Christmas Present), and Mark Ronson (Late Night Feelings), to name a few, while albums from Coldplay (Everyday Life) and Elbow (Giants Of All Sizes) also made their mark, as did the self-titled debut LP from BRIT School alumnus, Freya Ridings.

Demand for albums on vinyl LP and cassette formats continues to grow

We live in an unparalleled time of music discovery, access and consumption, enabling fans to truly pick and choose how they wish to experience their favourite artists.

The growing demand for albums on vinyl and cassette formats in 2019 underlined the continuing appeal of analogue alongside streaming and CD, and the fact there is still a strong core of fans and music enthusiasts who also value the opportunity to acquire, own or gift recorded music on physical format.

Vinyl LP sales rose for a 12th consecutive year, with Liam Gallagher’s Why Me? Why Not the most in-demand title, selling over 29,000 copies. The top ten included new album releases by Billie Eilish and Lewis Capaldi alongside catalogue classics such as Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Queen’s Greatest Hits. Vinyl LPs now account for one in every eight albums bought, with 4.3million purchased in 2019, an increase of 4.1 per cent on the previous year and a rise of over 2,000 per cent on the format’s low point in 2007.

Like the LP before it, cassette sales are now enjoying a period of sustained growth, although it should be noted that they still only account for just a fraction (0.1 per cent) of overall recorded music consumption. That said, demand has increased for seven consecutive years, and the 2019 sales tally of 80,404 purchases is the biggest annual total recorded in 15 years (99,636 were sold in 2004). The year-end chart topper on the format was Robbie Williams’s The Christmas Present – the fastest-selling cassette album since Now 52 in July 2002. Other titles to make the top ten included releases by Lana Del Rey, Kylie Minogue and Madonna.

Vanessa Higgins, CEO Regent Street Records, and an independent member of BPI Council, said: “It’s great to see streaming continue to grow and smash through ever impressive landmark numbers. As an independent label owner, I would always encourage music lovers to stream their favourite artists, as it’s such an easy way to support the smaller musicians.

“It’s also wonderful to see the continued growth of vinyl and the resurrection of the cassette, which shows fans still love a physical, tangible music artefact in their hands. Personally, I would love to see a rebirth in the British manufacture of these products, supported by modern technology and government, to match the rediscovered UK physical market and the untapped potential that still lies there.”

Physical and CD continues to be a ‘kingmaker’ in No.1 albums chart success

While the number of CD and digital albums bought fell by just over a quarter, in line with long-term trends (by 26.5 per cent and 28.2 per cent respectively), the formats continue to play an important role in shaping Official Albums Chart success. Physical remains the ‘kingmaker for number one albums’ – in the majority of weeks (29) in 2019, physical accounted for over half (50 per cent +) of chart-eligible sales of the Official Charts Number One artist album.

For the last quarter of 2019, physical reigned strong with 13 consecutive weeks where physical counted for the majority of chart-eligible sales – accounting for more than 75 per cent in 12 of those weeks.

Fans invest in the premium ‘box set’ experience

Consistent with the desire of fans to purchase and collect vinyl, enthusiasts also love to feed their passion for music by investing in premium-quality collections and box sets. So, while they may be buying fewer CDs as a whole, they are tending to spend more on enhanced versions of recordings featuring premium and collectible packaging. In 2019, Queen’s Platinum Collection sold well over 100,000 copies on CD, while anniversary releases, such as Don’t Stop – 50 Years of Fleetwood Mac and the 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Abbey Road by The Beatles, also sold in significant quantities among the best-selling deluxe and box set releases.

Matt Ingham of leading independent record label and a BPI member, Cherry Red Records, said: “This year is further proof that music fans have never had so much choice in the way they consume music. The CD format is in a process of transformation; multi-CD boxsets are becoming a beautiful and collectible artefact that represent the best values of A&R, design, quality and research.

“It remains the format of choice for most artists to market and sell on the road and also remains a major asset to independent record labels.

“The LP is rightly cherished as a stylish, almost organic celebration of the album as an art form, while the multi-CD approach is becoming the best way to bring together a coherent, engaging musical narrative; be it a band’s journey or a genre’s history.

“Alongside initiatives like National Album Day and Record Store Day, the independent community is using all available physical and digital tools to ensure its place at the cutting-edge of music going into 2020.”

Singer songwriter, Tom Speight, who in 2019 released his debut album, ‘Collide’, and was supported by the Music Export Growth Scheme to tour overseas, said: “I’ve enjoyed an amazing break-out year releasing my debut LP ‘Collide’.

“As an artist and performer, I feel that I’m able to connect with a global music market, where you can develop and grow a passionate fan-base both here in the UK and in other parts of the world through streaming services complemented by a deeper relationship with fans through vinyl and CD physical purchases as well as having a busy live touring schedule and social media audience.

“I can’t wait to record and release my follow up album to build on this momentum and to draw on the palpable optimism that feels to be out there for new artists.”

Although the compilations market continues to be impacted by the popularity of streaming playlists, the NOW brand continues to thrive. In 2019, it accounted for over 1.25m CD sales and over a third of all full price compilations sales, while NOW’s digital platform saw over 1bn streams.

The story of the decade in charts: 2010 – 2019

Following a dip in consumption around the middle of the decade, reflecting the transition between purchased content and streaming, the rise in popularity in audio streaming on services such as Spotify, Apple and Deezer from around 2014 onwards, complemented by the vinyl revival and boosted by increased label investment in new artists, has helped to fuel a rise in demand for recorded music over the past five years.

Album Equivalent Sales (AES) of 154m represent a 13 per cent rise in demand since the start of the decade, and are now at their highest level since 2006, when the figure stood at 161.4m and the best-selling album was Eyes Open by Snow Patrol (which sold 1.5m copies).

The number of yearly audio streams is up by around 3,000 per cent since 2012, and streams now account for three quarters of UK music consumption, with over 114 billion plays in 2019. In 2010, physical albums enjoyed a similar share (72.7 per cent) of music consumption.

However, while mainstream access to recorded music has evidently transitioned from CD to streaming over this decade, the physical format remains remarkably resilient and still accounts for nearly a fifth of music consumption.

Vinyl and even cassette have rebounded during this time, with both formats registering a 2,000 per cent rise since their low points in 2007 and 2012, respectively.

The resilience of CD and the revival of interest in analogue formats complementing the streaming boom illustrates fans’ desire for a varied product ecosystem, with each format offering its own value proposition.

Notes for editors:

1 The reporting year is based on the Official Charts sales data weeks 1-52 (ending 26 December 2019).

2 For estimated value at retail, please contact the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA)

3 Album Equivalent Sales (AES) is a standard industry metric enabling sales and streaming to be measured on a comparable basis so that total music consumption can effectively be gauged. This analysis converts all streams and sales data to ‘Album Equivalent Sales’ (AES). Physical and digital album sales have been included as per the Official Charts database, but the cumulative total for individual track sales has been divided by ten (to provide a ‘Track Equivalent Album'(TEA) figure) while the audio streaming total has been divided by 1,000 (as 100 streams=one track sale and ten track sales=one album) to provide a Stream Equivalent Albums (SEA) figure.

4 Consumption data reflects volumes consumed in 2019 (via streaming and purchases) only. Please note that volume growth should not be equated with growth in recorded music revenues, which tends to be less pronounced. The 7.5 per cent consumption growth reported may therefore not be the same as any growth in revenues generated by this increase in UK consumption. The BPI will report on UK recorded music revenues for 2019 in Q1 2020.

About the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) – Promoting British Music

The BPI champions the UK’s recorded music industry, safeguarding the rights of its members and of the artists, performers and label members of collecting body PPL. BPI’s membership consists of over 400 independent labels and the UK’s three ‘majors’, which account for 85 per cent of legitimate domestic music consumption.

The BPI promotes British music overseas through its trade missions and the Music Exports Growth Scheme. It provides insights, training and networking with its free masterclasses, Innovation Hub, Insight Sessions, and reports. The BPI administers the Certified Awards, co-owns the Official Charts, organises The BRIT Awards and is also home to the Mercury Prize.

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