OFFICIAL figures released by record labels’ association, the BPI, based on Official Charts Company data, show that recorded music consumption in the UK rose by 2.5 per cent in 2021, with 159 million albums or their equivalent either streamed or purchased across all formats by music fans.
The UK consumption total was made up primarily of streams, comprising over 147 billion individual audio streams, up 5.7 per cent on 2020 – and representing an equivalent of 132 million streamed albums (up 5.7 per cent).
The ongoing growth in demand for music, fuelled by continuous record label support for artists and investment into new music, is great news not just for fans, who enjoy more choice than ever, but for artists of all backgrounds and eras – with many more now able to develop and sustain successful careers in music.
In 2021, nearly 2,000 artists (1,918) were streamed over ten million times in the UK (excluding global streams, which tend to be x4 greater). This compares with 1,798 in 2020 and 1,537 in 2019, up a quarter in two years. It means nearly twice as many artists are now earning meaningful royalties as could do so in the CD era.
Additionally, there were over 14 million CDs and 5.3 million vinyl LPs purchased, with 185,000 cassettes sold and 4.6 million album downloads. Overall, streaming now accounts for 83 per cent of UK music consumption, while vinyl LPs represent over a quarter of all purchases on physical format.
It was also another strong year for homegrown talent, with UK artists Adele, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Dave, Elton John, Queen and Fleetwood Mac accounting for eight of the year’s top ten albums.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive, BPI, BRIT Awards and Mercury Prize, said: “As our lives continue to be disrupted, the past 12 months have reminded us again of the important role that recorded music plays in our lives.
“At the same time, the rise of streaming has empowered more artists than ever – from all backgrounds and eras – to build new fanbases around the world and to forge successful careers in music, while record labels have continued to provide the investment and support needed for British talent to thrive and reach a truly global audience.”
Streaming consumptions grows in 2021; first week of three billion audio streams
Streaming now accounts for well over four-fifths (83 per cent) of UK music consumption, with people of all ages discovering and enjoying the music they love through the format’s seamless connectivity, complementing this by collecting their favourite albums on CD, vinyl and even cassette. In June 2021, the UK witnessed its first week when audio streams topped the three billion mark – a feat since repeated three times in December.
Streaming-led growth fuelled by label investment and innovation through new tech partnerships
With 180 artists achieving more than 100 million streams in the UK over the past 12 months, and nearly 2,000 artists (1,918) seeing their songs streamed at least ten million times in the UK, their success contributed to a total of more than 147 billion audio streams served in 2021 – up by 5.7 per cent on 2020.
A new wave of artists, who are successfully harnessing streaming and unlocking its commercial potential, are each generating tens and hundreds of millions of streams in the UK alone.
These new stars are supported in their creativity and relationship with fans by rising investment into A&R (£250 million in 2019) and 24/7 global marketing by UK record labels, who are also creating new markets for their artists’ music by developing innovative partnerships with burgeoning consumer platforms – such as Peloton and in-game experiences including Roblox and Fortnite.
Artists of all backgrounds and eras are thriving, generating 10s and 100s of millions of streams a year in the UK
Streaming is enabling diverse British talent of all backgrounds and eras – from established names to new artists – to build audiences and develop successful careers. From exciting new guitar bands from around the UK to rap, hip hop and dance – the next generation of artists is breaking through.
At the same time, many groups that rose to prominence in the CD era are now enjoying a new lease of life through tens of millions of UK streams and more a year as fans discover or re-acquaint themselves with their music.
Major established artists such as Adele, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, The 1975, Calvin Harris and Dave have been joined recently by the likes of Arlo Parks, Celeste, Joy Crookes, Sam Fender, IDLES, Glass Animals, The Lathums, Tom Grennan and Griff, to name a few, as the next wave of diverse UK talent fast emerges.
Rap artists – including Little Simz, Central Cee, Arrdee, D-Block Europe, AJ Tracey, Headie One, J Hus and KSI, plus pop and dance artists including Mimi Webb, Becky Hill, PinkPantheress, Joel Corry and Bicep – are just some of the exciting names that are finding new UK and global audiences through streaming, which is also enabling British icons such as Elton John, Queen and The Beatles to keep growing their huge fanbases.
Top ten each achieve over half a billion streams; Popularity remains key determinant of streaming success
Streaming has made it easier for fans to discover new music or to re-acquaint themselves with classics, in turn allowing more artists to connect with a greater number of fans.
Streaming means nearly twice as many artists are now earning meaningful royalties compared to the CD era.
All of the top ten streaming artists in 2021 achieved over half a billion UK streams, while well over half of the top 100 artists achieved over 200 million streams.
Typically, a track needs to achieve over 1.4million audio streams in a single week just to break into the Official Singles Charts Top 40.
Artists are now able to access distribution and streaming platforms independently, making the market even more competitive. Well over 8,000 different artists now exceed a million annual streams in the UK.
For an artist, ten million streams generates at least the same royalties as 10,000 CD sales, and nearly 2,000 artists will achieve at least ten million streams this year in the UK alone – nearly double the number who sold the equivalent number of CDs and downloads in 2007.
Geoff Taylor added: “Modern artists strive to build the biggest possible global audience and utilise 24/7 digital marketing to stand out in the streaming era.
“Record labels help bring artists’ creative visions to life and the hundreds of millions of pounds labels invest in the UK each year is supporting the emergence of a new wave of musicians connecting with millions of fans all over the world.
“Success today is gauged in the multi-millions, sometimes billions of streams, which generate micro-payments that build over time, in line with relative popularity and demand from fans. This year’s growth shows there is a huge appetite for music and we believe that by working together we can increase the value of the whole music market, so that streaming can support even more artists in the future.”
Fans show their love of physical – highest vinyl sales in three decades; CD decline slows; cassettes up again While the growth in streaming underpinned much of the rise in consumption, the enduring appeal of vinyl continued.
Vinyl confounded supply and production challenges in 2021 to jump by 11 per cent to well over five million (5.3m) copies purchased – representing a 14th year of consecutive growth.
The continuing revival of the audio cassette, which grew by 19 per cent to 185,000 copies purchased – the highest total since 2003 – further demonstrated the collectible appeal of recorded music on physical formats as a complement to streaming.
Compact Disc has been showing a decline in demand since 2004 – during rampant digital piracy and as fans first switched to downloads and then to streaming services. However, in 2021, boosted by CD-friendly releases from superstar artists such as Adele, Ed Sheeran and ABBA, the rate of decrease slowed to just 11 per cent, suggesting that demand for the format, which is nearing its 40th anniversary, may solidify as baby-boomers and collectors remain committed to the audio format.
Physical remains a ‘kingmaker’ for No.1 albums: in the vast majority of weeks (40) in 2021, it accounted for over half of chart-eligible sales of the Official Charts No.1 artist album. This trend is best exemplified by Adele’s album 30, which in December saw 80 per cent of its chart sales total made up of physical format sales. Digital albums also continued their long-term trend, down by 23 per cent, but they still contributed 4.6 million unit purchases to the overall AES total.
Drew Hill, MD Proper Music Distribution, said: “It’s been an incredible year for CDs, vinyl and cassettes as they continued to drive albums up the charts.
“This year, nearly 90 per cent of unique #1 albums hit the top spot off the back of a physical sales majority, with some hugely impressive numbers from the likes of Adele, whose new album maintained its chart lead with an increasing physical majority share, and ABBA, who claimed the title of fastest-selling vinyl of the century.
“It’s further proof that in this golden era of choice, music fans really cherish an album they can hold!”
British artists lead the way
Eight of the best-selling artist albums were British, led by Adele and Ed Sheeran – both of whom achieved over half a billion streams in 2021 in the UK alone and billions more streams globally.
Releasing her fourth album in November, Adele’s 30 took the crown for the best-selling album of 2021. With first-week chart sales totalling 262,000 and a majority of sales coming on physical format in December (80 per cent), 30 sat atop the Official Albums Chart for five weeks. It was also the second best-selling LP on vinyl, and has helped her win four 2022 BRIT Award nominations.
One of those is for Song of the Year with Mastercard for Easy On Me, the lead single from 30, which scored seven weeks at No.1 on the Official Singles Chart.
Ed Sheeran also returned to dominate the Official Singles Chart, featuring on four tracks that reached No.1, including Bad Habits, which was the best-selling single of 2021, and was BRIT Certified 2x Platinum in October. He too has four nominations for the 2022 BRIT Awards.
When Dave’s We’re All Alone In This Together reached No.1 in the Official Albums Chart in July, it had scored the biggest opening week of 2021, with 74,000 sales.
Building on the success of his 2019 debut Psychodrama, which also hit No.1 and claimed both the Hyundai Mercury Prize and Mastercard Album of the Year at the 2020 BRIT Awards, the album was also the second-best selling cassette of 2021, and the best-selling rap album of the year. Dave is also nominated in four categories at the 2022 BRIT Awards.
Since winning the Critics’ Choice Award at the 2019 BRITs, Sam Fender’s career has rocketed.
He followed his 2019 No.1 debut LP, Hypersonic Missiles, with another in October 2021, Seventeen Going Under.
Taking less than a month to go BRIT Certified Silver, the release is nominated for Mastercard Album of the Year at the 2022 BRITs (one of Fender’s three noms), and is the 11th-best-selling vinyl LP of 2021. The album also produced the lead single of the same title – his first to break into the top ten in the Official Singles Chart.
The continued success of physical product aided the booming British band scene.
Former Hyundai Mercury Prize winners, Wolf Alice, returned with their third album Blue Weekend in 2021, and as well as becoming their first album to hit No.1 on the Official Albums Chart, it was the ninth best-selling vinyl LP of the year, and sixth best-selling cassette of the year. The band are nominated twice at the 2022 BRIT Awards.
One of the global breakout stars of 2021 was Olivia Rodrigo. Alongside ABBA, she was one of the year’s leading international artists.
She claimed the fourth best-selling album of the year with Sour, spending five non-consecutive weeks on top of the Official Albums Chart (the equal-longest run, tied with Adele). Sour was the best-selling cassette of 2021, and Rodrigo became the youngest solo artist to score an UK chart double, with good 4 u also topping the Official Singles Chart. good 4 u finished as the second best-selling single of the year, with debut single drivers license the third.
Both are BRIT Certified 2x Platinum, and spent a combined total of 14 weeks at No.1 (only Ed Sheeran was at the top of the Official Singles Chart for longer).
British guitar bands from all over UK enjoy strong revival year with string of Official Chart No.1 albums
A new wave of bands drawn from all over the UK enjoyed a strong year thanks to streaming and the appeal of physical formats, with established acts and new artists lighting up the Official Albums Charts.
This breaking wave of talent, following in the slipstream of bands like IDLES and Blossoms, is exemplified by Wigan indie four-piece, The Lathums, whose debut album, How Beautiful Life Can Be, topped the Official Albums Chart in October. The band contributed to an impressive run that saw the No.1 spot in 12 out of the 52 Official Chart weeks occupied by a British group – nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of the total for the year. This upward trend compares with a figure of 17 per cent in 2020 and 15 per cent in 2019.
Other British bands that enjoyed breakthrough success in 2021 included Brighton-based Architects (For Those That Wish To Exist) and West Lothian band, The Snuts (W.L.) – who in April became the first Scottish band to score a Number 1 debut album since 2007.
Additionally, Leicester’s Easy Life (Life’s A Beach) claimed a top three spot and topped the Official Vinyl Chart, while Oxford-based Glass Animals saw hundreds of millions of streams of their global hit Heat Waves – earning them two nominations for The BRIT Awards 2022.
There were also No.1s for established bands drawn from all over the UK: Sheffield’s Bring Me The Horizon (Post Human Survival Horror); Nottingham’s London Grammar (Californian Soil); Wales’s Manic Street Preachers (The Ultra Vivid Lament); Glaswegians Mogwai (As The Love Continues); London’s Wolf Alice (Blue Weekend); Manchester’s Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (Back The Way We Came Vol 1), Brighton’s Royal Blood (Typhoons); Surrey-based You Me At Six (Suckapunch); and Coldplay (Music Of The Spheres).
Many more British groups enjoyed Top Ten success on the Official Albums Chart this year, including Shame, Black Country New Road, Pale Waves, Black Honey, Dry Cleaning and Squid.
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