Recorded music consumption in the UK increased by 2.5% year-on-year in 2021, with 159.3 million albums or their equivalent either streamed or purchased across all formats.
The Album Equivalent Streams (AES) figure covering sales and streams reported by the BPI, based on Official Charts Company data, was up on the 155.4m albums equivalent figure in 2020 (a 53-week year compared to 52 weeks in 2021, which will have had a slight impact on this year’s result). It represents a seventh consecutive year of growth.
During 2021, consumption was powered by streaming, comprising more than 147 billion individual audio streams, which represents an equivalent of 132.4 million streamed albums (up 5.7% year-on-year). In June 2021 the OCC registered the first week when audio streams topped the three billion mark – a feat since repeated three times in December.
Streaming now accounts for 83.1% of the recorded music market in unit terms. The label revenue figures will follow later this year.
There are signs of maturity in the UK streaming market with double-digit year-on-year increases in audio streaming volumes no longer set to be a regular feature. For comparison, the 2020 AES figure (comprising all consumption including physical) was up 8.2%, while streaming equivalent albums (SEA) were up 20.2% year-on-year in 2020. In 2019, the SEA streaming growth was 26%.
Adele’s double-platinum 30 (Columbia) was officially the biggest-selling album of 2021 with sales of 600,056 (including 98,093 from streams). UK artists - Adele, Ed Sheeran (two entries), Dua Lipa, Dave, Elton John, Queen and Fleetwood Mac - accounted for eight of the year’s top 10 albums.
While physical sales were dominant in the year’s top three sellers by Adele, Ed Sheeran and ABBA (whose comeback LP Voyage was the biggest-selling vinyl release), streaming was the main contribution towards the OCC sales totals for the majority of the year’s overall Top 20, including Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour at No.4 (395,323 sales - 82.9% from streams). Nevertheless, for 40 chart weeks in 2021, physical units accounted for over half of chart-eligible sales of the No.1 artist album.
The rise of streaming has empowered more artists than ever to build new fanbases around the world
In 2021, nearly 2,000 artists (1,918) were streamed over 10 million times in the UK (excluding global streams). This compares with 1,798 in 2020 and 1,537 in 2019, up a quarter in two years.
All of the Top 10 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. According to the BPI, a track needs to achieve over 1.4m audio streams in a single week just to break into the Top 40.
Geoff Taylor, chief executive BPI, BRIT Awards & 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.”
Physical sales in 2021
In addition to the streaming market, there were over 14 million CDs and more than five million vinyl LPs purchased in 2021.
As previewed by the BPI last month, the decline in CD sales is slowing, in part thanks to those huge Q4 releases from Adele, Ed Sheeran and ABBA, alongside successful physical campaigns from acts including Dave, Coldplay and KSI. The format was down just 10.5% last year to 14.4m.
Despite supply and production challenges, vinyl sales increased by 10.6% to 5.3m units – the 14th year of consecutive growth. The audio cassette revival continued too - sales increased by 19% to 185,000 copies - as a further indication that the collectible appeal of physical formats can be a complement to streaming.
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% of unique No.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!"
Amid the ongoing debate about streaming remuneration following the DCMS Committee inquiry, the BPI remains bullish about the potential for streaming to distribute significant royalties more widely than was found in the CD era - particularly because of the increased global reach via DSPs.
Artists can access distribution and streaming platforms independently, with the BPI reporting that 8,000 different artists now exceed one million annual streams in the UK.
The trade body equates 10 million streams to roughly 10,000 CD sales in terms of royalties. With around 2,000 artists achieving at least 10m streams in the UK alone, that represents double the number whosold the equivalent number of CDs and downloads in 2007.
That royalties equation may be a broad-brush approach, particularly for artist-songwriters comparing their streaming income for compositions with the mechanical royalties from physical. But it’s clear that the BPI is confident it can win the argument about the distribution of royalties provided by DSPs as it works with the government to consider how effectively the streaming economy is working.
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 micropayments 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.”
Alongside successful catalogue acts such as Queen, Elton John and The Beatles, the BPI identified a new generation of artists who have thrived in recent years as streaming has taken hold, including Arlo Parks, Celeste, Little Simz, Central Cee, Joy Crookes, Sam Fender, Idles, Glass Animals, Arrdee, D-Block Europe, AJ Tracey, The Lathums, Tom Grennan, Griff, Headie One, J Hus, KSI, Mimi Webb, Becky Hill, PinkPantheress, Joel Corry and Bicep.
The trade body noted that these new acts are supported by rising investment into A&R (£250m in 2019) and global marketing by UK record labels, who are also developing innovative partnerships with platforms such as Peloton and in-game experiences including Roblox and Fortnite.
UK rock revival
A new wave of UK bands enjoyed a strong year thanks to streaming and the appeal of physical formats, according to the BPI. The success of No.1 acts such as The Lathums in 2021 comes in the wake of breakthroughs by bands including Idles and Blossoms.
The Lathums contributed to an impressive run that saw the No.1 spot in 12 out of the 52 chart weeks occupied by a British group – nearly a quarter (23%) of the total for the year. This upward trend compares with a figure of 17% in 2020 and 15% in 2019.
Other British bands that enjoyed breakthrough success in 2021 included Architects and The Snuts, who in April became the first Scottish band to score a No.1 debut album since 2007.
Easy Life’s Life’s A Beach claimed a Top 3 spot and topped the vinyl chart, while Glass Animals saw hundreds of millions of streams of their global hit Heat Waves – earning them two nominations for the BRIT Awards 2022.
Many more British groups enjoyed Top 10 success last year, including Shame, Black Country New Road, Pale Waves, Black Honey, Dry Cleaning and Squid.