Music Business

Music Industry Growth Continues Amid Catastrophic Global Pandemic

Concerts and tours have obviously remained on pause while the pandemic rages on, but the music industry as a whole has continued to see some remarkable growth, particularly in the streaming department.

Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix

The novel coronavirus and its devastating widespread economic impact are not enough to stop the music industry’s seemingly endless growth.

March 2020 feels like a lifetime ago. When COVID-19 forced the immediate suspension of live music and placed millions into isolation, music industry analysts feared the worst. A lack of concerts meant a dip in revenue, and a lack of commuting said the same about streaming royalties. Thousands found themselves out of work, and many remain unemployed (at least in music) today. The idea that music would grow this year was far-fetched, to say the least.

A report published by the RIAA this week that was shared by Billboard with an article from author Dan Rys found good news still exists. The U.S. recorded-music business was still in an upswing in the first half of 2020, growing 5.6% at retail to $5.7 billion, up from $5.4 billion, continuing a trend of growth that extends back to the industry’s nadir in 2015.

RIAA graph depicting change in mid-year retail revenues year over year

The less than great news is that industry-wide growth took a pandemic-related hit. The latest numbers end a streak of double-digit gains that bega with a mid-year report in 2017. Such growth is hard for any industry to maintain with or without a global pandemic, but the change is happening much sooner than expected because of COVID-19.

As part of the total $5.7 billion in revenue, streaming accounted for $4.8 billion, or 85%, increasing its share from the 80% it held at the same point in 2019 when it totaled $4.3 billion. And within that, paid subscription revenue accounted for $3.8 billion, an increase of 14% over last year and 67% of the total revenue share overall, and 79% of streaming revenue. Additionally, paid streaming subscriptions was up 24% for the first half of the year, to 72.1 million from 58.2 million at the same point in 2019.

The continuing spread of the novel coronavirus has kept many physical music retailers closed for the majority of 2020. It is no surprise those closures affected physical media’s standing in the overall music ecosystem, where it now accounts for just 7% of all recorded music revenue. Digital claims the remaining 93%, which is 2% gain over 2019.

Something report cannot account for is how much different the data would look if the releases delayed due to COVID-19 were released. While many artists have moved forward with their original plans, countless others are holding their records until a time when touring and more traditional music promotion is possible.

“These are historically difficult times: the live music sector is shut down; studio recording is limited; and millions of Americans are out of work across the broader economy,” RIAA chairman/CEO Mitch Glazier said in a statement accompanying the report. “While we’re pleased that the years of hard work and resources we’ve invested in streaming are driving growth in paid subscriptions, today’s report demonstrates just how much work remains to achieve a sustainably healthy music ecosystem for both music creators and fans. We must continue working to help sustain live music and venues, support gig workers and session musicians, and ensure fair pay for music on all digital platforms. Despite all the challenges from the pandemic, one thing clearly hasn’t changed — fans still love music.”

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company’s podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.

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