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Music engagement and spending hit record highs driven led by streaming, vinyl, social video [MusicWatch]

Music engagement and spending are at record levels as more US consumers embrace music subscriptions and explore music in a more diverse way than ever, according to the latest consumer research from Music Watch.

The number of Americans spending on recorded music hit a 15 year high of 211 million with spending per buyer surging in 2021. This is consistent with recent stats from the RIAA ( RIAA year-end revenue report 2021) which showed US recorded music revenues up 23%.

There were three main drivers of this strong growth:

  • increased adoption of music streaming,
  • growling interest in vinyl by the younger demos
  • the truly meteoric rise of social video.

Highlights from the 2021 MusicWatch consumer survey

  1. The number of US recorded music buyers hit a 15 year high, at 121 million, or half the US internet population aged 13 and older. This is an 11 percent increase over 2020, and a 51 percent gain off the low of 80 million in 2014. 
  2. Recorded Music spend grew by 5 percent this year, to an average of $98, including streaming subscriptions (but not Sirius or Amazon Prime), vinyl records, CDs and digital downloads. Overall  spend, including recorded music, merchandise, live events, paid live streams and SiriusXM subscriptions grew by 14 percent to $122 per capita. 
  1. There are 211 million music streamers in the US, including “pure play” music services and video services from YouTube. That translates to 87 percent of the internet using population who experienced streaming at least once during 2021. 
  2. The number of paid subscribers hit a record 97 million. Including those who subscribe to SiriusXM satellite radio and use their Amazon Prime subscription to access Amazon Music, the total paid base jumps to 130 million- more than double the number from five years ago, with 56 million in 2017. 
  3. Consistent with RIAA’s reporting that the value of vinyl shipments rose by 61 percent, MusicWatch noted that the number of new vinyl album buyers jumped by 27 percent in 2021, and average spend per vinyl buyer grew by 19 percent. The growth in buyers was heavily fueled by younger consumers, aged 13-24. 
  4. The CD buying population grew for the first time in many years, also among young consumers. MusicWatch has noted that the widely reported “CD resurgence” may be a mirage as the long-term trend in CD listening, in cars and at home, remains negative; and many CD KPI’s remain below pre-pandemic levels. 
  5. In terms of how Americans listen to music, streaming remains the most popular format, with pure play and video services such as YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon accounting for 32 percent of weekly music listening time. Broadcast and digital radio follows, with a 17 percent share. MusicWatch for the first time broke out time spent listening to music and dance videos on platforms such as TikTok, Instagram Reels and Triller. These social video platforms account for 11 percent of weekly music listening. 
  6. Usage and engagement metrics around music on social video platforms are astounding. Over half the population is using social video for music or dance videos and they spend nearly 7 hours per week on the platform; 48 percent engage daily, more than for streaming or radio. 
  7. Sharing of paid streaming accounts, which had been surging, leveled off in 2021, as more adopt family plans and obtain their own subscriptions. 
  8. Stream-ripping of song files continues to be a plague, with an estimated 19 million ripping at least one music file during 2021.
  9. 95 percent of internet users actively use one or more devices that can facilitate music streaming; smartphones, smart TVs, streaming media boxes or smart speakers. MusicWatch noted that growth in smart speaker usage stalled during 2021. 
  10. Classic Rock remains the country’s “favorite” genre. We asked consumers which genres they regularly listen to, add to playlists, attend shows, or buy recorded music or merch. Classic Rock was #1, selected by 24 percent; HipHop by 21 percent and Country by 20 percent. 


MusicWatch’s Annual Music Study consists of two consumer research projects, the first consisting of 5,000 respondents carefully weighted to represent the US internet using population13 and older. This element looks at buying and music engagement patterns, and gathers motivations for music behaviors.

This is complemented with a study of US internet users to understand weekly music listening habits.

Both studies were fielded January 2022. The MusicWatch study is the longest running profile of the US music consumer, having begun in 2002. 

Bruce Houghton is Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank and serves as a Senior Advisor to Bandsintown which acquired both publications in 2019. He is the Founder and President of the Skyline Artists Agency and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.

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