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Recorded music revenue is up on streaming growth, as physical sales plummet

Brian Heater
·2 mins read
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 03: The Spotify banner hangs from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the morning that the music streaming service begins trading shares at the NYSE on April 3, 2018 in New York City. Trading under the symbol SPOT, the Swedish company's losses grew to 1.235 billion euros ($1.507 billion) last year, its largest ever. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 03: The Spotify banner hangs from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on the morning that the music streaming service begins trading shares at the NYSE on April 3, 2018 in New York City. Trading under the symbol SPOT, the Swedish company's losses grew to 1.235 billion euros ($1.507 billion) last year, its largest ever. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

With touring ground to a halt for the foreseeable future, 2020 has become the most difficult year for musicians in recent memory. One’s ability to survive on music depends on a variety of factors, of course, including things like audience, reach and how their fans access their output.

The world of recorded music has been a mixed bag throughout the pandemic. New industry figures from the Recording Industry Association of America out this week show that revenue for recorded music is actually up for the first half of 2020, owing, unsurprisingly, to the growth of music streaming.

With vastly more people stuck inside seeking novel methods of entertainment, paid subscriptions (Spotify, Apple Music, et al.) are up 24% year-over-year. Revenues on streaming music are up 12% overall, hitting $2.4 billion for the first half of the year. The figured has been hampered by an overall drop in ad sales that certainly isn’t limited to the music industry. That has had a sizable impact on services like YouTube, Vevo and Spotify’s free tier.

Physical sales of CDs and vinyl took a massive hit to an already rocky foundation, down 23% for that time period. Streaming now makes up 85% of all revenue in the U.S., with physical sales only commanding 7% — just slightly higher than the 6% made by digital downloads. It’s a troubling figure, given the difficulty many more independent artists have faced in monetizing streaming.

Spotify CEO Daniel Ek faced backlash from the industry for comments surrounding streaming revenue. “There is a narrative fallacy here, combined with the fact that, obviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough,” the executive said in a recent interview.

The comments came as many musicians have struggled to keep their heads above water during a sustained touring hiatus. They also come as the streaming service has continued to pump money into acquisitions in an attempt to build out its podcasting presence.