US Music Industry Revenues Way Up, As Streaming, Vinyl Sales Grow

The RIAA reports that recorded music revenues in the US grew 9.2% to $12.2 billion in 2020.

This is the fifth consecutive year of growth for the industry, with streaming music and paid subscription services driving much of the growth. And, while streaming revenue growth was strong, the growth of vinyl sales more than doubled it.

So – while it was a terrible year for most performing musicians – the pandemic didn’t stop people from streaming and buying more music.

Streaming music revenues grew 13.4% in 2020 to $10.1 billion, 83% of total industry revenues.

The category includes services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music Unlimited; ad-supported on-demand services YouTube; digital radio options like SiriusXM; and miscellaneous other streaming licensing.

And, for the first time since 1986, revenues from vinyl records were larger than from CDs.

Total revenues from physical products were essentially flat, at $1.1 billion (down 0.5%) despite the challenges to retail from the pandemic. But vinyl sales grew 28.7% year-over-year to $626 million. Revenues from CDs dropped a whopping 23% to $483 million, continuing a long-term decline.

32 thoughts on “US Music Industry Revenues Way Up, As Streaming, Vinyl Sales Grow

  1. I don’t know who comes up with these numbers, but they sound suspect. The streaming industry giants may be profitable, but real musicians are giving away their product for free on the innernet. I have not seen a record player or CD device in years.

      1. Plus the “I have not seen a record player or CD device in years” – Well I have both, twice. I also have cassette decks. Shock and horror. I wonder when people learn that their subjective experience is statistically not relevant.

        1. I would add that even your OBJECTIVE experience is not statistically relevant.
          Cause, I have a stack of dual cassette players because I love the ‘sound’ of tape.

  2. I honestly do not understand this fetish for vinyl LPs. They are a 60yo technology that is inferior by every single objective measure to CDs. And no, stair-stepping in a digital bitstream is not a thing after you apply the LPF that smooths it out. Hell, many of the vinyl records people are buying started out as a digital recording in the first place not to mention were likely mixed and mastered in a computer. Can we just stop this nonsense please?

    1. Vinyl is big and you can display it on a wall.

      Not many vinyl purchasers play the albums or have the equipment to do so. We listen to our CDs or MP3s of the same album instead.

      When we say “cassette sales are up a billion percent” or “vinyl is the fastest growing segment” we are talking about going from 1 tape sold per year to 2.

    2. it’s fun and sounds great, even if it’s not the most accurate playing device today,
      who cares about accuracy anyway, most people want to have fun.
      like with analog synth, plug-ins are “better” almost in any regards, but they are less fun…

    3. Precisely! Bring back the king of recording technology, the analog reel to reel tape machine. Vinyls sound way worse than tape and tape decks are way fun than snowflake vinyl who develops surface noise issues just by being used as advertised.

    4. the best part of vinyl is presentation. Its big! Its physical. Its an actual tangible, beautiful product that you can actually sell and people can buy if they want to support you.

      1. The above. And I still buy both, though my old Vinyl records have held up better than my old cds when it comes to reliability. They also fail more gracefully unless you’re really into glitch music. Though that’s more of a problem with underground cdr releases.

    5. Why do you care? You don’t have to buy records. Why would you be angry that people are investing in music and musicians? You don’t have to get it. Downloads and CDs are also still available if you prefer those.

    6. Agreed. After 10 plays the record’s fidelity degrades. Also, the low end on vinyl is terrible compared to CDs. You have to scoop out so much of the low end when mastering for vinyl. That said, vinyl is pretty, and I do buy it, but only if it comes with digital download, which is what I primarily listen to. Not the vinyl.

    7. “I honestly do not understand this fetish for vinyl LPs. They are a 60yo technology that is inferior by every single objective measure to CDs.”

      Music is subjective, which is why you’ve missed the point.

      Vinyl sounds fantastic on a good system, and you are generally listening to the music the way that it was originally intended to be listened to.

      Albums before the 90s had an arc to each side, and also an overall arc to the album – from the arrangement of the tracks, their pacing and the stories that they told. You lose this completely listening to random tracks from streaming.

      It’s also a different experience listening to vinyl, because it demands your attention every 20 minutes and because you’re interacting with an artistic album cover that gives you a more complete sense of the music, through the text and artwork.

      That doesn’t mean CDs or digital music are bad. And there’s lots of music that’s been created with digital reproduction in mind – with tracks longer than 30 minutes, for example, or with extreme quiet sounds.

      Perfect reproduction of the audio < Perfect reproduction of the musical experience.

    8. The only thing vinyl has for it is the large artwork. That is all. CDs are better in all aspects of audio quality and playback. Let’s just make vinyl sized Blu-ray discs for 24 bit.

  3. It’s fascinating to see how tremendously well the record industry has faired the pandemic and the increased interest from investment companies buying back catalogues, companies like Hipgnosis hyper aggressively acquiring copyrights just confirms that most believe this will continue to grow. It makes you wonder how the record labels will view the value of the live industry as a promotional vehicle…. no more 360s…?

  4. Nostalgia is a powerful drug. I think the sound of a record allows us to draw up fond memories; in this pandemic, people need to find ways to feel better.

    I started up a decent electronic record collection recently and I love listening, it makes me feel a little younger and a little happier while listening.

  5. I have a wonderful portable CD player beside my bed…..bought it in 1999…..still sounds awesome and I use it a lot…..I have a JVC turntable from 1986 n it sounds great…I have 100’s of Records for it ….some are noisy and some clean… hold on to something!! I have an RCA Victrola from very early 1900’s….n lots of thick records for it….and it sounds wonderful!! I guess this says if it still works and sounds great….be happy!! Vinyl, Tape, etc….pick your poison!!!! I used to have a reel to reel….it burnt up from a lightning strike….n now I’m looking to invest in another one!!! Yes, I have a lot of music on tape in my closet….

    1. We’ve got a Victrola, too – inherited. It’s surprisingly loud for a non-amplified device.

      I’d love it if someone could use 3D printing technology or something similar to create modern Victrola disks. Wouldn’t it be cool to listen to hear Kraftwerk coming out of the Victrola?

      1. These old RCA Phono players are very cool! I love the ‘VINTAGE’ sound. It’s amazing for an old analog beast!! I pick up the records at antique shops on the east coast! I have selection ranging from big band, to classical, to children’s music! My grand kids love to help me wind it up.

      2. If it’s possible for you, visit Camden, NJ where RCA started. A lot of interesting history. Some of the firstbmusic synthesizers developed and designed there. That synth was used in some of the very early electronic music scenes. John Cage, and others used it!

      3. Another Victrola fan… never thought I’d see this discussion here. Yes they are loud and sound great. I used to get massively hated on by e-m people about it as obsolete and useless garbage. I was just way ahead on the super coolness curve.

  6. Vinyl is an artefact, you can see and touch the music (and dust). It’s unique – you practically cannot copy it, even it’s satisfying to record it, digitalise it, catch and save “the spirit” with custom techniques. Cds lost their value with easy copying, streaming, even their clarity and precision is better. Listening to vinyl can be like celebration- they are dying, fading away, decaying, entropying by playing.. sound of needle generates its own sound source harmonizing with speakers. also listening to some music with immediate speed change can leads to other perception, organic “version” of the tracks. difference with good amp vs common amp can be drastic. But they, and system around them is bulky and costly for minimalistic or flexible, non-settled life 🙂

  7. I don’t know what y’all are doing to your records, but I have about 300 vinyls in my basement that have weathered multiple floods, humid summers, mold infestations, and tons of plays. Apart from damaged sleeves, the records still play fine after cleaning.

    Meanwhile, fully half to almost 2/3rds of my CD booklet (1500 sleeves) and every disc that sat on a spindle will fail to play or be recognized at all by a multitude of cd players/consoles/PCs. These CDs are mostly from the 00s, while the vinyls are anywhere from the 60s to 90s.

  8. Uhhh, there is such a thing as disc rot which affects CDs and DVDs. I already had CDs from the mid-80’s succumb and become unplayable. Even dusty, worn records from the 40’s and earlier are still playable.

  9. Who cares if vinyl is good or not. It creates an experience for the end user and isn’t the experience all that matters in this modern economy? Sounds like garbage? Horribly toxic and bad for the environment? Doesn’t matter so long as there is money to be had.

    I’m glad big labels and streaming services made money while every performing musician is failing to make a living. This is good news for them but it’s still a fragment of what the industry once was. Music industry buzz like this has no practical effect for the majority working in music.

    I went from performing 100+ dates a year to not having a single thing on my calendar in 2021. There’s some real music business in 2020/2021.

    1. Yeah, already no real money to made selling music for the non major-label artist, so artists had to start relying on performance and audience building. Now, no performances, either. But, you know, great news for the major labels and record companies. We should be oh so happy for them.

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