Can you trust an organization that tried to
sue a dead woman? Perhaps it didn’t track downloads accurately, but one thing the Recording Industry Association of America definitely does well is
count money. The RIAA’s US
Sales Database graph is an excellent tool for looking at (legal!) music sales going back to 1973; our partners at Statista graphed it back to 1980. Here’s the full chart:
The recording industry has traveled a long way from 1999, when it earned an amazing $22.4
billion in the US during the heyday of
the compact disc (that number is adjusted for inflation; the actual figure was $14.6 billion).
But sales have made a major upswing since bottoming out in 2014, which was also the
year streaming music beat CDs.
There have been two growth areas for music sales since
then: streaming services (which includes payments to performers and copyright
holders via SoundExchange) and vinyl
LP/EPs (continuing their comeback, vinyl records are now almost at the level they attained in 1988,
is the rights-management organization that makes sure creators of music get paid the
correct licensing fees. It started in 2003 as a division of the RIAA but is now an independent
nonprofit, and it’s paid
out over $5 billion in royalties since launching. A decade ago, Pandora
argued that high web royalties would put it out of business, but obviously, things have been going well for the service and for other on-demand music streamers including Spotify,
Apple Music, and Amazon Music, and others.
The chart above lumps together different types of streaming: paid services, ad-driven streaming, and the SoundExchange distributions.
Together, they earned $8 billion in 2019, out of the
total of $11.1 billion for all formats. That’s only halfway back to the glory days of 1999 (again,
adjusted for inflation), but still.
Here’s another look at it, percentage-wise. Streaming now makes
up for a full 80 percent of music industry revenue. That’s a nice gain in only
15 years. But note that it took CDs only 13 years, from 1983 to 1996, to hit
the same percentage.
That same time frame shows the epic sales that CDs were once
responsible for. Eventually, CDs were
93.9 percent of the of the music-industry revenue (in 2001). That was too many singing eggs in
one format basket. No wonder the RIAA went into a panic at the turn of the
century. Back in 2000, at their sales height, CDs were responsible for $13.2
billion in sales alone (before adjusting the numbers for inflation).
For more interesting ways to look at the stats, check out
the RIAA’s interactive chart.
The obvious takeaway is that subscribing to a music-streaming service is
the way to go. (At least until the next great format comes along.) For a close look at the
best, read The
Best Online Music Streaming Services for 2020.