Staying in is the new going out

Music sales point to huge increase in home listening during COVID-19 lockdowns

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Staying in is the new going out

One of the first statistics published in January, the country’s main music industry body – the British Phonographic Industry – is keen to tell the world just how many records, CDs, downloads, streamed songs and even cassette sales happened across the UK in the previous year. This year was no exception, but it showed just how significant the impact COVID-19 had on the music business in 2020… but for once, it wasn’t all bad!

Sales of vinyl LPs have been on the increase for some time, but in recent years the rate of increase had slowed significantly. This year, however, it seems LP sales have stepped up the pace again. 4.8m LPs were sold in the UK in 2020; a rise of almost 10% year-on-year. A closer analysis of the sales figures showed sales of vinyl dipped during the first country-wide lockdown but increased steadily from September onward. As a result, one out of every five albums sold in 2020 were on vinyl. Meanwhile, CD sales continue their general trend, but also hold steady and still account for 16m physical sales, representing 10.3% of the total music consumption over the year.

The BPI has also recognised that sales of cassette have begun to climb, and now account for 157,000 physical sales, the highest number of cassette sales since 2003. While players and recorders are relatively thin on the ground, a number of enterprising newcomers to the business have produced low-end portables and boomboxes… and I never thought I’d write the word ‘boombox’ again!

The difference in top ten artists on LP and cassette reflect the demographic gulf between the average LP buyer and the re-born cassette owner; the top three best-selling LPs of the year were Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis and Back to Black by Amy Winehouse while the best-selling cassettes were Lady Gaga’s Chromatica, Calm by 5 Seconds of Summer and Weird by Yungblud. In fact, the only album common to both top 10s (and also featured highly in CD sales) was Kylie Minogue’s 1980s-inspired Disco.

The BPI has also highlighted the importance of physical album sales against online versions of the same; the purchase or streaming of whole albums is down 19% year-on-year (although they still account for 5.9 million purchases). The top three downloaded and/or streamed albums in 2020 were Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent by Lewis Capaldi, Harry Styles Fine Line (which also featured in the LP top 10) and Future Nostalgia by Dua Lipa. However, the organisation cites physical sales (across all formats) as something of a ‘kingmaker’; artists like the aforementioned 5 Seconds of Summer and Haim pointing to physical sales mustering online streaming successes.

However, despite a great year for physical formats, streaming still dominates the music industry, with a total of 139bn audio streams in 2020, up by a striking 22% year on year. In addition, more than 200 artists have achieved greater than 100m downloads of tracks this year. Streaming now accounts for 80.6% of total music consumption in the UK, and the top three most streamed tracks were Blinding Lights by The Weeknd, Dance Monkey by Tones & I, and Roses by SAINt JHN.

​BPI web page

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