2021 US music revenue: Streaming still dominates; physical media 11% of sales

Beats headphones

Updated on March 25, 2023

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has released its annual look at US music revenue for 2021. It seems things have slightly bounced back from 2020, when a lot of music stores had shut down or limited hours due to the pandemic.

Here’s a chart summarizing the RIAA’s 2021 US music revenue figures by percentage:

RIAA 2021 US music revenue chart
2021 US music revenue figures. (RIAA)

Digital formats: Streaming is still the dominant music format

Apple Music store, with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell featured
Apple Music. (Apple / screenshot by author)

Overall, US music revenue in 2021 grew 23% to $15 billion, thanks to the strength of streaming services. However, despite being a record high in terms of dollars, after adjusting for inflation, it’s still down 37% from CDs’ 1999 all-time high.

Just like last year, streaming made up 83% of US music revenue ($12.4 billion), as the de facto music format. $9.5 billion came from paid subscriptions; most of the rest came from ad-supported services, such as the free tier of Spotify.

Meanwhile, digital downloads (i.e. buying MP3s from iTunes/Apple Music, Bandcamp, etc.) made up only 4% of music sales, the only category to see a decline in sales. Download revenue dropped 12% from 2020 to $587 million. Download sales peaked in 2012, when it made up 43% of overall revenue.

That’s quite a decline in the prominence of MP3 sales. It turned out $10 for streaming access to all music for a month was more appealing to most people than paying $10 for a single digital album, or $15-$20 for a single CD.

Physical formats: CDs bounced back a bit; vinyl still outsells CDs

Record player
Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

CDs saw their first rise in sales since 2004, growing 21% to $584 million, making up about 4% of all music sales. Presumably, stores resuming post-2020 normalcy led to the rise in sales. However, vinyl still dominates physical music sales (at 63% of revenue); in 2021, sales rose 61% to $1 billion, or 7% of all music sales. It’s the first time vinyl hit the billion dollar mark since 1986.

Overall, physical media made up 11% of music sales, up from 9% in 2020. While CDs (and vinyl) still have their fans, the era where physical media dominated music sales is over.

Personal music usage

As I stated last year, my music listening is all digital these days. For most of 2021, I used Apple Music through a free six-month trial. After it expired, I gave Spotify (via a Black Friday deal) a go; however, their recent controversy with backing Joe Rogan’s podcast led me to not renew. I switched back (via another deal) to Apple Music, which is what I’m using now. I also have my old MP3 collection on hand, including some albums not available on Apple Music (or other streaming services).

What do you use for music listening?

Photo by fancycrave1 (Pixabay)

Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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