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Music

UK listened to 159m albums in 2021

updated
January 10, 2022
Published on:
January 10, 2022
Adele was the most listened to UK artist in 2021

UK music consumption rose by 2.5 per cent to the equivalent of 159m albums in 2021, a seventh consecutive year of growth, according to figures published by the BPI based on data from the Official Charts.

Nearly 2,000 artists were streamed over 10m times in the UK during the year, a rise of 25 per cent in two years. The list of popular artists was led by established UK acts such as Adele, Ed Sheeran, Queen, Dua Lipa, and Elton John. New talent such as Glass Animals, Central Cee and Russ Millions also made an impact.

The UK consumption total was made up primarily of streams, comprising over 147 billion individual audio streams, up 5.7 per cent on 2020 – and representing an equivalent of 132 million streamed albums (up 5.7 per cent).

In 2021 nearly 2,000 artists (1,918) were streamed over 10 million times in the UK (excluding global streams, which tend to be 4 times greater). This compares with 1,798 in 2020 and 1,537 in 2019, up a quarter in two years. It means nearly twice as many artists are now earning meaningful royalties as could do so in the CD era.

Additionally, there were over 14 million CDs and 5.3 million vinyl LPs purchased, with 185,000 cassettes sold and 4.6 million album downloads. Overall, streaming now accounts for 83% of UK music consumption, while vinyl LPs represent over a quarter of all purchases on physical format.

Streaming now accounts for well over four-fifths (83 per cent) of UK music consumption. In June 2021 the UK witnessed its first week when audio streams topped the 3 billion mark –a feat since repeated three times in December.

It was another strong year for UK talent, with UK artists Adele, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Dave, Elton John, Queen and Fleetwood Mac accounting for eight of the year’s top 10 albums.

Official Albums Chart 2021 – eight of the Top 10 are British artists

1. Adele – 30

2. Ed Sheeran – =

3. ABBA – Voyage

4. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour

5. Queen – Greatest Hits

6. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

7. Ed Sheeran – Divide

8. Elton John – Diamonds

9. Fleetwood Mac – 50 Years: Don’t Stop

10. Dave – We’re All Alone in this Together

Data source: The Official Charts Company

For an artist, 10 million streams generate at least the same royalties as 10,000 CD sales, and nearly 2,000 artists will achieve at least 10 million streams this year in the UK alone – nearly double the number who sold the equivalent number of CDs and downloads in 2007.

Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive BPI, BRIT Awards & Mercury Prize, praised the role of investment by music labels in promoting and marketing new talent which is being discovered via streaming services.

Taylor said: “Modern artists strive to build the biggest possible global audience and utilise 24/7 digital marketing to stand out in the streaming era. Record labels help bring artists’ creative visions to life and the hundreds of millions of pounds labels invest in the UK each year is supporting the emergence of a new wave of musicians connecting with millions of fans all over the world.

“Success today is gauged in the multi-millions, sometimes billions of streams, which generate micropayments that build over time, in line with relative popularity and demand from fans. This growth shows there is a huge appetite for music and we believe that by working together we can increase the value of the whole music market, so that streaming can support even more artists in the future.”

Read the full BPI release

Source: Official Charts Company

Streaming consumptions grows in 2021; first week of 3 billion audio streams
Streaming now accounts for well over four-fifths (83%) of UK music consumption, with people of all ages discovering and enjoying the music they love through the format’s seamless connectivity, complementing this by collecting their favourite albums on CD, vinyl and even cassette. In June 2021 the UK witnessed its first week when audio streams topped the 3 billion mark – a feat since repeated three times in December.
Streaming-led growth fuelled by label investment & innovation through new tech partnerships
With 180 artists achieving more than 100 million streams in the UK over the past 12 months, and nearly 2,000 artists (1,918) seeing their songs streamed at least 10 million times in the UK, their success contributed to a total of more than 147 billion audio streams served in 2021 – up by 5.7% on 2020.3
A new wave of artists, who are successfully harnessing streaming and unlocking its commercial potential, are each generating tens and hundreds of millions of streams in the UK alone. These new stars are supported in their creativity and relationship with fans by rising investment into A&R (250 million in 2019) and 24/7 global marketing by UK record labels, who are also creating new markets for their artists’ music by developing innovative partnerships with burgeoning consumer platforms such as Peloton and in-game experiences including Roblox and Fortnite.
Artists of all backgrounds & eras are thriving, generating 10s & 100s of millions of streams a year in the UK
Streaming is enabling diverse British talent of all backgrounds and eras – from established names to new artists – to build audiences and develop successful careers. From exciting new guitar bands from around the UK to rap, hip hop and dance – the next generation of artists is breaking through. At the same time, many groups that rose to prominence in the CD era are now enjoying a new lease of life through tens of millions of UK streams and more a year as fans discover or reacquaint themselves with their music.
Major established artists such as Adele, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Harry Styles, The 1975, Calvin Harris and Dave have been joined recently by the likes of Arlo Parks, Celeste, Joy Crookes, Sam Fender, IDLES, Glass Animals, The Lathums, Tom Grennan and Griff, to name a few, as the next wave of diverse UK talent fast emerges. Rap artists including Little Simz, Central Cee, Arrdee, D-Block Europe, AJ Tracey, Headie One, J Hus and KSI, plus pop and dance artists including Mimi Webb, Becky Hill, PinkPantheress, Joel Corry and Bicep are just some of the exciting names that are finding new UK and global audiences through streaming, which is also enabling British icons such as Elton John, Queen and The Beatles to keep growing their huge fanbases.
Top 10 each achieve over half a billion streams; Popularity remains key determinant of streaming success
Streaming has made it easier for fans to discover new music or to reacquaint themselves with classics, in turn allowing more artists to connect with a greater number of fans. Streaming means nearly twice as many artists are now earning meaningful royalties compared to the CD era.
All of the top 10 streaming artists in 2021 achieved over half a billion UK streams, while well over half of the top 100 artists achieved over 200 million streams. Typically a track needs to achieve over 1.4million audio streams in a single week just to break into the Official Singles Charts Top 40.
Artists are now able to access distribution and streaming platforms independently, making the market even more competitive. Well over 8,000 different artists now exceed 1,000,000 annual streams in the UK.
For an artist, 10 million streams generates at least the same royalties as 10,000 CD sales, and nearly 2,000 artists will achieve at least 10 million streams this year in the UK alone – nearly double the number who sold the equivalent number of CDs and downloads in 2007.
Geoff Taylor added:
“Modern artists strive to build the biggest possible global audience and utilise 24/7 digital marketing to stand out in the streaming era. Record labels help bring artists’ creative visions to life and the hundreds of millions of pounds labels invest in the UK each year is supporting the emergence of a new wave of musicians connecting with millions of fans all over the world.
“Success today is gauged in the multi-millions, sometimes billions of streams, which generate micropayments that build over time, in line with relative popularity and demand from fans. This year’s growth shows there is a huge appetite for music and we believe that by working together we can increase the value of the whole music market, so that streaming can support even more artists in the future.”
Fans show their love of physical – highest vinyl sales in three decades; CD decline slows; cassettes up again
While the growth in streaming underpinned much of the rise in consumption, the enduring appeal of vinyl continued. Vinyl confounded supply and production challenges in 2021 to jump by 11% to well over 5 million (5.3m) copies purchased – representing a 14th year of consecutive growth. The continuing revival of the audio cassette, which grew by 19% to 185,000 copies purchased – the highest total since 2003 – further demonstrated the collectible appeal of recorded music on physical formats as a complement to streaming.
Compact Disc has been showing a decline in demand since 2004 – during rampant digital piracy and as fans first switched to downloads and then to streaming services. However, in 2021, boosted by CD-friendly releases from superstar artists such as Adele, Ed Sheeran and ABBA, the rate of decrease slowed to just 11%, suggesting that demand for the format, which is nearing its 40th anniversary, may solidify as baby-boomers and collectors remain committed to the audio format.
Physical remains a ‘kingmaker’ for No.1 albums: in the vast majority of weeks (40) in 2021, it accounted for over half of chart-eligible sales of the Official Charts No.1 artist album. This trend is best exemplified by Adele’s album 30, which in December saw 80% of its chart sales total made up of physical format sales. Digital albums also continued their long-term trend, down by 23%, but they still contributed 4.6 million unit purchases to the overall AES total.
Drew Hill, MD Proper Music Distribution, said:
"It’s been an incredible year for CDs, vinyl and cassettes as they continued to drive albums up the charts. This year, nearly 90% of unique #1 albums hit the top spot off the back of a physical sales majority, with some hugely impressive numbers from the likes of Adele, whose new album maintained its chart lead with an increasing physical majority share, and ABBA, who claimed the title of fastest-selling vinyl of the century. It’s further proof that in this golden era of choice, music fans really cherish an album they can hold!"
British Artists Lead The Way
Eight of the best-selling artist albums were British, led by Adele and Ed Sheeran – both of whom achieved over half a billion streams in 2021 in the UK alone and billions more streams globally.
Releasing her fourth album in November, Adele’s 30 took the crown for the best-selling album of 2021. With first-week chart sales totaling 262,000 and a majority of sales coming on physical format in December (80%), 30 sat atop the Official Albums Chart for five weeks. It was also the second best-selling LP on vinyl, and has helped her win four 2022 BRIT Award nominations. One of those is for Song of the Year with Mastercard for Easy On Me, the lead single from 30, which scored seven weeks at No.1 on the Official Singles Chart.
Ed Sheeran also returned to dominate the Official Singles Chart, featuring on four tracks that reached No.1, including Bad Habits, which was the best-selling single of 2021, and was BRIT Certified 2x Platinum in October. He too has four nominations for the 2022 BRIT Awards.

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