Aside from the shocking news that showed signs of life and even explosive growth in the sales of music CDs, there were other revelations in this year’s RIAA annual sales report updated this week with figures from last year’s US music sales.

2021’s numbers show continued growth in vinyl. This wasn’t a surprise to anyone, though the size of the increase is a bit eye-watering. For the 15th consecutive year, vinyl sales increased — a staggering 61% over 2020’s numbers, now representing $1 billion in total sales. Vinyl now makes up a respectable 7% of total revenue from recorded music. (Imagine the sales if every label that wanted to press vinyl could actually do so.)

Streaming continued to generate more revenue from recorded music than all other categories combined. Streaming makes up 83% of total revenue and grew 24% over 2020’s streaming revenue.

Of relevance to DJs: digital downloads are the new CDs, in that they’re a category of managed and sometimes unmanageable decline that nobody really wants to get involved in. (This is one reason why the sale of Bandcamp was such a big deal…) Revenue earned from digital single and album downloads was “the only major category that declined in 2021,” the RIAA notes.

Adding insult to injury, with the explosive 20% growth in CD sales last year, revenue from CDs is now nearly as large as all digital downloads combined — $584 million for CDs vs $587 million for digital downloads.

Overall revenue increased from $12.1 billion retail to $15 billion — a 23% increase over 2020.

As a caveat: it goes without saying (but should still be said) that the RIAA represents some of the most powerful people in the music industry. The association, and the materials they produce, certainly represent an agenda. Despite the beauty and tranquility of these gracefully arching graphs and the green arrows constantly pointing up, few of the millionaires minted by Spotify are actually musicians, and Spotify, which is a partner rather than adversary to the bodies the RIAA represents, has indicated their desire to pay the people they pay little even less.


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