The U.S. recorded music business posted its seventh consecutive year of growth in 2022 as the industry continues to benefit from streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube. After spending most of the last two decades in a painful freefall — piracy devastated CD sales and the download-driven unbundling of the album didn’t make up for it — the recorded music business has enjoyed a great run. Last year, paid subscription revenues surpassed $10 billion for the first time, according to the RIAA, and overall revenues reached $15.9 billion.
Here’s the bad news: Last year’s growth, in terms of both dollar and percentage increases, was the lowest since 2016, when the recorded music business started to recover from a 15-year downturn. Happy days may be here again, but they’re not getting happier like they were.
Total recorded music revenues grew 6.1%, but that’s about a quarter of 2021’s 23.2% gain. Paid streaming revenues improved 7.2% in 2022, a third of the 22.2% growth in 2021. It was the first time that this segment’s growth rate fell into the single digits since 2010. That year paid streaming revenues rose just 2.9% to $212 million. Over the next decade, as annual paid streaming grew to 57.8% of total recorded music revenue in 2022, the segment’s annual growth often exceeded 50% and fell below 20% only twice.
Ad-supported streaming’s revenue growth rate also fell into the single digits, also for the first time in more than a decade. Slowed by an advertising malaise that has also affected companies ranging from Alphabet to iHeartMedia, streaming services’ advertising royalties to record labels grew 5.6% compared to 44.4% in 2021 and 16.8% in 2020. In dollar terms, last year’s revenue growth was the lowest since 2015.
The slowdown shouldn’t catch anybody by surprise given the industry’s reliance on streaming, subscription services’ unwillingness — until recently — to raise prices and a finite number of potential customers. The problem comes down to basic math: Fees from subscription services accounted for 57.9% of recorded music revenues in 2022. At just 2.4% of total revenues, a high-growth segment like synchronization barely moves the needle despite rising 24.8% in 2022. Vinyl sales were strong once again — up 17.2% — but accounted for just 7.7% of total recorded music revenues.
Up-and-coming revenue streams such as TikTok, Facebook and Instagram are just that — not yet ready to deliver meaningful royalties despite their popularity. Their revenues are included in the ad-supported streaming bucket that increased just 5.5% in 2022. TikTok faces high expectations but large uncertainty, too, as it faces pressure from politicians at the state and federal level that could reduce its importance. In addition, the company has installed parental controls that are likely to reduce engagement and further reduce its potential value to artists and labels.
A positive trend is subscription services’ decisions to raise prices on individual and family plan tiers. In 2022, Apple Music, Amazon Music and Deezer raised prices in the U.S. Spotify has not yet announced a price hike for standard subscription plans but has hinted it will follow suit in 2023. Labels are eagerly awaiting Spotify’s move. “We are the lowest (cost) form of entertainment,” Warner Music Group CEO Robert Kyncl said Thursday. “We have the highest …engagement, highest form of affinity and lowest per-hour price. That doesn’t seem right.”
Globally, the situation looks better. The industry in China, the world’s most populous country, is flourishing thanks to streaming companies such as Tencent Music Entertainment and Cloud Music. In Japan, the world’s second-largest recorded music market, streaming revenues increased 125% in 2022, according to the RIAJ. At Spotify, which operates in 184 markets, revenue increased 21.3% in 2022 to 11.7 billion euros ($12.4 billion), with about equal growth rates from paid and ad-supported streaming. Annual revenues of two smaller streaming companies, Europe-focused Deezer and MENA-focused Anghami, grew 13% and 36%, respectively.
In the U.S., a maturing streaming business alone cannot maintain the breakneck pace of the last seven years. Labels will need more than the status quo to return to double-digit growth.