50 fascinating facts about the music industry
Music is one of the most ubiquitous art forms in the world. Lullabies soothe babies to sleep from the youngest of ages, and kids try their hand at playing an instrument in elementary school. By the teenage years, music becomes part of our identities—we gravitate toward certain genres as a form of our own self-expression, and the lyrics and melodies feed the deepest part of our souls. Music then takes on new roles in adulthood. It keeps us entertained on our commutes, helps us stay focused at work, provides a welcome distraction while we’re doing chores around the house, and sets just the right mood for parties and get-togethers. Plus, in non-pandemic times, seeing our favorite bands perform live and feeling the energy of crowds at arena concerts often become some of our most cherished memories. Music is with us at every stage of life.
But as we’re poring over deep lyrics from our favorite singer-songwriters and debating whether dynamic bands fall into one genre or another, we rarely recognize the fact that music is much more than an art form—it’s a big, profit-driven business. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) put the total value of the recording industry at $20.2 billion in 2019. The music industry is responsible for an estimated 1.9 million jobs in the United States alone, per the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). And music has helped the net worth of some artists, like Andrew Lloyd Weber and Paul McCartney, surpass $1 billion. It’s this very industry that determines which bands make their way onto Spotify playlists, and which ones are forgotten entirely.
To help understand the business behind favorite songs and albums, Stacker compiled a list of 50 fascinating facts about the music industry using a mix of information from Goldman Sachs and Citibank; reports from industry leaders like the IFPI and the RIAA; news outlets, including the BBC, The Verge, Vice, and The New York Times; and music publications like Billboard and Rolling Stone.
Explore the story to see 50 facts about the music industry you probably didn’t already know.
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Digital sales generate 88% of music revenue
The music industry is dominated by digital sales, with 88% of total revenue in the United States coming from streaming, downloads, subscriptions, and other virtual products in 2018, according to the RIAA. That year, digital sales were credited as the reason for a third consecutive year of growth in the overall music industry.
More than 1 trillion songs are streamed annually
Music fans around the world streamed an estimated 1.2 trillion songs in 2018, per the RIAA. More than a third of those music streams came from listeners in the United States.
Vinyl sales are on the rise
After largely being replaced by cassettes and CDs in the 1980s and 1990s, vinyl records are now making a comeback. Sales of vinyl climbed to more than $700 million in 2019, from a low of $36 million in 2006, reports the IFPI.
Recording industry is valued at $20.2 billion
The IFPI put the estimated value of the recording industry at $20.2 billion in 2019. Streaming sales account for most of the value, followed by physical music sales and performance rights.
Pop musicians have shorter lifespans than everyday people
A study on 12,665 pop musicians who passed away between 1950 and 2014 found that they tend to die at younger ages than the average American. They also have higher rates of death by suicide, homicide, and accidents.
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Average song length is 3 minutes, 42 seconds
With advertising revenue on streaming services accounting for a big portion of music profits, songs have been getting shorter in recent years, The Verge reported. The average length of a song in 2019 was 3 minutes and 42 seconds, nearly a minute shorter than in 1995.
Musicians earn an average of $30.39 an hour
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average pay of musicians and singers was $30.39 per hour, as of May 2019. A 2018 survey of more than 1,200 musicians in the United States found that 61% of musicians say that their music income isn’t enough to cover their bills.
Taylor Swift earned $185 million in 2019
Taylor Swift’s income reached a whopping $185 million in 2019, making her the highest-paid musician of the year, The Street reported. The majority of the income came from her $345 million “Reputation” stadium tour.
‘Despacito’ music video gets more than 7 billion views
YouTubers have streamed the music video for Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito,” featuring Daddy Yankee, more than 7 billion times since it was posted on Jan. 12, 2017. Thrillist named it the most-watched music video on the platform, followed by Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again.”
CDs helped make albums longer
The popularity of CDs in the 1990s and early 2000s pushed the average length of an album to a high of 15.8 songs in 2003—up from 12.5 songs in 1992, when cassettes were the predominant music media, the Harvard Business Review reported. The increased album length reflected the ease of skipping around to different tracks on CDs.
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