Driven by explosive growth in streaming and a softening decline in physical formats, consumption of recorded music in the UK rose in the first six months of 20151 according to new data from the Official Charts Company released today by music body the BPI.

The Album Equivalent Sales (AES)2 industry metric – which measures the volume of physical and digital album sales combined with converted single track download sales and songs streamed on audio streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer and Google Play – shows overall consumption of recorded music to be up by 4.0 per cent compared with the first six months of 2014, according to the Official Charts data. This represents a significant improvement on the same point last year, when Album Equivalent Sales were down by 5.8 per cent.

The BPI market update comes as one of the major players in digital music, Apple, launched its new subscription streaming service, Apple Music, earlier this week.

Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive BPI and BRIT Awards, said:
“The launch of Apple Music will give further impetus to the revolution of music streaming. Millions of households are experiencing the joy of instantly playing any song they want, all around their house and on any device, and exploring a universe of new music and classic albums. At the same time, many fans are rediscovering the slower pleasure of collecting and owning music on CD and vinyl.

"With Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, George Ezra and Paloma Faith appealing to ever growing fan-bases and great new albums from James Bay, Florence and the Machine, Muse, Mark Ronson, Meghan Trainor and Mumford & Sons, 2015 has got off to a strong start, and the second half of the year looks promising, with more big albums to come. The precise impact of Apple Music in 2015 is hard to predict, but UK labels have reinvented their businesses for a multi-channel world, are investing heavily in talent and are offering fans greater choice and value than ever before. With British music on a high around the world, we look to the future with real confidence."

The popularity of streamed music has exploded in recent months. Some 14.8 billion tracks were played in 2014 – almost double the level recorded in 2013 – and in the first six months of 2015 the total has already reached 11.5 billion, according to the Official Charts data.

The most-streamed track of the year to date, Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, has been played an incredible 45 million times on audio streaming services in 2015, and almost 60 (59) tracks have been played over 10 million times so far this year.
Every week some 480 million streams are taking place on dedicated audio services and this tally is likely to be boosted further as music fans try out the new Apple Music streaming service over the next three months, while at the same time established services continue to enhance their offerings – both Spotify and Google Play, for example, have recently announced free trial offers for their premium subscription services.

Video streams on video streaming platforms such as YouTube are not yet included in the Official Charts data, but these are also showing dramatic growth. In 2014 there were 14.3 billion video streams in total – a figure already close to being matched in the first six months of this year. In 2015 there have been 12.5 billion video streams – 98.2 per cent up on the 6.3 billion video streams served during the equivalent January to June period in 2014.

The slowing in the decline in physical music sales has also contributed to the improving picture. In the first half of 2014 sales of CDs, LPs and minority physical album formats fell by 10.4 per cent (following a 10 per cent drop in the first half of 2013), but in the first half of 2015 this rate of decline has slowed to just 4.4 per cent.

A clear contributing factor to this improving trend is the performance of the compilations market, which continues to flourish. Since January, sales to date have risen 5 per cent year on year and have now increased consecutively over the past seven months. In fact 12 compilation albums have sold over 100,000 copies in 2015 – compared to just nine at this point in 2014 – while Now 90, released at the end of March, has already outsold the entire annual total achieved by its 2014 equivalent, Now 87.

The appeal of vinyl LPs shows little sign of abating, with demand in 2015 rising 56.3 per cent. At this current rate of growth the year-end tally for LPs could even approach the 2 million mark – which would represent the format’s biggest total since the Official Charts Company began monitoring sales in 1994. Rock titles are proving the most popular recordings, headed so far in 2015 by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ second album Chasing Yesterday.

Although demand for artist albums overall may be affected by the huge number of individual songs being streamed, there have been some notable exceptions in 2015.

Sales of Sam Smith’s In the Lonely Hour have already topped the half-million mark this year – contributing to an outstanding 1.8 million total tally. Ed Sheeran’s X also continues to impress, shifting 470,000 copies in 2015 to bring its cumulative sales total up to a remarkable 2.2 million copies. BRITs Critics Choice winner James Bay has seen his March-released debut Chaos and the Calm top the 200,000 sales mark, whilst continuing demand for George Ezra’s Wanted on Voyage means the singer-songwriter’s 2014-released debut has now passed the 1 million sales landmark.

Coming on top of a remarkable 2014 for British artists, when they accounted for the UK’s top 10 best-selling artist albums and one in every seven albums sold around the world, 2015 looks like being another outstanding year for home-grown talent. So far in 2015 British acts account for seven of the top 10 albums of the year – Taylor Swift, Meghan Trainor and Hozier being the only overseas artists to break the British chart-stranglehold.

Top 10 Official Albums Chart: January – June 2015 (source: Official Charts Company)
1. Sam Smith / In the Lonely Hour Capitol / Universal Music)
2. Ed Sheeran / X Atlantic Records UK / Warner Music
3. George Ezra / Wanted on Voyage Columbia Label Group / Sony Music
4. Taylor Swift / 1989 Virgin EMI / Universal Music
5. Hozier / Hozier Island Records / Universal Music
6. James Bay / Chaos and the Calm Virgin EMI / Universal Music
7. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds / Chasing Yesterday Sour Mash
8. Meghan Trainor / Title RCA Label Group / Sony Music
9. Paloma Faith / A Perfect Contradiction RCA Label Group / Sony Music
10. Mumford & Sons / Wilder Mind Island Records / Universal Music