More than a quarter of all music consumed in the UK in 2020 was by artists from the independent music community, the BPI and AIM reported today. Between them, record label associations AIM and the BPI represent the spectrum of recorded music rightsholder businesses in the UK.

In addition, the data, which is drawn from the BPI’s yearbook All About The Music 2021 and based on Official Charts Company data, shows that:

UK independent labels’ share of music consumption across streaming and physical formats combined, as measured by Album Equivalent Sales (AES)1, rose for a third successive year in 2020 to reach just under 26%;

Independent music businesses’ share of Streaming Equivalent Albums (SEAs) has grown over each of the past five years and is off to a strong start in 2021; and

Independent music traditionally ‘punches above its weight’ in physical formats and remains a driving force in helping to achieve chart impact – a key factor in the success of independent labels in recent years.
This trend has continued into 2021 following the Q1 success of artists such as Mogwai (Rock Action Records), You Me At Six (AWAL) and Architects (Epitaph Records) achieving No.1 albums in the Official Albums Chart.
Historically predominantly made up of labels, the independent sector’s growing market share now includes an increasing number of creative entrepreneurs, from DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and self-releasing artists to record labels and other release partners. This year, AIM launched a new, free Associate Tier of membership for anyone going through an AIM Distributor Member, which will ensure access to knowledge and opportunities for representation across this increasingly diverse sector, while BPI introduced a Membership Inclusion Programme aimed at removing barriers to entry to the music industry for small labels and music companies run by individuals from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented categories.

Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive BPI & The BRIT Awards, said: “The Independent community lies at the heart of our vibrant music scene, consistently innovating to make the UK a dynamic and competitive incubator of diverse new talent. Indie labels and their artists are harnessing the global reach of streaming, introducing new models for artist/label partnerships, and are playing a key role in the revival of vinyl and resilience of CD. They help to ensure the music industry is teeming with creativity, and that fans and artists have more choice than ever.”

Paul Pacifico, CEO of AIM, said: “Independent music businesses are the home of innovation and experimentation in the UK music industry. Our community of creative entrepreneurs keeps music moving forwards. As streaming offers consumers ever more opportunity to discover and enjoy diverse and eclectic music, it is no wonder that independent market share continues to grow, even in the face of industry consolidation.”

Independents excelling across physical releases

While independent labels and their artists perform strongly on streaming services, they have played a particularly influential role in the resurgence of physical formats, with independents’ highest format share in 2020 coming on vinyl LP (35%). In the first three months of 2021 this rose still further as independent artists claimed nearly four in every 10 vinyl LPs purchased by the UK music-buying public (39.8%). Top-selling independent artists in 2020 included Kylie (Disco), Arctic Monkeys (Live At Royal Albert Hall), IDLES (Ultra Mono), Fontaines D.C. (A Hero’s Death), and Gerry Cinnamon (The Bonny). Over 250 independent titles sold over 1,000 copies on vinyl.
Independent labels and their artists also performed well on CD, claiming close to 30% of all sales of the format in 2020, rising to 32.5% in Q1 this year.

Jeff Bell, Partisan Records, said: “Being independent is about culture and community. Both of these ideas tend to start outside (or at best, on the fringes of) what is commercially viable in the traditional sense, so genuinely adding value to artists takes time, agility, and a partnership in the truest sense of the word. As the landscape keeps evolving at the pace it is, the demand for, and success of these flexible approaches will only continue to grow.”

Strong independent performance on streaming services

Independent labels and artists accounted for a quarter (24.5%) of Streaming Equivalent Albums in 2020, their highest share yet, and got off to a very positive start of 25.8% in the first quarter of the new year. Independently-released tracks by artists such as AJ Tracey, Trevor Daniel and Endor were among the 100 most-played songs on audio streaming services in the UK in 2020, with independent artists such as Central Cee, KSI, BTS and Tom Zanetti placed in the top 100 for the year to date.

Independent labels enjoy Official Albums Charts success

Reflecting the highly competitive dynamic of the UK music industry, independent labels claimed four No.1 albums in the Official Albums Chart in 2020: BTS (Map of the Soul –7), Gerry Cinnamon (The Bonny), IDLES (Ultra Mono) and Kylie (Disco) – the biggest tally since 2017. An impressive 52 independent albums made the weekly Official Albums Chart Top 10 (again, the biggest number since 2017). This strong showing continued into Q1 2021, with three independent titles making it to No.1 – You Me At Six (Suckapunch), Mogwai (As The Love Continues) and Architects (For Those That Wish To Exist).

Pat Carr, Remote Control Agency, said: “For years, the Independent sector has survived and thrived by having to be more creative, extra adaptable and super nimble. We work hard alongside and hand in hand with our artists and management teams on cultivating a close and personal relationship with the fans, strong D2C, digital marketing, DSP relationships and socials strategies Also, crucially, working with the network of Independent record stores both on and offline that are still very much part of music discovery in this current market. This hands-on and attention to detail approach enables the indies to compete more and more within the mainstream – which is great to see!”

Strong physical share creates an advantage in the race for an Official Chart No.1

The strong connection that exists between independent artists (and their fans) with releases on physical formats has helped to produce a particularly good showing this Q1, with independents’ share of all metrics up on Q1 2020.

Releases on physical formats continue to be a driving force in helping to achieve impact in the Official Charts, a key factor in the success of independent labels in recent years. Vinyl sales have now risen for a thirteenth successive year since their low point in 2007 – up 11.5% in 2020 with 4.8 million LP copies purchased. In Q1 2021 this trend accelerated still further, rising by 16% – a remarkable feat considering the restrictions imposed by lockdown but one that reflects how labels, stores, fans and artists came together online, backed by campaigns such as Love Record Stores, Record Store Day, and National Album Day.

The start of 2021 has seen a run of 13 ‘physical majority’ No.1 albums in the Official Albums Chart, including not just the aforementioned number ones but new releases from Celeste (Not Your Muse), Kings of Leon (When You See Yourself), The Snuts (W.L.), Tom Grennan (Evering Road), and Barry Gibb (Greenfields).

All 13 albums had a physical share totalling over 60%, with six enjoying a figure over 80%. This is the longest run of ‘physical majority’ number ones since the end of 2019 (15) – a significant achievement considering how much streaming has grown over the same period, suggesting that many fans have been actively seeking out their favourite titles to buy, even during lockdown. The run was broken last month by Taylor Swift’s new album Fearless (Taylor’s Version), but since then a further five albums that have claimed the top spot have done so with a majority ‘physical’ component, bringing the total number for 2021 to date 18.

Drew Hill, MD Proper Music Distribution, said: "2021 is on its way to becoming a particularly strong year for CDs and vinyl, with 18 out of the year’s 22 #1 albums so far boasting a physical sales majority. It’s clear fans appreciate choice, and the different roles that streaming and physical play – discovery v tangible ownership – are proving to complement each other well."

Of these 18 albums, vinyl accounted for over a third of the chart sales on five titles: Slowthai (Tyron, 35.4%), Mogwai (As The Love Continues, 41.3%), Royal Blood (Typhoons, 40.5%), Paul Weller (Fat Pop, 36.6%) and Lana Del Rey (41.6%), whose album Chemtrails Over The Country Club sold nearly 16.7k copies on vinyl format in its first week of release, and was the fastest-selling LP since Liam Gallagher’s Why Me Why Not in September 2019. It made the album the fastest-selling LP by a female artist this century.

Compact Disc accounted for over half of the sales on eight of the 17 titles: Barry Gibb (particularly strong at 81%), You Me At Six, Bring Me The Horizon, Celeste, Tom Grennan, Ben Howard (Collections From The Whiteout), Tom Jones (Surrounded By Time - also 81%) and Rag’n’Bone Man (Life By Misadventure).

Growing demand for cassettes, which have revived in recent years (selling well over 150,000 copies in 2020), also contributed to the overall physical impact, accounting for 10% of Bring Me The Horizon’s album sales, a fifth of Lana Del Rey’s (19.6%) and 14% of The Snuts’ sales.

The BPI insights are based on Official Charts Company data and are taken from All About the Music 2021 – the 42nd edition of the BPI Yearbook, which was published last month. This authoritative industry annual evaluates 2020 UK music consumption and trends. It is free to BPI members but can be purchased here.

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