About Mark Mulligan

Music Industry analyst and some time music producer. Vice President and Research Director with Forrester Research

Music market shares: independent labels and artists are even bigger than you thought

It has been a long time since the music industry has been in such good shape. So long, in fact, that there are not too many executives left who worked through the pre-crash days. 2021 was the year in which the major label groups capitalised on the momentum, with Universal and Warner going public, and Sony going on a spending spree. This was off the back of a strong 2020, in which the majors collectively generated $15.1 billion, giving them a market share of 66.1%. So far, so normal, but all is not quite as it seems. This market share may be how the world sees the majors’ success, but it significantly underplays the revenue contribution of independents. MIDiA decided to fix that.

At the start of this year MIDiA fielded a large-scale, global survey of independent labels, collecting billions of dollars’ worth of revenue figures. We think that it is the most comprehensive survey of the independent sector done yet. In the survey, we asked labels about a range of factors, which enabled us to paint a complete picture of the state of the independent sector in today’s music business. Crucially, we collected detailed data on distributors, and this is where the under reporting of independents comes into play.

The undoubted benefit of the streaming era is that it presents artists and labels of all sizes with the ability to reach global audiences. But most independent record labels do not have sufficient scale nor resources to license and distribute directly to streaming services, and thus turn to the ever-expanding marketplace of digital distributors. Never shy to an opportunity, the major record labels have established themselves as key players in this space, distributing independent labels either directly or via their distribution arms. The value that they deliver to independents is clear, but the revenue goes via the majors’ accounts, and so major label revenues are boosted by independent revenue, thus inflating the market share of the majors. With the data we tracked in our independent label survey, we were able to unpack this ‘embedded’ distributed independent label revenue from the majors’ total to arrive at the ‘actual’ market share of independents, based on who holds the copyright, not simply on who distributes it.

Measuring market share on this ‘ownership’ basis, independent market share (which includes artists direct) goes from 33.9% (the ‘distribution’ basis) to 43.1%, i.e., an additional 9.2% of share. Or, put another way, an addition of $2.1 billion. The independent share was up from 41.3% in 2018, and in 2020, independent revenue (on an ‘ownership’ basis) grew by 12% compared to a total recorded music market growth of 12%. All of which means that independents (labels and artists) are a) bigger than standard industry measures suggest, and b) growing faster than the total market and are thus increasing market share. Which makes the majors’ strategy even smarter. If they were not so active distributors of independents, they would simply be ceding all of the revenue, instead of, as they are, capturing some it and being able to report the market share as their own.

These findings and much more (including regional market data and data on label operations (e.g., A+R, marketing, catalogue size, years in operation)), are available to MIDiA clients in this full report.

All independent labels that took part in the survey have already received a copy of the report. If you want a copy of next year’s edition, be sure to take part in the next survey when we announce it!

The attention economy after the lockdown boom

The attention economy is the cornerstone of all entertainment businesses. Throughout the 2010s, it just grew and grew, with more and more digital entertainment options filling consumers’ downtime. Staring out of windows and being bored at bus stops was replaced by Netflix, Fortnite, Spotify, Instagram and TikTok. Then, as the decade drew to a close, the attention economy became saturated. Instead of competing for unused hours, everyone was competing with everyone else. Cue Netflix’s cofounder and CEO, Reed Hastings, to claim he was competing more with Fortnite than he was HBO. This binary equation did not have time to really bite before the global pandemic hit, suddenly turning back the attention economy clock. More people stuck at home with more time on their hands and money in their pocket resulted in a 12% boost to the attention economy. But it was clear that as soon as the time came for pre-pandemic routines to return, the temporary boom would fade, sending the attention economy into negative growth. That time has come.

The attention recession is here

When MIDiA first predicted the coming attention recession, it felt like a world away to most entertainment companies because the high tide of lockdown raised all entertainment boats. Most entertainment formats grew. But the thing is, some grew faster than the 12% average, while others grew more slowly. This meant that, in isolation, a given entertainment company might have reflected on record performance, while, in reality, they were losing ground on competitors – both within and beyond their respective industries. This was an esoteric concept when everything was up, but once pre-pandemic routines started to return, those that lost share during the lockdown era were the least well placed to deal with the attention economy contracting once more. Entertainment audiences developed new behaviours that were sustained over such a long period that they became habits – and habits can be hard to shake. 

By the end Q2 2021, 42% of the extra time gained during the pandemic had already gone. Combined average weekly entertainment hours had gone from 53.1 hours in Q4 2020, to 50.7 hours. While this was still up from the Q2 2020 total of 47.4 hours, the first phase of the attention economy’s contraction is clear to see. Crucially, though, the fall back was not evenly distributed. Games, news and audio (podcasts, audio books, radio) all fell by double digit percentages in Q2 2021, while music and video fell by much smaller amounts. Meanwhile, social media and social video actually grew. The arithmetic is brutally simple: if social grew while total time declined, their win was someone else’s loss.

The contraction still has much distance to run

With Covid infection rates rising, and lockdown measures returning in some markets, there is a reasonable chance that the contraction may lessen, or even pause, in affected markets in Q4 2021. But the underlying trend has an inevitability to it. Whether it is now or next year, the attention recession is going to bite – and it is going to bite hard.

In such a fiercely contested environment, every form of entertainment, from music, to video, to games, is going to need to give its audience reasons, not just ways to spend attention. Every minute of attention is going to be hard earned2022 and beyond will be shaped by fierce competition from entertainment companies that are trying to hold onto as much of their recently gained time as possible, which, in the finite attention economy, will mean others will not only lose time, but end up lower than pre-pandemic levels. Matters will be complicated further by consumers multitasking more than ever in order to try to squeeze in as much entertainment as their waking hours will permit. While this will tick the hours-spent box, it will devalue that time spent, to the extent that attention may not even be attention at all.

The findings in this post come from MIDiA’s latest report Attention economy: After the lockdown boomThe report contains detailed data and analysis of just how media consumption has changed across 15 different forms of entertainment. If you are not yet a MIDiA client and would like to learn how to get access to this insight, email stephen@midiaresearch.com.

Tribes are the future of fandom (and that may or may not be a good thing)

At MIDiA, we spend a lot of time exploring the fan economy and how new forms of fandom are redefining media businesses. The most significant underlying dynamic is the fragmentation of fandom: the dynamic whereby we move ever further from mass-reach media, where everyone is exposed to the same content, to a world where entertainment exists in a complex mesh of filter bubbles. Niche becomes the new mainstream. Whereas, as Asian entertainment companies have become adept at industrialising fandom in this new paradigm, Western companies are less so. In music, big record labels still have a mindset of wanting to create mainstream, global hits. But the fandom playbook is changing. Global success now depends less on how wide your message can reach, and more on how deep it can go. Mass reach is becoming superseded by conversion, and mainstream is become replaced by tribes.

What do Donald Trump and tribal fanbases have in common?

Tribalism is, for better or for worse, central to how humanity functions, and, of course, underpins millennia of armed conflict. How tribalism can manifest among strident fanbases is simply a lighter shade of the same dynamic that can send countries to war, part of the same sliding scale on which Trump operated. In fact, the tactics of the Trump movement often bore more resemblance to those used by K-pop acts than those used by political opponents.

Just like a contemporary, always-on artist, Trump fed his audience with an immense amount of content, access and engagement, and even did a live national tour. Like some of the most tribal of music fanbases, Trump nurtured a sense of otherness among his supporters – it is them against the world and the system is rigged against them. There is perhaps no better way of strengthening a tribe’s sense of oneness than strengthening its sense of otherness.

Tribalism and the role of us-vs-them

Fandom trades on basic human instincts and psychology, particularly two of the ‘deficiency needs’ in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needsbelonging and esteem (political fandom also trades on a third need: safety). Any kind of fandom depends on people feeling like they are a part of something, and how that something plays a role in identifying who they are. Tribal fandom takes this one step further, distilling this shared identity to an ‘us-vs-them’ mentality. Fans become focused on identifying, not just what makes them, well, them, but also what makes the rest of the world…not them. At its worst, that can be used by politicians, like Trump, to stoke fear against immigrants, liberals, people of colour, or basically anyone that is not part of their tribe. In less severe forms, it can manifest as artist fanbases mobilising en masse on social platforms against something they do not like. The sense of oneness, defined against the otherness of the rest, enables them to feel like the establishment is against them, even when they become the establishment, whether that be becoming the political party in power or the band that sets YouTube streaming records.

This flavour of tribal fandom has been made possible by social media and the broader way in which it facilitates online conversation. Often, social media facilitates a hyper-defensive style of discourse, with the loudest voices winning out, even if they are not the majority. Indeed, the fragmentation of fandom means that the whole concept of ‘majorities’ are becoming a thing of the past. In a political and business environment, now defined by the claims of the Facebook whistle blower, Frances Haugen, there is a growing understanding that a recalibration of social media is required, and ideally before Facebook Meta simply migrates social into the metaverse, warts and all. 

Fandom’s industrial revolution

But there is also vast positive opportunity within tribal fandom. As Chartmetric identifies, what sets K-pop artists from big Western artists is that they convert the vast majority of their audience into fans. There is little wastage. By contrast, big Western artists often have bigger total audiences, but a much smaller share that are ‘fans’, e.g., artist follower and active listener counts. This is simply taking Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 true fans conceptand recreating it on an industrial scale. In fact, you could argue that we are entering fandom’s industrial revolution phase. As this epoch plays out, the most effective marketing and monetisation across all forms of entertainment will be that which focuses on tightly defined tribes, rather than mass market reach. The shift from cultural moments to cultural movements is only just beginning. Politics (e.g., Trump and the Brexit campaign) have learned the tricks well, as has a select group of entertainment companies (e.g., Netflix and Big Hit Music). The coming years will be shaped by everyone else playing catch up.

Facebook is about to disrupt itself out of existence…again

Facebook’s rebranding to Meta can be interpreted in many ways. It can be seen as: following Google / Alphabet’s lead in communicating a new chapter in its business; putting distance between the company and its most well-known app, ahead of it beginning to decline; shifting the story away from whistleblower and ethics narratives; signalling a major strategic reboot. It is, of course, a combination of all of the above. In fact, Facebook is perhaps the most successful example of a global tech company that is embracing Clayton Christensen’s disruption innovation theory. Namely, that in order to compete in a new market, you have to radically change what you do, how you do it, and, crucially, your values. Facebook already went through this entire cycle when it pivoted towards messaging apps, and now it is about to do it all over again.

Strategy repeating itself?

Facebook’s Meta shift has a neat symmetry with its messaging app strategy – coming nearly ten years to the day after the app store launch of Facebook Messenger. When Facebook launched in 2004, the social media world was dominated by highly linear, desktop experiences, like MySpace and GeoCities. Facebook moved the needle, but it was a product of its time and generation. By the turn of the following decade, the world was changing, and with it cane a new generation of mobile-centric consumers – an opportunity that Evan Spiegel and Co seized, with the launch of Snapchat in 2011. As the dominant social platform, Facebook could easily have played it safe, developing a series of ‘good enough’, sustaining innovations to try to keep one step ahead of the noisy, but comparatively tiny, mobile-centric competition. Instead, it did something that big established companies rarely do – it decided to compete head on with it itself. Facebook decided to disrupt itself before the competition did.

Textbook Christensen

Facebook’s messaging app strategy was textbook Christensen. To really drive transformative change, you need to change your entire company and values, which is almost always best achieved by either acquiring companies or launching new divisions, so that you can learn to think and behave differently. After all, as a company, you have to respond to dramatic change in a dramatic fashion, because, up until now, your established way of doing things has resulted in you falling behind. So, in 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion (to initially be run as a separate entity), and then WhatsApp in 2014 for $19.3 billion. Facebook is now the biggest messaging app company on the planet, though the world has changed so much, these apps are often not even called messaging apps anymore. They are simply social apps. That is the scale of the transformation that Facebook achieved, and the metaverse is next.

Ramifications

If Facebook Meta follows a similar path for its metaverse strategy as it did for messaging apps, then a couple of major acquisitions will follow. It would be the wise move to do so, and hopefully Meta’s commitment to spending $10 billion on the metaverse does not reflect the hubris of a company that now thinks it is so good that it can do everything itself. If it is, then the odds are that Meta will not be the key metaverse player. But, if Meta does follow the Christensen playbook and become the central force of the metaverse, then there some major permutations, and even responsibilities, for Meta:

  • If the metaverse becomes the future of social then, unless there is some kind of cultural reset, all of the negative, dark sides of social will simply migrate over and become magnified. Imagine how psychologically damaging getting trolled and abused in virtual reality could be, especially for impressionable, younger people
  • The filter bubbles formed in two-dimensional social media already enable false narratives, like QAnon, to feel entirely real. Imagine just how much more real false narratives could feel in immersive environments

The immersive web

Societal risks and responsibilities aside, the shift to the metaverse represents a broader paradigm shift in digital entertainment and connectivity. MIDiA terms this as the Immersive Web, and, in fact, Facebook’s Meta announcement is a neat validation of the title of our 2021 Predictions report: ‘The Year of the Immersive Web’. Whether lightening can strike twice for Meta remains to be seen, but if it follows its 2011-2014 blueprint, then it has to be in with a shout of being the dominant metaverse player. Metaverses, though, are still heavily rooted in games, and while Meta is making a big bet on their future existing outside of games, there is no doubt that some gaming dynamics and experiences will still be part of what the future of metaverses are. The question is whether that means that the addressable audience is going to be narrower than it was for messaging apps, at least within a meaningful time frame (e.g., 5-10 years)? If not, then the risk is that Meta could end up winning the wrong war and building the future of games, instead of the future of social.

Adele is Bond and BTS is Squid Game

When Spotify announced that Adele had broken the record for the most streams in one day, with 19.8 million streams, the caveat was that this was true as long as you do not include all of the streams BTS had accumulated in 24 hours for ‘Butter’ in May. ‘Butter’ racked up 20.9 million streams, but 10 million were wiped from the record for ineligibility, thus only counting the first 10 plays per user in any given 24-hour period. While the caveat makes sense from the perspective of countering chart manipulation, it also raises fundamental questions about just how we measure success and whether, what are fundamentally subjective definitions, discriminate, intentionally or otherwise, against certain types of fans and music.

Fandom is fragmenting

We are living in the age of fragmented fandom where niche can feel mainstream, and mainstream can feel niche. Central to this is the shift from cultural moments to cultural movements. In the old, mass media world, most people experienced the same TV shows, movies and songs, with mainstream media promoting a relatively narrow selection of titles to the majority of the population. Now, audiences are fragmented and marketing is more targeted. So, it is possible for something to feel entirely mainstream to the target audience, even though it may not even register for the majority of the population. Whereas big, old-school releases resulted in water cooler, cultural moments. Successful niches become cultural movements, driving sustained engagement and cultural capital among their respective audiences. 

Bond vs Squid Game

Nowhere is this seen better than in the successes of Squid Game and James Bond’s No Time to Die*Bondwas the cultural moment, with wall-to-wall mainstream media support and is close to crossing $500 million in box office receipts. Squid game is Netflix’s most successful show to date with 132 million viewers, but was only watched by a minority of the total population in most countries. Nonetheless, it has become a cultural movement, seeping across popular culture via memes, social posts, fan content and so forth. Bond’s box office receipts translate into about 25-35 million viewers, while Squid Game is estimated to be worth around $900 million to Netflix. Bond was the global cultural moment, but was actually smaller on all counts than the less ‘traditional’ mainstream Squid Game.

A similar dynamic is at play when comparing BTS’ Butter with Adele’s Easy on MeEasy on Me was the cultural moment, with the massive initial wave of listening soon dropping off, while Butter was a cultural movement, which sustained throughout the first 6 days of release at pretty much the same level. Adele was Bond, while BTS was Squid Game – perhaps no coincidence that their nationalities match too. 

Adele was still the bigger success, but only if measured by the way the music industry wants it to be measured, i.e., discounting all those extra BTS Army plays. But what if a 13-year-old BTS fan simply wants to listen to the track 20 times in a day because they love it so much, while an older Adele fan listens to her tune a couple of times in the evening after work? The way we measure success inherently suggests the former behaviour is invalid, while the latter is more valid. The system favours casual listening over super-engaged listening. Listen, I am fully aware that the BTS Army is renowned for caning BTS tracks 24-hours a day in their thousands. But the risk is that the baby is getting thrown out with the bathwater.

Converting success metrics

So, why does this all matter to music? Quite simply because, just as in the TV and film industry, traditional metrics are still used to measure success – even if the old units of measurement have progressively less relevance. Music charts especially so. Since the advent of music downloads, the music industry has continually revised its definitions for ‘sales’ in order to try to make the old ‘cultural event’ measures work for a world that is increasingly shaped by cultural movements. The industry and media both like being able to talk about ‘sales’ and platinum releases – it is convenient short hand. But, if a platinum certification from 2021 is not equivalent to one from 1991 then does it really serve any purpose?

All of this would be a minor inconvenience if it were simply a ‘currency exchange’ issue, e.g., understanding what a million sales in 2021 was versus 2020. But it is not just that. The current measurement frameworks are biased towards artists that fit better in the traditional artist model than the new, emerging one. Including all BTS Army plays is probably as wrong an answer as discounting half of them. But a solution does need to be found, one that better captures the impact of a song on its fans. Perhaps a blend of measures that incorporate number of listeners, number of listens per listener, and total number of listens. (Also, there is a strong case for treating lean-back plays differently than lean-in plays – both in terms of charts and royalties). Each measure would be useful in its own right, which implies there may not be a single measure anymore. But, given the fragmentation of fandom and the growing diversity of fan behaviour, that is probably not a bad thing. The days of trying to measure every artist and every release by the same metrics will eventually become a thing of the past, however inconvenient that may be.

*Why did James Bond go grey? No time to dye…

Adele’s success will be measured in cultural impact – not sales

Adele is something of an anomaly in the modern music business, a throwback to how things used to be. These days even the biggest artists struggle to get mainstream attention for their new releases in a flooded market that is defined by more releases than ever before, and the ‘always on’ artist who is continually releasing new music and talking to their audience. Adele, though, follows the old model of landmark releases every half a decade and, up to now, she has managed to make it work by creating a cultural zeitgeist that the world opts into at scale. But the world has moved on a lot since her 2015 release, 25, and the nagging question is whether she can do it again with 30 in the much-changed music world.

Adele’s album releases act as chapter markers for the evolution of the recorded music market. Back in 2008, when 19 was released, it was still a sales (physical and downloads) and album dominated world. 90% of global revenues were from sales, while streaming was just 2%. With each half-decade release, the music world had moved on. Indeed, it could be argued that the biggest risk was with 25 in 2015, when streaming was already more than a fifth of revenues, and physical sales had fallen by 44% from 2008. Yet the album still managed to rack up 22 million sales and, in turn, became one of the biggest selling albums of the millennium. Adele bucked the prevailing industry trends.

Streaming does not favour albums

Fast forward to 2021 and the world has shifted even further, with 65% of revenues coming from streaming, and sales accounting for just a quarter. This is a dramatically different music world from the one in which 25 was released. Streaming will be the main way in which success is measured. Yet, just 15% of people listen to full albums on streaming services, so either Adele pulls an Ed Sheeran and has her entire album dominate the most streamed song charts (a possibility, but not a probability), or she has a few really big songs that rack up big streaming numbers. And to do that, she has to perform like a streaming-era artist.

Competing with streaming-era artists

Right now, Adele has two songs on Spotify with a billion streams. Compare this with Travis Scott who has three songs, two of which are more than 1.5 billion. Or Ed Sheeran, who has five songs, one of which is about to hit three billion (Shape of You). Heck, even Marshmello has three one billion stream tracks, of which one has 1.5 billion. No offence to Marshmello, but Adele will be expecting to have bigger cultural impact than him. It should be achievable (assuming that the music is strong enough), if for no other reason than the fact that there are three quarters of a billion more people streaming than in 2015.

Cultural impact will be the truest measure of success

But even if she does catch up on streaming figures, that probably is not how we should measure Adele’s success. In today’s world of fragmented fandom, fandom is defined by cultural movements rather than cultural moments. This is a dynamic that is intensified by the fact that media is also far more fragmented. Audiences are spread more thinly across a much wider range of platforms, shows and apps. It is simply much harder to create cultural moments. But that is exactly what Adele’s team will be planning to do. And given the current media buzz, she looks on track to do so once again, supported, as ever, by a simple but clever marketing campaign.

Recently, Adele has become much more visible, using Instagram and Facebook Live, pushing herself back into the public consciousness and even playing into meme culture. Beyond the music itself, it will be the continued use of social media, coupled with meeting the eager demand of traditional media that will determine whether 30 can become the sort of cultural phenomenon that 21 and 25 were. The fact that she still sings from the heart and is so relatable gives her an authenticity that is so often thin on the ground with today’s pop stars.

Creating a cultural moment

So, the success of 30 will probably be best measured in terms of whether there is a genuine cultural moment. In short, how long will Adele’s music and her team be able to maintain global interest and relevance? Success may be more about whether, two months down the line, we still have memes flooding TikTok and James Corden doing skits. This will say as much about how the world is responding to her music than how many streams she clocks up. And, of course, I have not even mentioned sales – not by accident. These metrics are just not going to be the way to gauge her success anymore (even considering the industry’s obsession with artificially boosted ‘sales’ figures with ‘sales equivalent streams’).

Adele has always been something of an anomaly, finding success through the power of her music rather than by playing whatever the latest marketing game is. Of course, expect every contemporary marketing card to be played (especially TikTok). But it will be through cultural impact, not streams, that we will truly understand how loudly her music still speaks.

Did July 1st 2019 mark the end of Spotify’s music creator dream?

On July 1st 2019, Spotify announced that it was closing its system that allowed artists to upload their music directly to Spotify. The move came in the wake of fierce opposition from record labels who had let Spotify know, in no uncertain terms, that they were not going to let it compete directly against them. They were not about to let their partner disintermediate them. When Spotify launched its artists direct tool, moves had been made on the heels of its 2017 Cloud DAW and collaboration tool, Soundtrap, and formed part of a clear strategy of becoming a music creator powerhouse. Even after the label enforced volte-face, Spotify additionally acquired music skills marketplace, SoundBetter, in September 2019. But now, with news emerging that Spotify has just sold SoundBetter back to its founders, it is beginning to look like the strategy was already dead in the water before the original deal.

The future of what music companies will be

Spotify’s music creator strategy was both bold and sound. It was making a bet that the music companies of the future would not simply be on the business of recording and releasing signed artists, but would instead participate in the creation of music further up the chain – just like they currently participate in distribution further up the chain. The assumption remains valid and, indeed, there is much to see in the market today to point to a future where the distinctions are blurring between what is a label, distribution platform, creator tool or streaming service. BandLab is most of those things (with 30 million people signed up to its platform), while AVID (maker of ProTools) launched distribution last year, as did Canadian creator tools company LANDR. The value chain shifts are happening. But not only that, 2020 started the unprecedented process of large institutional investment into creator tools companies, such as Native Instruments, Splice, Output and iZoptope. The creator tools space is white hot. So why is Spotify backing away?

Podcasts get the attention

The answer probably lies in focus. When the labels pushed back against Spotify’s artist ambitions, Spotify had to find a new big bet, which was – of course – podcasts. Since that point, Spotify has focused its investments, with a raft of acquisitions of both companies and talent. It even rebranded its creator strategy to encompass podcasters. The sale of SoundBetter is a clear implication that podcasters are now the centre piece of Spotify’s creator strategy.

A return could still be on the cards

Spotify can still be, and may yet be, a powerhouse for music creators. But, for now, podcasts are where the energies are focused. Besides, the sheer volume of creator tools M+A activity is such that Spotify may well feel that it would not be able to get good value for money if it was to go on an acquisition spree. Perhaps Spotify will return to the space 3-7 years from now. That will be when the current private equity owners have finished building up their acquisitions and start looking to sell them, enhanced and transformed for the new market dynamics. It will also be when Spotify may feel powerful enough to take on the labels again.

Whatever the longer-term future may hold, right now SoundBetter returns to the market as the sort of tool that encapsulates what the next wave of creation is all about, and it may feel that it can now finally deliver on its initial promise.

Live streaming’s second growth phase

Live streaming erupted in 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. As the year progressed, the market transformed rapidly from a bunch of bands playing guitar in their bedrooms to highly produced, ticketed shows with tens of thousands of viewers. New companies flashed into existence while older ones dusted of their websites and rode the new wave of demand and enthusiasm. Everything was going great – and then along came real life. COVID restrictions began to ease, vaccination rates rose and real life concerts were back. It almost did not matter that they were not yet back in full effect, because even a gradual return had caught the imagination of artists and their managers. Suddenly, the prospect of looking their fans in the eyes made sulking in front of a camera in an empty venue seem a whole lot less appealing. With the sting taken out if its tail, it would be easy to imagine the live stream sector going back into its pre-COVID shell. But it has not. Instead, the sector is laying foundations for longer term growth, as shown this week by Deezer’s investment in Driift, and Dice’s acquisition of Boiler Room.

Competition from IRL

Revenue from ticketed live stream concerts surpassed $600 million in 2020, and the market trajectory in Q4 20, combined with the pandemic outlook, suggested that the market was going to push on past $2 billion in 2021. But with IRL concerts and festivals making their comeback, the number of ticketed live stream concerts slowed in Q1 21 and only started meaningfully picking up again mid-way through Q2 21. Also, average ticket prices started to come down, likely in response to softening demand among audiences who were eagerly anticipating real concerts once more. Live streamed concert audience penetration stopped growing in Q2 21, but retains a solid base (as the data in a forthcoming MIDiA report shows). But IRL was always more likely rather than less likely to come back, so live streamed concerts were always going to have to plan for a hybrid future (by which I mean both hybrid concerts and co-existing alongside IRL concerts). If there was a surprise, it was just how quickly artists were willing to jump the live stream ship. 

The hype cycle

If 2020 was the Peak of Inflated Expectations in the hype cycle and the start of 2021 was the Trough of Disillusionment, then we are now in the period of slow, steady consolidation, where the real market is built out of the rubble of over-zealous hype. With so many investments made in 2020, there was always going to be a consolidation opportunity for those players with a sound, longer-term view. Mandolin, widely acclaimed during 2020, recently acquired indie focused platform NoonChorus. Then, this week, the next-gen ticketing platform, Dice, acquired long running dance music live platform Boiler Room.

Consolidation

While Mandolin’s move was straightforward consolidation, Dice’s is more disruptive. 2020 catalysed growth for Dice, with a neat positioning as an alternative to the big traditional ticketing companies that empowers venues with more control, as well as being the ticketing company of choice for many live stream concert providers. But with the acquisition of Boiler Room, Dice has just taken a leaf out of the playbook of the big, traditional ticketing companies – expanding across the value chain. However, as much as Dice will try to position the move as otherwise, it is now competing directly with many of its clients. Other next-gen ticketing companies focused on live streaming could be forgiven for seeing this as a great opportunity to differentiate and compete.

Investment

‘Value chain creep’ was already a defining feature of the live streaming vendor space in 2020, with many companies attempting to do multiple parts of the process rather than specialising. This looks great in investor presentation, but for artists and managers, it simply replaces the old boss with a new boss who looks just like the old boss. A number of companies forged a different path, focusing instead on producing high quality shows for artists. One such company was Driift, which this week received a strategic investment from Deezer, that had already previously invested in DREAMSTAGE. Deezer’s moves reflect an understanding that audio streaming and live streaming represent a strong overlap opportunity. Indeed, Deezer WAUs are more likely to watch live streamed concerts than other music service WAUs.

Long term, steady growth

2021 will go down as the year of adjustment for live streaming, following a year of exceptional circumstances in 2020. COVID catalysed secular growth but boosted figures higher than the natural level of the market at this early stage. The coming years will be characterised by steady continued growth, with hybrid and ‘pandemic proof’ solutions for venues, such as Live Nation fitting 60+ venues with Veeps capabilities. The live music sector did not experience the dramatic transformation wrought by streaming. Instead, the sector had to wait for the pandemic’s impact and the resultant COVID bounce for live streaming. Expect more investments and more consolidation as this market begins to set itself up for long-term, organic growth. 

Creator TAMs: a new way to assess the creator economy

The music creator tools space is undergoing a change that is simultaneously renaissance and transformation. The creator culture boom has driven an unprecedented degree of investment and investor interest. However, because the music creator tools space is a collection of diverse products and services, an underlying challenge has been how to identify exactly what the total addressable market (TAM) is. In this report, MIDiA presents the multiple TAMs, SAMs (Serviceable Addressable Market) and SOMs (Serviceable Obtainable Market) for music creator tools. MIDiA has created an industry first: we have created a series of creator tools TAM models that enable investors to precisely measure the market opportunity for the growth of different types of creator tools companies.

We spent a lot of months compiling data from industry sources, company financials, executive interviews and proprietary MIDiA survey data to build the model and accompanying report. The full report and dataset is available here. Here are some key themes explored in the report.

This surge in new musicians that started learning or playing during the pandemic represents the genesis of the second wave of opportunity for music creator tools, with the first wave being formed by the 7% of consumers that bought an instrument in the prior 12 months and the 5% that make music with software.

The rapid growth of new music creators comes alongside an unprecedented period of transformation in the creator tools space which complicates the task of assessing the market opportunity. Things are complicated further by the fact that this evolution represents the birth of a whole series of sub-markets which currently fall under the broad category of ‘creator tools’. This is why we define the market opportunity through three related total addressable markets (TAMs) rather than a single one (which the above graphic illustrates conceptually):

Core TAM: The core TAM is the number of people that play instruments, encompassing a wide variety of musicians, ranging from enthusiast guitar players through to members of classical ensembles. 

Meta TAM: This is the core TAM plus those consumers that intend to start learning instruments. The combination of the catalysing effect the pandemic had on musicianship and the surge of online learning tools – especially YouTube tutorials and tools like guitar tab apps – is increasing the number of people becoming musicians. 

Produce or record music: These people record or produce their own music through a combination of analogue and digital tools, though with a very strong shift towards digital. The cultural significance is that by using tools such digital audio workstations (DAWs), their creative workflows are being shaped by sound engineering rather than purely musicianship. 

As with all markets, the music creator tools space faces a combination of drivers and inhibitors. The key drivers are 1) a rapid growth in music creators, 2) streaming opening up global audiences, 3) computer production becoming more widespread across more genres. The key inhibitors are 1) complexity of learning skills, 2) artists struggling to cut through and earn income, 3) an increasingly competitive marketplace. With these tailwinds and headwinds considered, the outlook is strong for creator tools but its sub components will evolve at very different rates, largely defined by the scale of the addressable markets but also the degree to which players are willing to embrace new market shaping trends such as growing demand for ease of use, the rise of creator community platforms and the shift to subscriptions.

If you want to learn more about the report and the datasets included then please email stephen@midiaresearch.com

UMG’s buoyant stock debut is a new chapter for the music business

Universal Music Group (UMG) had an extremely positive first day of trading as a standalone entity, with shares at one stage trading 35% up from their reference point and making the market cap leap to $55 billion, while former-parent, Vivendi, saw a drop of two thirds in its value. Prior to the first day of trading, there were questions over whether Vivendi had pushed the indicative value of UMG shares too high, due to, in part, a series of UMG equity sell offs – but day one suggests that pent-up demand was sufficiently high to negate those concerns. Meanwhile, Warner Music Group’s (WMG) stock also surged, showing that investors see this as a market dynamic rather than a pure company dynamic. So, what is going on? Why is there so much investor enthusiasm in the music industry? The answers lie in the two-tier narrative that is building around today’s music business.

If the UMG listing had happened as recently as two years ago, we probably would not be talking about such a stellar trading debut. The fact that we are doing so now is because the music market has moved on a lot since then – and I mean a lot. This is what the music market looked like in September 2019:

For those deep in the music business, it is sometimes hard to appreciate just how much change has happened in such a short period of time. As CS Lewis once wrote: Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different? Crucially for UMG’s listing, these changes have contributed to a major shift in the music industry’s metanarrative for investors:

  • 2019: The Spotify vs the labels narrative was in full swing. Investors viewed the market through the lens of ‘rights vs distribution’. They were backing Spotify against UMG, vice versa or simply backing both horses in the race as a sector hedge. Record labels looked vulnerable in a market which was dominated by digital service provider (DSP) growth, which, in turn, was dominated by Spotify. Streaming’s future was bright, but there was a risk that as streaming got bigger, the labels would get weaker.
  • 2020: Streaming revenues continue to grow strongly, up 18.3% in 2020 with 467 million subscribers, and up a further 25.9% in H1 21 in the US. But, crucially, the market is diversifying beyond DSPs. New growth drivers (social, short-form video, games, fitness, and mindfulness) are now making a truly meaningful contribution to label revenues (around $1.5bn in 2020). Music is becoming the soundtrack to the new digital entertainment universe. Vitally, unlike the traditional approach of sync (an ad hoc model that struggles to be agile and to scale), the labels are applying scalable licenses, born out of the DSP model, to ensure music rights can be agile enough to grow with the fast-changing digital entertainment marketplace. On top of this, a) the catalogue M+A boom has established music as an investor asset class, b) recorded music grew during the pandemic while live declined, thus demonstrating it to be the most resilient component of the wider music industry. The outlook for music is now a multi-layered narrative, with DSPs still centre stage but no longer the only game in town.

What this all means is that music rights are a compelling investment proposition for bigger institutional investors. However, the thing about bigger institutional investors is that they typically like to invest in big established companies. So, looking at the marketplace, unless an investor wants to build a catalogue investment fund (which is a highly specialised approach), there are not many big companies to invest in. WMG is the smallest major, Sony Music is just one smallish part of the Sony Corporation, and Believe is an indie label. So, while those are still interesting options for investors, the opportunity to invest into the world’s largest music company was previously the exclusive domain of a few large investors. Now, finally, everyone can have a part of UMG. 

So, what we have is the confluence of two factors:

  • Pent-up investor demand
  • A compelling and diversified industry narrative

The timing for UMG is perfect, but, of course, it has not been a neutral player simply watching the sands shift. It has actively driven this narrative, not just through what Sir Lucian Grainge and other executives have been telling the market, but also through its succession of equity transactions which helped build demand and value recognition. Part of the reason UMG is the world’s biggest music group is because it is the world’s biggest music group. It uses its scale and influence to help shape the market and its future trajectory. This is arguably one of UMG’s most valuable assets: it exercises control over its own destiny.Whether UMG’s share price falls or whether it grows in the coming weeks, the listing represents a high water mark for the music business as an asset class and may well be reflected upon as a useful bookend for one phase of the music business as another emerges.