71% of All Music Listening Is Now Free, Study Estimates

Question: Approximately what percentage of your music listening is from each of the following sources?

(gray/black = primarily free format; green = primarily paid format)

Music Listening Breakdown

Source: British Phonographic Industry (BPI), Entertainment Retail Association (ERA), n=1,000

In case you were wondering why artists are constantly touring these days, there’s this.  According to a survey recently conducted by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and Entertainment Retail Association (ERA) in the UK, roughly 71 percent of all music listening is unpaid.

Even formats commonly regarded as paid are predominantly free. In the case of downloads, the BPI earlier estimated that 95% of all song downloads are unpaid and illegally acquired, an estimate that doesn’t even consider songs ripped from CDs.

Radio, across all broadcast and online formats, is nearly 100% free, with extremely small subscription percentages from online players like Pandora.  ‘Other’ formats like podcasting also unpaid.

That leaves CDs, vinyl, and subscription streaming as the remaining paid formats, which account for less than 28 percent of the total.  The remaining 1 percent comes from paid downloads, leaving a paid tally of roughly 29%.

Free Music Listening

The finding comes alongside continued soul-searching within the music industry, particularly on the recorded music side.  In another recent study, Nielsen found that roughly 52% of all music spending is now going to live concerts, with free streaming on platforms like YouTube often a teaser to purchase concert tickets.  That is crowning huge winners like Live Nation and AEG Live, while forcing continued problems for major labels over-invested in pre-recorded music.

It’s also creating massive pressure for overwhelmingly free platforms like SoundCloud and Spotify.  Just recently, SoundCloud announced that a paid, subscription-based service would be arriving within a year, a timetable that coincided with a massive licensing deal with Universal Music Group.  Separately, Spotify is also reportedly under pressure to increase its paid subscriber totals, with ‘gated’ or subscription-only content for superstar artists like Taylor Swift and Adele under discussion.


Applying extra pressure is Apple Music, whose paid-only platform now boasts more than 10 million paid subscribers.  According to industry insiders, royalty checks from Apple Music are far loftier than those coming from Spotify, a development that is raising awareness on just how costly free has become.

21 Responses

  1. Rick Shaw

    Not true. There is always a give/take. There is always a price to pay, no matter who pays it or who (if anyone) reaps the reward. Whether time, information, actions or money, there is payment made.

    • Paul Resnikoff
      Paul Resnikoff

      Theoretically, sure. For example, BitTorrent downloading incurs many costs, including non-monetary (time, frustration, chaos), and monetary (ISP bill, legal cost perhaos). But this is about the actual price tag; ie, vinyl = $16. Free Spotify account costs $0.

      • Name2

        There are frictions in Spotify’s free tier.

        Do you ever get tired of … Telling Lies?

      • Anonymous

        You are intentionally missing the point. Free streaming on Spotify isn’t free. You pay in time listening to advertisements. The advertisers pay Spotify money for that time. And Spotify pays the labels for their music.

        Unfortunately our society does not realize the true value of time.

  2. Name2

    That is crowning huge winners like Live Nation and AEG Live, while forcing continued problems for major labels over-invested in pre-recorded music.

    “They can always sell lifestyle accessories.”

    LOLz. Ghost of dead retailers haz been avenged!

  3. Remi Swierczek

    Music should be FREE – subscription FREE and advertising FREEE!

    All delivery vehicles should play the best, the most exotic and the most satisfying tunes to folks they serve.
    Monetization should happen at the DISCOVERY MOMENT, the best moment to collect 49¢ for addition to the playlist!
    This 49¢ should be divided between musicians and their labels, broadcaster like Radio or TV station or Chipotle sound division. 10% to Shazam, Soundhound or Google Voice for coding the tunes destine for air and cashier and bookkeeping effort. All computer juice destine to deliver $200B music business by 2025.

  4. Versus

    ” In the case of downloads, the BPI earlier estimated that 95% of all song downloads are unpaid and illegally acquired”

    So why, after all these years, is there still no technology and will to properly enforce the law?

  5. Nat

    It is a shame! Think about it?
    Can you say that 71 % of all automobiles are free?
    What about 71% of all house purchases are free?
    What about 71% of all computers are free?

    Doesn’t this lead to lackluster performance or loss of incentive for musicians? Sure it does?
    I might as well sell you pintos, shacks, and comodore 64’s! to make the analogy clear for all!
    Free undermines the music industry in the end! Unless the aim is to put an end to the Music Industry!

    • Me2

      I’d say this is one of the darker subtexts to the conversation. There does appear to be a desire to destroy the “Music Industry”.

      This view ostensibly considers the “Music Industry” to be corrupt labels, who “don’t pay the artists anyway”. But the reality is that such destruction is not limited to labels, and consequently takes everything down with it including producers, studios, session players and of course the artist.

      Ask anyone who has actually worked in any of these facets of the business for some time and they will verify this conclusion.

      It’s investment in content that has been wiped out, and this is only fractionally mitigated by “lower production costs”. In the end, it’s the lack of budgets that caused the vast majority of world class recording facilities to close their doors, not the occasional Garageband masterpiece.

      It shouldn’t be expected that the consumer be aware of just how much damage has happened. As for the multi-billion valued distribution monopolies built on a philosophy of free, or almost free.. well you have to figure they are smart enough to see what’s happened.

      As much as it’s repeated, to the point of brainwashing, that the technology is responsible for the demise of certain industries, I put forth that the true cause is opportunistic policy, and nothing more.

      Ultimately, the technology will need to catch up with laws and a functioning society where those creating digital content are not stripped of the fruits of their labor. Also, I’m hopeful that laws will close some of the loopholes that made this revenue diversion possible.

      But there is a smoke machine, operating on full, and it will still be awhile before that runs dry.

  6. FarePlay

    Nobody is going to give you a break. If you’re a musician or a songwriter you’re going to have to take back control, where you can.

    Yes, people can get your music for free from Youtube and other infringing websites who use safe harbor to do their dirty work (for now), but you can remove your music from Spotify. Put down the crack pipe and give up the $14 check for airplay and the hope that some new listener may find you in the deep, unlit warehouses they call interactive streaming.

    Even with rampant piracy the film business grosses for 2015 were up 7.4% over last year and nearly 40% since 2000. While the music business has been in free fall in the opposite direction, accelerated by Spotify, who like Napster, have exploited music and opened the door for others to do the same.

    The movie business chose not to turn gold into tin. The one place, ONE PLACE, where you have power is with interactive streaming. You’re certainly not finding any of that movie gold on Netflix, EVER. And Netflix knows how to run a profitable business without destroying the film business that is their lifeblood.

    Pick a day. A day where you ALL give notice. It may take a year, it may only take six months, before interactive streaming honchos face the reality that their business model has to change. Other services will appear to fill the void. Your true fans will come to your site. If you have no fans, you’re not going to be found on Spotify anyway, so who cares.

    Start your own revolution. Stop the bleeding. You’re worth something, aren’t you?

    • MarkH

      How does taking music off of Spotify encourage more people to pay for a subscription?

      • FarePlay

        MarkH, the point is to have people purchase music, not increase Spotify’s paid subscribers.

        • JTVDigital

          And what if “people” don’t want to purchase music anymore? What’s the plan then?
          What is the alternative to purchase / ownership / download? Hum…oh, this is called the rental model, a.k.a “streaming” when it comes to media.
          Ever heard about the “access over ownership” transition? (not specific to music / entertainment)

  7. smg77

    It seems there are quite a few people on this site that don’t understand the difference between free and ad-supported.

    • FarePlay

      Definition of Free. Where the listener does not pay for unlimited access to millions of songs and services, i.e. Spotify, etc., advertise their service as free.

      The epidemic of music devaluation has become so pervasive that the practice is also referred to as “Freemium.” Despite the financial advantages for creators to sell their work, people like Mr. Ek take some kind of perverse pride in their success at destroying the sales of recorded music and a misguided belief that the public only wants music delivered as streamed digital files.

      Any other misconceptions you’d like to discuss, smg77?

  8. JTVDigital

    “Free”…from the listener’s perspective.
    I don’t see any free stuff in this chart.
    Radio is free for the listener but is ad-supported.
    “Free” streaming is ad-supported.
    A more interesting chart would be to find out the share of music listening which is not monetized at all (illegal sources, SoundCloud outside of US – for now, YouTube unmonetized tracks, etc.)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Verify Your Humanity *