30 Years of Music Industry Change, In 30 Seconds or Less

Now inflation-adjusted!

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US-based recordings.  Data supplied by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); animation created by Digital Music News.<

And here are individual images for each year…

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78 Responses

  1. TuneHunter

    Hey RIAA, You got much time on hand for shameful reports.
    Let’s roll up the sleeves and lobby in new fair use doctrine. You will double the business to $30B in 24 months.

    Radio and streaming converted to music store with Shazams as a cashiers in golden chains will do just that.

    • Mr. Confused

      I have read your posts for months and still have no idea what you are proposing. Is English your second language?

      WTH re: new fair use “doctrine”? It’s a statute, not a doctrine (at least in the US). Just exactly what do you propose, and how will it solve the world’s problems?

      • TuneHunter

        It’s “act”, “doctrine” or “statue”.
        Google is the biggest force to keep it in current form and shape so they can advertise around “content”!
        It does not matter if it is private property “content” subject to instant theft as Google indiscriminately presents the search results.
        Book industry is strongly opposing and losing the battle with Google.
        Music industry in the meantime is spilled allover the town and doesn’t care or even knows that is naked and exposed.
        Unfortunately for musicians in digital era if someone nows the name of the tune he is an automatic owner of this tune.

        We should unite with book industry, get all politically connected mega stars, possibly Oprah, for sure president Obama and get new “fair use statue”. This will lock the music (and all copy protected media) and allow for Discovery Moment Monetization.

        $100B music industry by 2020 @39¢ per tune! …with Google monk becoming $30B music industry leader!

        • time to make a choice, buddy

          Google is a mafia group in bed with NSA. Why would any musician want to do business with them?

          It’s like saying that you can get an album funded by a drug dealer. Sure, he will launder some money, you get a free studio.

          But do you want this on your biography for future generations to read?

          Do you want people to say “Artist John Doe loved working with Google despite what Snowden revealed”?

          • Anonymous

            There are some real paranoid people out there, crikey!

            I’m not a Google fan-boy waiving their flag or anything, but lets take a step back for a minute and remember to keep the big picture in view here. They are doing lots of good in the World too.

            I’m not paranoid about the NSA or any of these spying ventures, I just want to be paid for me performance and my property and for losing my privacy.

            If drug dealers didn’t invest in music, we may not have had the pleasure of certain Artists being public to the level they were, so I can also certainly live with that.

            I’ve seen how the Governments invest in music, I’ll gladly take a few stacks from a dealer any day of the week thank-you very much, so long of course that I don’t have any idea about where it came from!

            I’m also no fan of Google’s piddly music services, however if they were to act like a label or an angel or even just an investor or sponsor or whatever and had decent contracts, why wouldn’t you get into bed with them?

            Stripping everything away and looking past the bad, I seem to recall that the Mafia boys always had their hand in some real good music. Governments these days are on this super censorship no swearing no real shit no edge, no nothing, just straight lollipos and bubblegum music for 12 year olds, with sticky contracts, red tape and lots of hoops to jump through. Yeah, awesome!

          • TuneHunter

            There are only three possible outcomes for music industry, Google will be part of each one – it’s carved in stone!

            A/ We continue current all inclusive streaming and ads around free (YouTube/VeeVoooo) and we will end up with $35B sub and advertising based music industry in 2025. $100B of obvious to an idiot music goodwill will be gone with the wind. That $35 will also contain reduction of global Radio from current $43B to just $15B by 2025. SO, WHY ARE WE DOING ANYTHING???!!! Google might see $10B out of 35.

            B/ We do the best effort to introduce new fair use act and force Google to sanity. Google with current positioning will become automatic winner with at least 30% of new $100B music industry.

            C/ We convince Google that it is much more profitable to sale music than advertising around it ( my estimate 20x more profitable) and Google will switch from biggest opponent of web control to promoter of new fair use act providing virtual walls to digital private property. In this case Google will control $50B of $100B music pie and matters will happen at lest two years sooner.

          • Anonymous

            Um, might want go start thinking outside the box. Plenty of other possible outcomes.

          • Anonymous

            “I’m not a Google fan-boy waiving their flag or anything, but lets take a step back for a minute and remember to keep the big picture in view here. They are doing lots of good in the World too. “

            You gotta be joking…

          • TuneHunter

            They are brilliant, I agree, but in regards to music they are digital monk blinded by advertising income!

          • Anonymous

            You should know but now when I’m joking and when I’m not. Clearly not joking in this intance. Maybe take the tinfoil hat off and check everything they do.

          • TuneHunter

            We have to out lobby Google or there will be no music industry. WE HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE.
            New “fair use state” would bring the best “umbrella” for thriving music industry. Current lobby efforts by music organizations no more than plastic surgery on dead animal.

            Rupert Murdoch ✔ @rupertmurdoch
            Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.
            5:54 PM – 14 Jan 2012

        • Nah

          I’m sure Google are very willing to not display results form your site. All it takes is “robot.txt” file. What are you waiting for?

  2. FarePlay

    Paul. thank-you. This creates some perspective, an overview if you will, of the changes in revenue sources that have taken place over the past thirty years. What really hits home is the transition from relatively high paying product, LPs > Cassettes > CDs, to extremely low paying streaming.

    While CDs are on the decline, and LPs will in all probability remain a niche category, it only makes sense from an artists revenue standpoint to not write off CDs. Unfortunately, streaming has the same perception as piracy, why pay if you can get it for free.

    The reality is that people over 35 have kept the music alive for the past fifteen years and they buy CDs. So. let’s stop the rhetoric about CDs and keep them alive until these streaming services either figure out how to make money or go out of business. There’s a App for that……

    • Zac Shaw

      I’ve pretty much stopped responding to these ridiculous comments because the whole ‘FarePlay’ opinion is in such a minority it’s like a dude on a street corner with a sandwich board… but I can’t resist.

      “People over 35 have kept the music alive for the past fifteen years”

      Wow. Do you ever read what you write?

      “let’s stop the rhetoric about CDs and keep them alive…”

      Did you really write that too?

      It’s like you live in an alternate universe where the vast corruption of the copyright-industrial complex is somehow the Only Way because you and a few of your friends made a living off it at one time.

      We’ve heard it all before. “phonographs are killing live music”, “radio is killing phonographs”, “cassettes are killing radio”, “blank cassettes are killing paid cassettes”, “MTV is killing radio”, “blank CDs are killing CD sales”, “MP3s are killing CDs”, “streaming music is killing MP3s”, “phones bundled with streaming music are killing the sense of music ownership”.

      Luckily, nothing can kill FarePlay because all of your arguments are DOA.

      I am still in awe that you suggested we “keep CDs alive” to save the music industry.

      What does that entail? A government subsidy? Arresting all music fans under 35, who contribute nothing to musicians or the industry compared to old farts still spinning degradable plastic discs? Bring back the SONY Discman?

      “keep CDs alive”… I want to hear that in a few more years, when every device service subscription is bundled with access to the world’s music, consumed as a utility like light and water, and produced by millions of semi-pro musicians that succeed in a meritocracy based on (1) the quality of their music, (2) the relevancy of their message, (3) the entrepreneurial spirit of the musician and their team.

      • TuneHunter

        Nobody wants or need CDs.
        Who are you talking about?
        We just need to lock up digital music so it can become digital merchandise!
        Simple process, would not require government action if only Google could wise-up!

      • hugenjolly

        THANK YOU…I’M STEALING (sorry….borrowing) THIS TO USE EVERYWHERE IN RESPONSE TO THE SANDWICH-BOARD LUDDITES. (with all due credit, of course!)

      • JStolarski

        Good points Zac. It’s where it’s at, like it or not.

        • FarePlay

          I’ll ask again. Zac or any of your cohorts. Why don’t you share your liberated views on free and piracy, so you can be an inspiration to your semi-pro followers?

          • Miglet32

            There are a fair number of studies of other forms of entertainment media that suggest that the there is not a strong correlation between piracy and lost sales. Many people who pirate media are not purchasing media in the first place, regardless of access.

    • Death to Digital Music




      • Willis

        BY now, we should have brain implants that allow people to call up any form of media directly to their brain.

    • FarePlay

      In a telling admission, Peter Sunde, one of the founders of Pirate Bay had this to say:

      “….the Pirate Bay has run its course and turned into a commercial enterprise that has little to do with the values it was founded on.”

    • hippydog

      Quote “an overview if you will, of the changes in revenue sources that have taken place over the past thirty years. What really hits home is the transition from relatively high paying product, LPs > Cassettes > CDs, to extremely low paying streaming.”

      Those graphs didnt show total revenue, just percentages..
      What I took from it, was how CD’s became the dominate form of music distribution (which coincides with the music industry having its largest payout)
      and then the bottom dropped out..

      Whats missing from all those pictures (which i think would tell a completely different story)
      is the percentage of how much revenue was lost to piracy..
      obviously not really possible, but would make a lot more sense and would put the “low streaming pay outs” in context..

      • FarePlay

        Excellent point, the monies lost on all creative content, globally, is massive and has had a serious, detrimental impact on all working creatives whose work can be digitized and distributed without compensation on the Internet.

        Making changes to the DMCA Safe Harbor loophole is a start as is making Google accountable for their lack of action and ad sales monetization of piracy through their search engines. But just as important is educating and enlightening the public and Silicon Valley to the inherent unfairness of not compensating others for their work fairly. The double standard of those who feel entitled to take other people’s work without permission or compensation is something that would play out quite differently if they were on the receiving end of such abuse..

  3. FarePlay

    Zac, just so,you don’t miss my point. Why don’t you share your liberated views on free and piracy, so you can be an inspiration to your semi-pro followers.

    • GGG

      Your biggest problem is that, to you, anyone even in the slightest against your pro CD campaign is a pirate.

      There is a middle-ground you know. Like monetizing almost literally every single time anyone plays a song. Imagine that.

      • FarePlay

        “Your biggest problem is that, to you, anyone even in the slightest against your pro CD campaign is a pirate.”

        > I happen to have some knowledge as to the beliefs of this individual. Rarely, have you seen me make this accusation. I don’t operate that way and you know better.

        > So let me be clear about what I’m saying about CDs. TYes, I agree, they are disappearing. I just want to squeeze every cent out of them for artists while we can. Thank you for referring to it as a campaign, that makes it sound much bigger than it really is.

        > Also most bands still sell CDs at shows, you know that, you’re in that business.

        “There is a middle-ground you know. Like monetizing almost literally every single time anyone plays a song. Imagine that.’

        Right now, you and I both know there’s no real money there. If the business goes that way I honestly hope there is a way for artists to make some decent money from airplay. Honestly, I don’t see that happening. There is no evidence that these streaming services are going to be profitable for themselves or the musicians they use to try and make it work.

        I am hesitantly positive about Beats Music. The guys involved actually understand the music business and Apple has been operating a successful, profitable paid music download business for a decade.

        • Nah

          While you kept arguing nonsense I supported 3 artists on bandcamp, buying 3 albums. I don’t need your CDs nor do anyone else under the age of 60.

        • ConcernedCitizen

          You know what’s even better for artists than buying CDs?

          Actually going to their shows. I can’t tell you how many artists and smaller labels I’ve found through soundcloud and bandcamp. Plenty of great artists distribute their content for free online. It’s a fantastic way to gain exposure. Sure the corporate fatcats might be hurting, but my local scene is thriving. Local record labels and recording studios are starting up and thriving. Your argument about the next Miles Davis not being able to support themselves is totally asinine. Wes Montgomery, arguably one of the most influential jazz guitarists to ever live did mostly club gigs and still worked a factory job. Django Reinhardt followed a similar path. How many other musicians as talented as him never made it bigtime with the record giants and have been lost forever?

          The DIY movement is one of the best things to happen to music. Now artists like Wes can have more control over their distribution methods and can make more money per sale while they’re first starting out. Hell, artists that don’t particularly enjoy performing live or can’t really do so due to physical limitations (talented multi-instrumentalists doing solo recording projects come to mind e.g. M. Ward) have new avenues to get their music out. The industry isn’t dead or dying. Artists have a better shot of distributing their music and getting paid for it now than they did 30 years ago.

  4. David

    Just curious, the total revenue figure seems to be unchanged from 2000 to 2003 inclusive, then suddenly crashes in 2004 and stays unchanged from then on. That is an odd pattern. I can’t think what happened in 2003-4 to cause a sudden crash: it is too late for Napster or iTunes, and too early for the widespread use of streaming. Any ideas? Or are the diagrams just wrong?

    • danwriter

      Keep in mind RIAA data are based on shipments, not sales. Actual revenues are lower then those shown here.

    • Anonymous

      Omitted issue on those charts!
      It does, 2014 is heading for another decline to just $14 billion and inflation adjusted 1999 would be at least $56 billion this year.

      • FarePlay

        Gentlemen, thanks for steering the comments back to the intended conversation. It is sobering to see the financial cratering of the music business, especially given the open access that the Internet has provided hundreds of thousands of part time musicians. Talk about shrinking the pie while carving 10X more pieces.

        My concern is how do we create financial stability for those with serious talent and enable them be able to afford the time and commitment it takes for mastery. Would the Miles Divises, Derek Trucks and Carter Beuafords of the world be here if they worked at Amazon part time? How long could they support themselves playing club gigs making fifty dollars a night?

        Something is seriously broken when people who deserve to be paid generously are paid so little.

        • tomafd

          Yup, the pie should have shrunk in size for that to make proper sense, together with another pie next to it showing growth in illegal downloading over the same period.

          As for the rest of it, who knows. We live in a market-driven world, and the forces which created a music industry capable of making that kind of money have been reversed, together with a revolution in distribution and subsequent saturation of the market, just at the time when the free (er) option doesn’t include buying cassette tapes and real time, each interation degraded, copies. Humans seem happy to accept a free option whenever there is one. If you could get free bread without prosecution, don’t you think even moral-minded musos might be tempted ?

          My personal answer has been to suspend ‘artistic’ projects, mostly, in favour of media clients. At least that way I get paid for what I do. And there is still a business, of sorts, out there. The funding is less, the returns harder to predict and probably less than you want, but money is still being made. The trick is to write really good music, only the top 5% or so are making any kind of real money these days. And in that way … nothing really, has changed.

        • Anonymous

          Would the Miles Divises, Derek Trucks and Carter Beuafords of the world be here if they worked at Amazon part time?

          Um, Skrillex was literally homeless when put together some of his most famous tracks.

          • FarePlay

            Thank you. You couldn’t have used a more excellent example.

            All the artists I referred to ( and misspelled, apologies to Mr. Davis and Mr. Beauford ) are what would be referred to as virtuosos. It has nothing to do musicality and whether or not their music is better than Skriillex. It has to do with the time it takes to master the playing of an instrument.

          • GGG

            None of those guys were selling records while they practiced to get to those levels. Your point more points out cost of living in America/certain cities now, and the severely waned popularity of live music, i.e. people not really caring about non-famous acts, and/or clubs not hiring live musicians.

          • FarePlay

            Are you kidding? All these players practice(d) daily throughout their careers.

          • Anonymous

            Use the most efficient instrument for creating music today: a computer. Acoustic music is boring and creatively limiting.

          • Anonymous

            Yawn. You kids don’t get it. EDM/Dubstep is horrible techno noise that you must be on drugs to like. A real instrument has strings you pluck and surfaces you hit. Real creative and valuable music uses small variations of two basic instruments and a white guy yelling random phrases that only vaguely make sense into a microphone. We need to encourage more of that specific kind of music.

          • FarePlay

            “Use the most efficient instrument for creating music today: a computer.”

            I’m sorry, I thought we were talking about music. I think you’re on the wrong blog. Art has nothing to do with efficiency and sampling others work to create is not a pure art form. How could it be?

          • Anonymous

            Do you know anything about how recorded music is actually made?

          • FarePlay

            Yes, but probably very different from your experience. Although I have spent limited time in low-fi environments, i.e. simple mic set-ups with pro-tools, I spent far more time in million dollar rooms with isolated drum rums, echo chambers and 2 inch analogue tape. Although I spent hundreds of hours at Amigo Studio in LA, which in 1982 was one of the first digital to analogue studios in the country. Digital board to 2 inch tape.

            Actually, most vinyl purists want analogue recordings, not digital. I also spent time at the Record Plant in Sausalito and when I drove cross country I made a point of stopping in Macon Georgia to visit Duane Allman’s and Barry Oakley’s resting place in the same cemetery where Elizabeth Reed was written. Unfortunately, muscle shoals studio was no longer there, although I hear somebody has bought the building and is rebuilding the studio. I did go to Fame Studios, but with both of those I was just visiting. I’ve been meaning to get to Criteria in Miami where Layla was recorded.

            If any of this history interest you, there is a great documentary on Tom Dowd called “The Language of Music” about recording. Did you know Les Paul, the guitar player, built the first eight track and most of the Beatles stuff was recorded on two track?

            I also was a disc jockey at college and did some live sound mixing for bands and helped with the load in of equipment. So, in answer to your question I had a pretty broad history. My first real job was in a record store on Telegraph Ave. in Berekely, CA.

            What’s your experience?

          • Anonymous


            Modern computers are based on a Turing-complete understanding of computation. They have completely mastery of the waveform that encodes sound. They don’t simply remix acoustic sound, but can synthesize sound from it’s fundamental components (see: Fourier analysis). When you say “sampling others work to create is not a pure art form”, you seem to misunderstand what computers are capable of. Computers are a musical instrument. But they are the master instrument, they can make sounds that are not possible from percussion or string vibrations, the basis of pre-computer music. They can make any kind of sound that is possible to hear. This is why I think “string/percussion” based acoustic music is boring and creatively limiting. We shouldn’t encourage more guitar players like we don’t need to encourage more horse and buggy development. The future of music is one where we have the full spectrum of sound to develop.

          • FarePlay

            You’re right, I know very little about that. I prefer human creativity warts and all.

          • Anonymous

            Computers are an instrument, it can be controlled by a human. It’s no different then a guitar but infinitely more versatile..

          • FarePlay

            Yes, they can keep everything in tune, by just hitting an auto-tuner button.

          • me

            What skrillex is doing doesnt take the kind of talent or musical training that is needed to play an actual musical instrument . Scratching a record and aampling anothers song takes maybe just a little more talent than it takes to be a rapper. WHICH ISNT MUCH

        • Miglet32

          Part of the reason that the pie also shrunk towards the beginning of the digital format era is because consumers took labels to task for price fixing.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      It doesn’t, it’s not revenue-scaled. Part of the reason is that it’s difficult to adjust the size of the pie and make it all fit. Maybe something for the future.

      • David

        Well, you might have made that clear at the outset! I assumed that the changing size of the pie indicated changing inflation-adjusted revenue. Otherwise there is no point in adjusting for inflation, since different revenue streams in the same period will all have the same adjustment factor!

    • Versus

      Better to use your judgment and decide to sometimes accept, sometimes resist, sometimes lead, sometimes follow.

      We are not just passive recipients of change.

      We are actors as well.

      • Willis

        I never suggested that we don’t have a hand in directing change, but it does eventually happen regardless of what actors are involved and what actions they take.

        • FarePlay

          I don’t know about you, Willis, but I come from a generation that did not accept what is. Life is constant change and when it goes the wrong way we fight to make it right. Whether we win or lose. Fitting that adapt and disrupt are used so often by technologists. Individual rights, no piracy does not even come close to falling under that heading, must always come first or else we live in a nation that serves only the powerful.

          • Willis

            I never suggested simply laying down and letting change run over you. Even after putting up a fight, redirecting, or whatever, change happens. My 95-year old grandmother didn’t understand technology and how it has changed the world today, but after learning about it and how it could benefit her, she is now regularly using Facebook, email, the WWW, etc.

          • FarePlay

            What does your grandmother have to do with this discussion? Although I do think that’s cool.

  5. Versus

    This is excellent. Thank you for this effort.

    The heading says “Now inflation-adjusted”; does this mean that the size of the pie is proportional to inflation adjusted retail revenues?

    Also (and of course this is more work, so understood if you have not time to devote to the process), any chance of having that inflation-adjusted revenue # on each image?

  6. FarePlay

    If some one has the research readily available, would you please provide the annual revenue numbers that go with the years represented in these charts and the source used for those numbers?

    Many thanks. And Paul, thanks again for your work, greatly appreciated.

  7. carl

    yes for the total revenue. it would be for recorded music. I believe it was $40 billion in 2000.

  8. van richter

    Google sucks. They don’t even pay content id royalties from you tube to small indie labels

  9. Michael

    Individual pictures for 1994, 1995, 1996 don’t work. Please reload! Thx!

  10. Davo

    it REALLY is all about the benjamins… 🙂 Dumbed-down low-quality audio download content notwithstanding…

    Never mind keeping CDs alive – what about keping CD PLAYERS alive – it’s all very well to have over 2000 CDs, what are you goig tp play them on?

  11. Tape Deck

    There is no way to put the cat back into the bag. Digital media was an inevitability, and there’s no immediate solution in sight. Piracy IS bad. Anything that says “music is free” other than the artist, IS bad. “Why pay when I can get it for free” IS bad. We don’t have to argue about it. The only people who are in favor of the concept of music being free are those too naive to understand how expensive it is to make, and that much of what they appreciate can only be made after a decade or two of hard work in lieu of more profitable careers.

    But we understand this. We understand that CDs are dead. Physical media is circling the drain, where it pertains to information. We DO have to accept this. And digital media can not be adequately protected from the unscrupulous. We have to simply accept that as well… because you can’t appeal to the sense of right and wrong for an individual who just doesn’t care. You will never be able to protect something that can be delivered in MP3, FLAC etc.

    Basically, I believe the rejection of this problem is to directly support the arts you care about. You go to as many concerts as you care about. You try to buy your products directly from the artist when possible. You join the kickstarters. You tip. You do whatever you can. It doesn’t matter to The Foo Fighters. It matters to the little guy. You can get involved on the grass roots level. The difference between $100 split 5 ways and $500 split 5 ways can be the difference between a tour continuing or failing.

    What we have to accept is that we are in a new “dark ages” of popular music, where probably 9 in 10 can’t perform without pitch correction or guide tracks… a new Tin Pan Alley of artist exploitation, where those who dedicate their lives to their music are also those delivering your pizza. You won’t see a solution to any of this in the next decade. What’s the incentive? Philanthropy towards an industry is a pipe dream. Google and Apple are not your friends. Neither are Spotify or Pandora.

  12. chanel Britt

    music has change over the years with the different types classic,jazz,rock,hip hop,etc.We probably don’t even notice.Whats your fave song? comment!!!

  13. Anonymous

    Are CDs sales data Soundscan only, or is there a more complete accounting of CD sales?

  14. Hippydog

    When you compare Paul’s graph (which is the same one he published before but now updated)..
    to a graph of the total income the music industry received over the decades
    one thing starts to look clear..
    The music industry is at its best when it has ONE MAJOR FORMAT available to consumers..
    for period in the 90’s this was the CD..
    (P.S. you can argue the definition of what a format is all you want.. for me.. streaming is now its own format but with multiple variants.. kinda like the android operating system)..

  15. Chris Daniels

    Dear DMN,

    Why, for heavens sake to we keep making this same bleepin’ mistake. This is not the “music industry” it the bleeping’ RECORDED music business. This has NOTHING to do with studios, publishing, the concert business, music patronage and sponsorship etc . !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    PLEASE STOP THIS. The music industry is not the record business. This chart is not even the record business – it is a 30 second chart that shows how the delivery of recorded music has changed by the various delivery systems — that’s all. It has nothing to do with any other aspect of the music business!!!! It’s misleading, and really part of a paradigm that you all at DMN need to stop doing. The “music industry” is NOT the delivery systems for recorded music — it’s like saying heating system is your house.

    Thanks, sorry about the rant but I see this time and time again and it is wrong, not informative and biased.


  16. Devon

    Sorry if this has been answered, but what exactly do these percentages refer to? Revenue? Sales?

    It would be nice if that info was included on future data representations because otherwise we don’t know what wer actually looking at