New figures indicate that music was crucial in lifting people’s mood during lockdown.
More than 155m albums were bought or streamed in 2020, an increase of 8.2%, according to record label body the BPI.
British artists Lewis Capaldi, Harry Styles and Dua Lipa were the three biggest-sellers of the year.
BPI boss Geoff Taylor said the “remarkable” figures were a reminder of “how important music is to our country, even when our lives are disrupted”.
Lewis Capaldi’s Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent was the UK’s biggest-selling album for the second year in a row.
No platinum albums
However, despite the boom in consumption, sales of individual albums were down.
For the first time since records began in 1973, not a single album released in the last 12 months was certified platinum – representing 300,000 sales – although Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia is currently closing in on that figure.
There were also no British debut albums among the year’s best-selling records, illustrating the difficulties new artists have faced in finding an audience during the coronavirus pandemic.
And three of the top 10 best-sellers were Greatest Hits collections from artists whose career peak came in the 1970s – Queen, Elton John and Fleetwood Mac.
According to the BPI, streaming now accounts for 80.6% of music consumption in the UK.
Fans played 139 billion songs on services like Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music in 2020, up by more than a fifth (22%).
The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights was the most-streamed song of the year overall; while Lewis Capaldi, Harry Styles and Dua Lipa achieved nearly half a billion streams each.
Rappers and dance acts like AJ Tracey, J Hus, Jax Jones and Joel Corry are reaching fans primarily through streaming, the BPI said, with almost 200 artists racking up 100 million streams in the last 12 months.
‘We don’t know what a stream is worth’
Figures like these have helped the music industry recover from the piracy crisis of 10 years ago, but there is increasing disquiet amongst artists about how the money from streaming services is distributed.
A parliamentary inquiry into the issue began last year, and has already heard from the likes of Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien and Elbow’s Guy Garvey, who told MPs that many “musicians can’t afford to pay the rent”.
Chic’s Nile Rodgers said that the finances of streaming are shrouded in secrecy, adding: “We don’t even know what a stream is worth and there’s no way you could even find out what a stream is worth, and that’s not a good relationship.”
“Artists and writers are not remunerated equally. They do not get their fair share of the pie.”
The BPI and streaming services are due to give evidence to the inquiry later this year.
Outside of streaming, vinyl continued to grow in popularity, with sales hitting 4.8 million – up from 4.3 million in 2019 – marking the format’s best year since 1990, when Sinead O’Connor and New Kids on the Block topped the charts.
Sales of cassettes almost doubled – with 156,542 tapes sold, the highest total since 2003.
However, the raw figure masks the fact that cassettes are often bundled with signed merchandise, or sold in sets of three (or more) on artists’ official stores.
CD sales continued to fall. Just 16m discs were sold last year, half of the 2018 figure. At their peak in 2004, 163.4m CDs were sold in the UK, led by the Scissor Sisters’ debut album and Keane’s Hopes and Fears.
Despite the decline, most of the number one albums in 2020 sold the majority of their copies in physical formats.