As more data is released from 2014, we can see that major record labels celebrated a year of indisputable growth. Yet, they continue to include language that makes it sound as if the industry shrank.
“While the U.S. music industry suffered through its worst sales year since the advent of SoundScan (now Nielsen Music) in 1991, streaming was so strong last year that the industry nevertheless saw growth — yes, growth — in 2014, when new metrics to measure music revenue are taken into consideration.”
How can a year when the “industry suffered through its worst sales” since 1991 see growth? The answer is that they can continue to point to declining album sales, while acknowledging that the recording industry has moved beyond albums to singles, streams, licensing and branding.
For instance, even though Pharrell Williams’ album, Girl, sold 533,000 units in the US in 2014, his hit song “Happy” sold 6,455,000 singles. In track-equivalent-albums, that would be an additional 655,000 units, giving Pharrell a Platinum album in the US. This does not even include streaming or licensing of the song (which was part of the worldwide blockbuster Despicable Me 2 Soundtrack). Furthermore, Pharrell’s inclusion as a coach on The Voice technically generates untold amounts of revenue for the recording industry, especially Universal Music Group.
What I argue in iTake-Over is that the major record labels perpetuate a piracy panic narrative (and now partially a streaming panic narrative) to scare the public. Labels and the RIAA then use that fear to lobby Congress to change copyright policy to reinforce the industry’s power.
Since the piracy panic narrative has been so effective, we should expect to continue to hear how major record labels struggle because we do not pay (enough) for music anymore. At the same time, labels can continue unrestrained growth as they did in 2014.