No Ordinary Year: 2020 in Review

5 min readFeb 26, 2021

2020 was no ordinary year.

It was a year of historically painful personal losses and disconnection. But it also marked yet another chapter in the story of music’s power and wonder — and the unstoppable creative vitality of the people who make it.

In 2020 we grieved epochal losses of giants from every corner of our industry — from Charley Pride to Chynna, Eddie Van Halen to John Prine, Bonnie Pointer to Little Richard, and many, many more.

We have endured — and continue to endure — a cruel virus that has seared through communities worldwide.

Lives have been lost, leaving isolation, grief, and emptiness in their wake.

Economies reeled from a global shutdown crisis that hammered music along with virtually every business and community.

The necessary cancellation of most live performances has deeply impacted artists and so many other music professionals — from touring musicians to road crews to supporting businesses like catering, trucking, and promotion — and left scores of landmark venues on the brink of collapse. Covid-19 restrictions challenged the newly resurgent retail record store business with occupancy caps and closures nationwide.

It’s a time that tested us all — and the depths of our commitment to each other. RIAA and our member companies have always celebrated music’s connective force. But 2020 called us to put those words into action in unprecedented ways.

I’m proud of all that our members have done to help the music community and our American family weather this historic crisis. Labels have provided direct financial support to employees and artists in need and, turning outward, have done everything from delivering Personal Protective Equipment to health care heroes to funding relief programs. Since the pandemic’s early days, the music community led the push for livestream benefits and virtual fundraisers.

As the crises deepened and stretched on, we’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with virtually every segment of our industry, including by fighting to ensure artists and songwriters were included in support and relief programs, to save live music venues that are central to our nation’s culture and our community’s economy, and provide resources like with critical information on benefits, grants and other relief available to America’s artists, songwriters and other music professionals.

And, of course, through it all, music itself has been there to provide all of us solace, inspiration, and hope — in collective virtual moments that bound us together and, in our most private times finding ways to make it through.

Music has always been an economic lifeline for towns and communities nationwide. The most recent comprehensive data describes an industry contributing more than $170 billion in GDP to the U.S. economy each year and supporting near 2.5 million jobs nationwide. Those pre-Covid-19 numbers remind us just how bound up recovery is with getting music venues, touring, and live performances back on their feet.

Much has been said about the growth of huge digital platforms and emerging streaming-based services over the course of the pandemic as home-bound families flocked online. These services are largely music-powered — whether it’s TikTok dances, skateboarding dreams, or Instagram people-watching, the “most followed” lists for all these services and platforms are overwhelmingly made up of artists and music creators.

New recorded music revenue data being released today reflects this core truth — showing that even in a deeply disrupted and challenging year, the sustaining and uplifting power of music still found ways to draw in fans and provide an economic lifeline for artists and songwriters when they needed it most.

The headline numbers tell a story of continued, strong growth for streaming reflecting music’s role in the broader online ecosystem as a key engine fueling tech platforms, online services, and apps. Revenues for streaming sound recordings grew over 13% to $10.1 billion last year, accounting for 83% of recorded music revenues in the U.S.

They also show the continuing shift to paid subscriptions, reflecting the value that fans put on music and their willingness to sign up and pay for listening. In 2020, paid subscriptions grew 15% to $7.7 billion, making up almost two thirds of total recorded music revenues. Combined, paid streaming services added more U.S. subscriptions in 2020 than in any previous year.

That paradigm shift explains why record companies today are so determined and vigilant in fighting to ensure that the platforms that use music (and profit from its use) take a license and pay for it — standing up for a core first principle that creators should be fairly paid everywhere their work is used and reflecting consumers’ fundamental agreement with that principle.

Today’s numbers reflect ongoing success in that effort, capturing revenues from Facebook as well as fitness apps like Peloton. As we move forward, we will continue bringing in and reporting on aggregate revenues from as many growing platforms as possible — including other social media sources, podcasts, and immersive virtual experiences that use and benefit from music. Ongoing holdout services — like Triller and Twitter — show just how hard some platforms will resist paying for the music that powers their own success. But record companies won’t stop fighting for the value of music and the people who create it.

Most Americans couldn’t be more ready to turn the page from 2020 into a new year as vaccines promise recovery, renewal, and hope. For performing artists and musicians, getting back on stage and reconnecting with audiences and fans simply cannot come too soon.

And while today’s release provides a bright spot for creators and describes a vital and growing streaming ecosystem for everyone with a stake in it, there’s a long way to go before we reach the far side of the Covid-19 calamity. As a music industry — as a united community — the work of recovery, rebuilding, and relief must and will continue.

Mitch Glazier, Chairman and CEO, RIAA




The RIAA is about music — everything from fostering its creative and financial vitality to honoring artists who achieve success.