Over 82% of the US music market is now claimed through catalog records, rather than new releases

The MBW Review is where we point our microscope at some of the most significant recent events in the music business. This time around, we explore a remarkable set of numbers contained in MRC Data’s new report on the US Music Industry in 2021. MBW Journal is supported by Instrumental.


We cannot say that 2021 was light on the releases of successful albums.

There was of course Adele, whose 30 released from blocks in November to become the best-selling album of 2021 (as in traditional album sales, not including streaming) in the United States.

In January, country artist Morgan Wallen released Dangerous: the double album, which was America’s biggest album globally in 2021, while being the largest in terms of streaming (with 3.65 billion audio streams alone).

There was also, to name a few, that of Olivia Rodrigo Sour (the biggest US record in 2021), Drake’s Boy in love certified (No.3), and Doja Cat’s Planet her (Number 6).

We know all this thanks to the numbers in a new annual report published today (January 6) by US market monitor, MRC Data.

Yet we also know, from that same report, that the biggest achievement of 2021 in the United States had nothing to do with a new release: it was “catalog” music.

According to MBW’s calculations using MRC figures, the “catalog” records represented a 82.1% of total recorded music consumption in the United States in the second half of 2021.

You know what that must mean: “current” recordings consisting only of 17.9% of music consumption in the United States during the last six months of 2021 … less than one fifth of the market.

In addition, the total consumption (i.e. sales plus streams) of ‘current’ music has actually declined, in real terms, by. 37.4% in the second half of 2021 compared to the same period of 2020.

Before getting to the heart of the matter, two important caveats:

  • (i) Our 82.1% the catalog figure refers to the total consumption of music streaming and digital / physical sales; MRC does not detail specific streaming figures on this subject.
  • (ii) ‘Catalog’ In MRC’s eyes, music counts as anything that came out more than 18 months before a consumer made a purchase and / or pressed play. “Current” music is the reverse: any music released within the 18 months prior to the time a consumer made a purchase and / or pressed play.

Still, the extent of catalog music streaming dominance in the United States in 2021 will come as a shock to many in the music business.

After all, throughout 2020, according to the MRC report for this year, catalog claimed fair 63.2% of the total US market.

Looking at statistics for the second half of 2021 alone, that figure had risen by almost 20%.


For data fans, here’s how MBW got to our 82.1% figure for ‘catalog’ in H2 2021.

Last year, as you may remember, MRC Data released figures showing that the music in the catalog claimed a (then huge!) 66.4% of the American record market in the first half of 2021.

Now in his last report, MRC Data provided new figures for the entire calendar year, which shows the catalog claimed 74.5% of the annual US market in 2021.


The relevant segment of the latest MRC Data report for 2021

Obviously enough, starting from 66.4% in the first half of 2021 to 74.5% for the whole year must have meant that in the Second part from 2021, the catalog’s share in the US market skyrocketed.

And that’s what turns out: According to MBW’s calculations using MRC figures, the United States saw “Total album consumption” (TAC) of affected catalog records 376.7 million over the period July-December 2021.

During that same six-month period, “current” recordings were only claimed. 82.0 million TAC.

You can see the full breakdown of the numbers in the tables below, but it’s worth printing another little caveat first, explaining exactly how MRC Data calculates its TAC numbers (which cover both tracks individual and albums, as well as streaming and sales).


MRC’s “Total Album Consumption” (TAC) metric aggregates physical and digital album sales with single track downloads and streams (on-demand), these downloads and single track streams being converted to “album equivalent” units. To achieve this, MRC converts each 1,250 premium streams or 3,750 ad-supported track streams on an album into a single “sale” for that LP. It does the same for every 10 downloads of tracks from a single album. This formula is designed to “reflect income” – for example, with 1,250 premium streams generating roughly the same amount of money as a single album.






So what is driving such a huge leap in catalog share in the modern American record market?

One factor that can be inferred from MRC data is the theory that older consumers increasingly embraced music streaming during the Covid era of 2021.

CRM research suggests that 89% of American listeners aged 56 to 74 now use streaming services to listen to music in the United States.

This compares well to the equivalent figure for this age group in markets such as the UK (41%), Brazil (63%) and Germany (37%).


Source: MRC Data 2021 Annual Report

Elsewhere in MRC Data’s new report, the organization further reveals that the vinyl format has seen its sales increase 51.4% year on year in 2021, up to 41.7 million – an amount in volume greater than the annual CD sales (40.6 m).


Whatever the driving force behind the growing dominance of early music in the US recording industry, it is not just affecting the market share of “catalog” and “current” records.

According to the MRC report, “current” record sales / flows (i.e. those released in the previous 18 months) have also fallen year over year in real terms:

  • For the whole of 2020, according to MRC, the total album consumption (TAC) of “current” records amounted to 269.3 million.
  • For the whole of 2021, according to the organization, the equivalent figure was only 228.1 million – a year-on-year decrease of 15.3%.

Yet in the same 12 months of 2021, total the volume of on-demand streaming in the United States has increased 9.9% from one year to 1.13 trillion. And total album consumption (TAC) has seen an annual increase of 11.3%.

In the context of this growing market, the shrinking presence of new music in the US record industry may leave some frontline record companies scratching their heads.

It may also, however, put a smile on the face of some catalog music acquisition specialists from ear to ear.


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MBW journal is supported by Instrumental, one of the music industry’s premier growth teams for independent artists. Instrumental uses data science to identify the fastest growing independent artists on the planet, then offers funding, premium distribution and marketing support to take them to the next level, without taking their rights.Music trade around the world