The music industry has a long and tortured relationship with the tech companies that pay for the privilege of streaming their songs. Record executives and individual artists have complained that they aren’t being paid enough, and in some cases kept their catalog off of the services entirely. But in the latest report from the Record Industry Association of America, the prominence of streaming continues to grow. For the first time ever, revenue from streaming music made up the majority of the industry’s overall revenue, coming in at 51 percent. The growth of streaming powered an 11 percent jump in total revenue for 2016 when compared to the year before — the best growth rate for the industry since 1998.
Of course, even with that good news, total revenue is still around half of what it was in 1999, when sales of physical albums were at their peak. And the trend away from ownership of music continues: revenue from digital downloads of albums and individual tracks declined 22 percent from 2015, while sales of physical music fell 16 percent. “A year of growth in the U.S. music business is welcome news,” wrote RIAA chairman and CEO Cary Sherman in a blog post. “It suggests that years of patiently nurturing a nascent streaming marketplace has begun to pay off. But it does not erase 15 years of declines, or continuing uncertainty about the future.”
Despite the return to levels of growth not seen since the late ‘90s, the RIAA continued to browbeat the tech platforms that now provide the majority of their revenue. “The unfortunate reality is that we have achieved this modest success in spite of our current music licensing and copyright laws, not because of them,” wrote Sherman. “That’s not the way it should be.”