Will Page analyses lockdown’s effect on UK music and predicts bounce-back


Will Page, the former Chief Economist of Spotify, and British collecting society PRS for Music, has brought together some hefty sets of data in order to map the change in UK consumer behaviour around music before, during and after the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown. He combines data on the UK’s live performance market from PRS for Music, on UK recorded music spending from the Entertainment Retailers’ Association, and on recreation and culture spend from the UK’s Office of National Statistics.

The headline prediction? A very strong bounce-back for the UK industry – or as Page put it yesterday in MBW, “more like a slingshot than a rebound.” That’s assuming the industry works in syncopation, and that consumers feel like they have the spare cash, of course.

The before-during-after format Page uses to break things down is stark and easy to follow:

• In 2019, Britons spent £3.1 billion on music: £1.7 billion on ‘box-office’ [i.e. not secondary] concert tickets and £1.4 billion on recorded music.
• In 2020, ticket sales collapsed by 90% to £200 million, but spending on recorded music jumped 6% to £1.5 billion.
• In 2021, as recovery began, UK recorded music nudged to £1.7 billion, and live recovered – partially – to £700 million.

Page then frames this in terms of what Britons spend on leisure activities – and 2.2% percent of that leisure spend went on live and recorded music in 2019. That dipped during covid of course, but sharply rose again to 1.6% of the total leisure spend in 2021.

Artists, obviously, were getting a raw deal due to this dip: but how raw? Page calculates that artists lost 70% of their income in 2020, and 2021’s partial recovery means that artist income last year was only half what it was two years earlier.

There’s a lot to take away here. It’s notable that the money spent on recorded music now is greater than the spend on live music pre-lockdown: that’s testimony to the stiff upward trajectory of streaming revenues, but is it also a sign of shifting priorities in the UK consumer? It’s expected that people want to flock to shows again, and the headline to Page’s piece predicts a “dramatic comeback”: but will live bounce back to a similarly perky upward trajectory, as seen with recorded music?

And how will the continuing squeeze of the cost of living crisis affect things? There’s a “coiled spring” demand, as Page puts it, for live shows in the UK, but will consumers have one eye on this winter’s predicted energy price hike? Page’s research is robust and fascinating, and his predictions feel solid and believable: but with the UK heading into a possible stagflation, it’s perhaps a little harder than normal to predict how people will behave when it comes to putting their hands in their pockets for tickets.

Written by: Joe Sparrow