Music Creators’ Earnings in the Digital Era

224 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2022 Last revised: 29 Apr 2022

See all articles by David Hesmondhalgh

David Hesmondhalgh

University of Leeds

Richard Osborne

Middlesex University

Hyojung Sun

Ulster University

Kenny Barr

University of Glasgow

Date Written: September 23, 2021


Top lines:

1. On-demand streaming now provides the main source of revenue for recorded music in the UK. Compared with the ‘pre-digital era’, more rights holders and music creators are now competing for the diminished revenue from recorded music
2. Half of musicians (47%) earned less than £10,000 from music in 2019
3. Around 720 UK artists achieved one million UK streams per month –which the report suggests as a minimum threshold for making a sustainable living out of music


There has been a lack of publicly available evidence about the economics of streaming, and about the complex processes for allocating and distributing music revenues to music labels, publishers, streaming platforms and ultimately the performers. The report looks into how earnings from streaming are distributed among rightsholders and creators. The aim of this research was to provide objective evidence to inform the debate about music creators’ earnings, and the government’s response to the DCMS parliamentary inquiry into ‘Economics of Streaming’.
Results: On-demand streaming is the main source of revenue for the record labels in the UK, but the market for recorded music has not returned to pre-digital levels. Revenues for on-demand streaming have risen but this increase has had different effects on music creators and rights holders in the recording and publishing sectors. Between 2008-2019 revenues from streaming that performers and studio producers, composers and lyricists, and music publishers receive have declined. This is because there are increasing numbers of rights holders and music creators now competing for this revenue

In 2019, 62% of musicians earned £20,000 or less from music, many supplement this musical career with other forms of employment: live music and teaching are the main ways in which music creators make a living from music. A sustained achievement of around one million UK streams per month may be a minimum threshold for making a sustainable living out of music. The report estimates 720 UK artists achieved this level in2020, which equates to 0.4% of creators involved in streaming. Newer artists creating new music are doing less well relative to older tracks and the artists who created them. All creators are affected by the fact that the total number of recordings and works has increased considerably, thus the ‘streaming pie’ is increasingly divided out in smaller slices.


The research draws upon interviews; focus groups; and a survey with UK musicians. Streaming data, anonymised music publishing and record contracts; and data on royalties paid to musicians

Economics, Research and Evidence team (Innovation Directorate) February 2022

Suggested Citation

Hesmondhalgh, David and Osborne, Richard and Sun, Hyojung and Barr, Kenny, Music Creators’ Earnings in the Digital Era (September 23, 2021). Intellectual Property Office Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

David Hesmondhalgh (Contact Author)

University of Leeds ( email )

Leeds, LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

Richard Osborne

Middlesex University

The Burroughs
London, NW4 4BT
United Kingdom

Hyojung Sun

Ulster University

Northland Road
Londonderry, BT48 7JL
Northern Ireland

Kenny Barr

University of Glasgow ( email )

Adam Smith Business School
Glasgow, Scotland G12 8LE
United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics