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UK Music Returns Nearly $5 Billion to British Economy — But Competition Is Heating Up

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Increasing competition from other international markets is placing the United Kingdom’s long held success as one of the world’s biggest exporters of music under threat, warns a new report from umbrella trade organization UK Music. 

In 2022, music exports contributed £4 billion ($4.9 billion) to Britain’s economy, according to the organization’s annual “This Is Music” study, which measures the economic impact of the U.K. music industry across live, record sales, publishing, merch and public performance revenues.  

That figure is a 60% rise on 2021’s export total of £2.5 billion ($3 billion at today’s currency rates) by Billboard’s calculations, although UK Music says that changes in the way that it collates data means that direct comparisons with previous years are not an accurate measure of growth.  

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Overall, the U.K. music industry contributed £6.7 billion ($8.2 billion) to the country’s economy in 2022, up from £4 billion in 2021, based upon the gross value estimates of money generated through music sales, concerts, recording studios, touring and music tourism — roughly equivalent to pre-tax profits and salaries.

According to figures released earlier this year by U.K. labels trade body BPI, the global success of Harry Styles, Glass Animals and Ed Sheeran helped British music exports climb to a record high of £709 million ($910 million) in 2022 — the highest annual total since BPI began analyzing labels’ overseas income in 2000.

Whereas BPI’s numbers are based purely upon label trade revenues, UK Music’s export figures comprise all income generated overseas by British music companies and creators, including recorded music, publishing, international touring by homegrown artists and foreign visitors attending U.K. gigs and festivals (so-called music tourism).

UK Music reports that more than 37 million people attended live concerts and festivals in the country last year, while the total number of people working in the British music industry last year rose to 210,000, up from 145,000 in 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic was still impacting the sector. In 2019, there were 197,000 people employed across the U.K. music business, states the “This Is Music” report.

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Meanwhile, non-traditional revenues generated by audio-visual projects, such as concert films and biopics, as well as income from music-related TV productions and deals with hardware manufacturers, were up 96% year-on-year, reports UK Music, which declined to provide financial figures, but said it was an example of a small-but-growing income stream as the industry diversifies. 

UK Music interim chief executive Tom Kiehl said the sector’s return to growth after the downturn brought on by the pandemic is welcome news, but cautioned that more support is needed from government if the United Kingdom is to maintain its longstanding status as the world’s second-biggest exporter of music, behind the U.S.   

“The U.K.’s competitors are increasingly well funded and can often count on far more support from their governments,” said Kiehl. He identified South Korea, Australia and Canada as three rival markets where national governments have invested heavily in music and cultural export offices to help grow their overseas markets. 

In response, UK Music is calling upon British policy makers to implement a number of measures to boost growth, including tax credits for music businesses and securing a post-Brexit cultural touring agreement with the EU.

“Otherwise,” warns Kiehl, “we risk the U.K. being left behind in the global music race.”

The U.K. is the world’s third biggest recorded music market behind the U.S. and Japan with sales of just over $1.8 billion in trade value, according to IFPI’s 2022 Global Music Report.

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