If there were a trophy for head-scratcher of the year, it would have to go to the Grammys for not giving Record or Song of the Year to “Despacito.” Nearly any grade-schooler or grandma would avow this was the hit of 2017, even if they couldn’t necessariily cite the stats about the Luis Fonsi track (in versions with or without guests Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber), which picked up 7.5 billion streams and topped the charts in 47 nations — most of those, obviously, countries where Spanish is not the primary language. It was proof that, although pop may never experience anything exactly akin to the British Invasion again, we’re clearly due for a lot of micro-takeovers. And in 2017, what could have felt more like poetic justice than Puerto Rico musically annexing the world?
Even without a “Despacito” to hammer the point home, it’s clear that recorded music is an exciting import/export business these days. And it’s not even subject to any politicized trade wars… so far. Which is not to say that market conditions are the same in every territory; some countries are far better poised to make the full leap into a monetized-streaming future than others. But the entire global music industry is feeling tenderly and nervously bullish, as indicated by a recent report from the IFPI — which represents 1,300 member companies in 59 global markets — revealing that recorded music around the world ballooned by 8.1% in 2017, one of the best growth rates in the trade organization’s 20 years of tracking.
The news everywhere is much the same as in America: Streaming, both on the paid- and free-tier levels, is way up, and everything else (except the niche market of LPs) continues to sink, digital downloads included. Revenues totaled $17.3 billion for the year, and this marked the first time that more than half the tally (54%, to be exact) came from the digital realm. Streaming revenues had a 41.1% gain and became the single-biggest source of income for the first time, which means that citizens of the globe are listening to more music than ever, even if they’re paying much less for the privilege than they were in 1999, the year before music went into a 13-year death spiral that finally switched back to uptick status three years ago.
A look at the top 10 markets points out some sharp contrasts in consumption. After the U.S., the second-biggest country for recorded music is Japan, where they’re still holding onto their CDs, more than anywhere else; physical product accounts for 72% of revenue there. They still like those shiny discs as well in the No. 3 nation, Germany, where physical product accounts for 43% of revenue. (Worldwide, the hard-copy figure is down to 30%.) China, the 10th biggest market for recorded music, has its own notorious problems with adoption of streaming models, largely due to copyright issues, though there’s a belief that a tipping point is in sight, between increased governmental attention to piracy and rights holders getting more inventive about making paid options even more attractive than free — the same hurdle that every other country has faced, if on a less severe scale.
In the top 10 global music markets, there’s only one Latin American country, Brazil, No. 9. But the region as a whole is where the action is when it comes to graph charts that encouragingly resemble the Andes. Latin America saw a revenue increase of 17.7% in 2017, higher than any other region — thanks to a 48.9% rise in streaming cash, more than making up for the 41.5% physical product decline. That whopping leap outshines the 12.8% increase for North America, which is still nothing to shake a stick at, and more modest 4.3% growth rate for Europe.
Those numbers counter any notion that “Despacito” might be a one-track phenomenon; the IFPI report points out that Venezuelan singer Danny Ocean’s “Me Rehuso” broke a Spotify record by becoming the longest-running song in their global top 50. With an English-language but Latin-leaning song like Camila Cabello’s “Havana” becoming the most ubiquitous single since “Despacito,” there may yet be a huge rush on U.S. borders… from record companies rushing south.
As the international music community gathers for Midem in Cannes June 5-8, Variety recognizes the true game-changers in a new world order. See who made our inaugural International Music Industry Leaders list here.