In the face of the many challenges faced by the music industry and the world in 2021, Universal Music Group had a remarkably successful year, building on its status as the world’s largest music company and pulling off a wildly successful IPO in September. Rather than his usual year-end message to staff, chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge wrote a lengthy new year’s message this year — read it in full below.
I hope you’ve all had a relaxing holiday and that you, your families and loved ones are safe and healthy.
As I mentioned prior to the break, I would write to you at the top of the year to reflect on 2021 and to give some comments on the year ahead.
For all of us in UMG, last year was, in a word, phenomenal. Our artists achieved unprecedented creative and commercial success. Our position as the industry leader was assured by the innovative steps we keep taking to adapt to, and support, the ever-changing marketplace. And, on top of all that, for the first time in UMG’s history we became a freestanding publicly traded company able to chart its own destiny.
Thank you for helping to make all these remarkable things a reality.
At the same time, and as inconceivable as it seems, the world has entered the third year of a global pandemic that has tragically claimed so many lives and disrupted countless others. And yet, against this profoundly challenging backdrop, you somehow managed once again to achieve so much for our recording artists and songwriters, working with them to bring music that helps people everywhere weather the storm. So let me say it again: Thank you—for handling this unforgiving nightmare with the determination and commitment you have unfailingly shown.
Consistent with your desire to give back and help those in need, UMG has played its role working to address this crisis, too, helping music professionals—including our recording artists and songwriters, both past and present—affected by the pandemic. Not only have we contributed financial support, but what moves me the most is the fact that so many of you, literally hundreds from our companies around the world, have donated your time and passion to a variety of these initiatives. A few illustrative examples include the following.
First, given how deeply the music community has been affected by the pandemic, we’ve provided support addressing the effects of COVID for recording artists, songwriters and the broader music community through organizations such as MusiCares in the U.S. and Help Musicians UK. Our partnership with Music Health Alliance in the U.S. has helped more than 300 of our recording artists and songwriters and their families save millions of dollars in healthcare costs, and in some cases allowing them to receive lifesaving medical treatments. More than 100 of our employees are working with Co-Pilot, a program to mentor musicians in the UK in various aspects of the music business.
In addition, this year we launched our All Together Now Foundation in the U.S. to contribute both funds and people-hours of work to key areas of need, such as housing, education, health and wellness, natural disaster relief, and the environment. The Foundation’s work includes an employee-led Homelessness Coalition, which now includes some 130 employee-members working to serve the needs of those experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. Together with partner groups World Central Kitchen and Feeding America, among numerous additional community-based organizations, that initiative has provided millions of meals to those in need. The Foundation also includes The Green Team to support environmental activities. The U.S. Green Team alone now includes 120 members who have been volunteering in communities and working with our artists to promote awareness of the climate crisis.
The employee-driven Task Force for Meaningful Change continued its groundbreaking work this year, supporting more than 140 organizations around the world. The Task Force’s philanthropic focus this past year was education, especially supporting students from marginalized communities in areas such as mental health and wellness.
And again, this is just a sampling. Our employees around the world—in India, Africa, Europe and Asia—are involved in helping artists and their local communities in ways that are truly inspiring.
In addition to all this, your collective ingenuity and drive continued to keep us at the top of the music business by generating increased consumer demand for music in new and powerful ways, and in introducing the world’s best artists to fans worldwide. Consider just some of these highlights for 2021:
- On Spotify, UMG had 4 of the Top 5 global artists with Taylor Swift, BTS, Drake and Justin Bieber. Olivia Rodrigo had the most-streamed song with “drivers license” and the most-streamed album with SOUR.
- Apple Music named The Weeknd Global Artist of the Year, H.E.R. as Songwriter of the Year, and Olivia Rodrigo not only as Breakthrough Artist of the Year but also named “drivers license” and SOUR as Song and Album of the year.
- Deezer’s Top 4 global albums were The Weeknd’s After Hours, along with those by Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish and Justin Bieber. The No. 1 Song was The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights.”
- Billboard’s year-end charts showed UMG had 8 of the Top 10 artists, and all of the Top 6 with Drake at No. 1, followed by Olivia Rodrigo, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, Morgan Wallen and Ariana Grande; 7 of the Top 10 albums, including all Top 5: those by Morgan Wallen, Olivia Rodrigo, Pop Smoke, Taylor Swift, and Drake; and 3 of the Top 5 Singles (The Weeknd & Ariana Grande’s “Save Your Tears,” The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and Olivia Rodrigo’s “good 4 u”).
- UMPG had 4 of the Top 5 Hot 100 Songs on Billboard’s Year-End Chart (and 7 of the Top 10), with “Levitating” by UMPG artist Dua Lipa at No. 1, “Save Your Tears” by The Weeknd ft. Ariana Grande (UMPG writers: Ariana Grande, DaHeala) at No. 2, “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd (UMPG writer: DaHeala) at No. 3, and “Mood” by 24kGoldn ft. Iann Dior (UMPG writers: Omer Fedi, Blake Slatkin, Iann Dior) at No. 4.
- UK: UMG’s established and emerging global superstars were top-sellers in the UK, where we had 7 of the top 10 according to the Official Charts Company: Taylor Swift, Drake, ABBA, Olivia Rodrigo, Eminem, The Weeknd and The Beatles.
- Germany: UMG had the No. 1 single with Nathan Evans’ “Wellerman” and the Top 2 albums with ABBA’s Voyage and Helene Fischer’s Rausch; on Spotify, the 3 most-streamed artists were Bonez MC, Luciano and Capital Bra, and the most-streamed song, “Ohne Dich” by KASIMIR1441 and badmómzjay.
- France: On Spotify, UMG had the most-streamed album with DAMSO’s QALF Infinity. UMG artists were winners in 9 of 14 categories at the prestigious NRJ Awards, including Best Female Artist–Eva, Best Male Artist–Dadju, and Song of The Year–“Evidemment” by Kendji Girac.
- Japan: BTS was the top-selling artist on Billboard’s charts and had the No. 1 album, BTS, THE BEST.
- Benelux: UMG had 7 of the Top 10 most-streamed artists on Spotify, including Justin Bieber at No. 1 and local hip-hop signing Kevin at No. 2.
- India: UMG had the Top 4 non-film songs of the year: “Baarish ban Jaana” from Payal Dev, “Baarish Ki Jaaye” and “Filhaal 2” from BPraak and “Jugnu” from Badshah ft. Nikhita Gandhi.
- South Africa: 7 of the Top 10 Artists on Apple South Africa were from the UMG family of labels.
- Karol G was Spotify’s most-streamed Latin Female artist for the fourth year in a row and Sebastian Yatra cemented his status as one of Latin Music’s biggest stars, having 3 Top 100 Spotify Global hits.
Worldwide success like this doesn’t just happen. Artists today have more opportunities and choices than ever before in terms of how they release their music and with whom they partner to develop their careers. At the same time, it’s harder than ever for artists to break through the noise: sixty thousand songs are added to Spotify every day. Yet, this past year, our results demonstrated once again that partnering with UMG dramatically increases the odds for artists in countries around the world to break through and also achieve global success.
For our artists, “success” is not limited to recorded music and music publishing. We’ve built a continuum of services and resources–in merchandise, brand management, sponsorships, live, ecommerce, and film & television to name just a few—that enable us to partner with artists at any stage of their careers.
I’ve experienced many transformational shifts over the course of my career: changes in format from vinyl to cassette to CD; partnering with Apple on downloading; championing the launch of Spotify’s streaming service; forging the industry’s first partnership with Facebook to open social media. Change is a constant. Yet, through all these twists and turns, by adapting our business models, promoting competition, and creating a healthier ecosystem for music and artists, we never resisted change, we embraced it. And we’ve always come out stronger.
Why? Because unlike so many others, we never stopped believing in the future—in the compelling power of music, in the artists who create it, in the fans who love it, and in the importance of supporting creativity in local languages, country by country and region by region. With that unshakeable belief guiding us, we aggressively invested in all kinds of ways to make that future a reality: pioneering partnerships with new platforms; continuing our decades-long fight for copyright protections all around the world while combatting piracy in its many forms; and creating commercial environments for artists in countries where commerce in music was basically non-existent.
In addition, we are investing in the next generation of creative leaders. For example, in the U.S. alone we recently welcomed new heads of Capitol (Michelle Jubelirer), Def Jam (Tunji Balogun), Island (Imran Majid and Justin Eshak) and established Motown as a standalone label under Ethiopia Habtemariam. They are joined by the dynamic executives around the world taking on new roles including Universal Music Latino (Angel Kaminsky), Republic Records China (Tony Wen), Universal Music Malaysia (Kim Lim), Universal Music Russia (Maxim Vlasov), Universal Music Publishing Israel (Itamar Shafir), Virgin Music LATAM & Iberia (Victor Gonzalez), Virgin Music UK (Vanessa Higgins), Decca Records UK (Tom Lewis & Laura Monks), Mercury Studios (Alice Webb) and Bravado (Matt Young) to name a few.
The future of music is—and always has been—dependent on the discovery and nurturing of new talent. We and our artists have a common interest: building and sustaining their long-term careers. We succeed only when our artists succeed. That’s why our business model is based on long-term artist development and investment. We invest our worldwide resources, our capital, our marketing and promotional services, as well as the talent and expertise of thousands of our employees.
In country after country, we are seeing record royalty outflows to recording artists and songwriters. In fact, UMG’s investment in artists has never been higher. And that’s critical, because for us, music—something to which we have all dedicated our lives—is the most vital form of creative human expression, an art and a gift to be cherished and nurtured.
Artists naturally want the best shot at success. That so many of them choose UMG as their partner is the strongest validation of the quality of our teams, our values and what we repeatedly deliver across all our labels and businesses in the 60 countries in which we operate that cover more than 200 markets around the globe.
This is an exhilarating time for artists and for fans and the music they love. The entire music ecosystem is growing—by genre, by geography, by platform, by consumer demand. Improved connectivity and growing smartphone penetration have pushed streaming to record levels. And the very definition of music consumption has evolved and deepened. Music is a vital ingredient in a wide range of media: feature-length films, television, short-form video on social networks, “fit-tech,” health/wellness apps, NFTs and blockchain innovations, gaming and the new frontiers of the metaverse.
That is why we should all take enormous pride in the fact that the recording artist and songwriter development work we do together at UMG is the single most important driver of the entire global industry. It is the very lifeblood of every sector in music: independent and major labels, independent and major publishers, and live events, and streaming, and radio, and on and on.
Earlier I mentioned that change in our industry has been a constant. That’s probably more true today than it’s ever been. I believe we’re at the very beginning of a new wave of growth. When I think about the addressable market for music, I see so many opportunities in categories we are only just beginning to monetize—social media, fitness, physical and mental health, gaming, smart audio devices, the connected car—some of these already contributing meaningful revenue, all with enormous potential.
Leading the music industry globally and sitting at the intersection of artistry and technology as we do, we are privileged to embrace change and drive innovation with ingenuity and enthusiasm. This entrepreneurial spirit, and UMG’s culture of invention, inspire the leaders of all our businesses around the world.
When you step back and consider what we have assembled—our artists, our leaders, our networks, our expertise, our capital, our global footprint, our vast catalogue of songs and recordings, the conclusion you reach is unmistakable: Universal Music truly is a category of one. Change may be inevitable, but no matter what may come our way this year or any year hereafter, we will remain laser-focused on our core mission which will never change: To create exciting commercial and creative opportunities for artists to bring their music to the world.
That, simply, is what we do and who we are. And I am proud of that.
I see so much possibility before us in 2022 and beyond. I am enormously grateful to all of you for your exceptional work.