The 3 major music companies jointly generated over $20bn last year (that’s over $2m per hour)

Stella McDaniel

The MBW Review is where we aim our microscope towards some of the music biz’s biggest recent goings-on. This time, bolstered by Warner Music Group‘s latest fiscal results, we get out our calculator for a big slice o’ math. The MBW Review is supported by Instrumental.

Want to know how big last year was for the three major music companies? Gargantuan.

Last summer, MBW predicted that Universal Music Group, Sony Music Group (including Sony’s music interests in Japan) and Warner Music Group would – combined – generate more than $20 billion in annual revenues in 2021.

We can now confirm, via a lot of number-crunching, that this was indeed the case. ($20 billion in a year, stat fans, is the equivalent of turning over around $2.3 million every hour.)

But here’s the thing: The majors topped the $20 billion milestone even without Universal Music Group’s calendar Q4 2021 earnings, which are due to be revealed next month.

Here’s how the ‘Big Three’ did it:

  • Warner Music Group (which announced its calendar Q4 figures today) generated USD $5.58 billion across its global music publishing and recorded music divisions in calendar 2021, according to MBW’s calculations;
  • Sony Corp (which announced its calendar Q4 figures last week) generated USD $7.49 billion across its global music publishing and recorded music divisions in calendar 2021, according to MBW’s calculations
  • Universal Music Group generated USD $7.21 billion across its global music publishing and recorded music divisions in just the first nine months of 2021 – not including Q4 – according to MBW’s calculations;
  • All of that combined comes to a sweet, sweet $20.28 billion.

Based on its performance during earlier quarters of 2021 (and the adjacent performances of Sony and Warner in the final quarter of 2021) MBW expects that Universal Music Group will post between $2.5 billion and $3 billion in total revenues for calendar Q4 next week.

At the higher end of that range, this would mean the three major music companies (across music publishing and recorded music operations) jointly generated over USD $23 billion in 2021, or approximately $2.6 million every hour.

Below MBW digs deeper into the performance of each major music company with the data we have at hand so far…

Warner Music Group

Warner Music Group had a storming 2021.

We know this because the major today (February 8) revealed its fiscal results for calendar Q4 (fiscal Q1), with total revenues up 20.9% YoY to $1.614 billion in the quarter.

With Warner’s latest numbers in our hands, MBW has further crunched the figures to calculate what WMG turned over in the calendar year of 2021:

  • According to MBW calculations, Warner Music Group generated $5.58 billion in total revenues last year, across its music publishing and recorded music operations combined. That number was up 20.7% year-on-year – or by $955 million – at constant currency;
  • WMG’s recorded music division saw a 20.6% YoY jump in constant currency revenues in calendar 2021 (to $4.77bn), while its music publishing division increased turnover 20.9% YoY to $815 million;
  • WMG’s recorded music streaming revenues jumped up 24.3% YoY to $3.12 billion in calendar 2021.

Sony Corp logo


As MBW revealed last week, Sony’s music divisions (Sony Music Group plus its Japan-based music companies) jointly generated $7.49 billion in 2021 across music publishing and recorded music.

  • That $7.49bn figure (at USD-level constant currency) was up 23.9% year-over-year, or by a handsome $1.44 billion versus the equivalent figure from 2020;
  • Sony’s global recorded music operation posted revenues of $5.77 billion in calendar 2021, according to MBW’s calculations – which represented a jump of $1.16 billion, or 25.2%, YoY.
  • Within that number, Sony’s recorded music streaming revenues grew by 33.0% YoY – or by $978 millionto hit $3.94 billion;
  • Sony’s global music publishing operation also had a banner year: In calendar 2021, it generated $1.72 billion, up 19.7%, or by $284 million, on the equivalent figure from 2020.

Universal Music Group

Universal Music Group

As mentioned, we don’t yet know what Universal Music Group’s turnover looked like in the final quarter of last year (UMG will reveal this information on March 3.)

What we do already know is that UMG posted a stellar opening nine months of 2021, across the first three fiscal quarters of the year:

  • In the first nine months of 2021, according to MBW’s calculations, Universal Music Group generated $7.21 billion in total revenues.
  • That number was up by $1.30 billion – or 21.9% – on the $5.91 billion in total revenues that Universal Music Group posted in the equivalent nine-month period of 2020;
  • UMG’s recorded music revenues (inc merchandise) in the nine month period were up 23.2% YoY (to $6.10bn), while music publishing revenues were up 14.3% YoY (to $1.11bn).

If Universal can repeat its Q3 2021 company performance in Q4 2021, it will finish the year with $9.77 billion in total annual revenue.

However, both Sony and Warner significantly outperformed their calendar Q3 performance in calendar Q4 2021 (Sony’s combined recorded music and publishing revenues, for example, were up 13.9% quarter-on-quarter).

If Universal follows this pattern – and every likelihood suggests it will – it’s possible that 2021 could have been the first ever $10 billion revenue year in Universal Music Group’s history.

A brief note on currency calculations in this analysis: (i) Warner Music Group’s 2021 revenues are presented in their root currency of USD. Constant currency figures for 2020, as published in WMG investor documents, have been used for YoY comparisons; (ii) Sony’s revenues are calculated in constant currency USD, using prevailing quarterly Yen-USD rates as published in Sony’s investor documentation; (iii) Universal’s revenues are calculated in constant currency USD, using prevailing quarterly EUR-USD rates as published in Vivendi investor documentation (including Q3 2021).

Instrumental logo

The MBW Review is supported by Instrumental, one of the music industry’s leading growth teams for independent artists. Instrumental uses data science to identify the fastest growing independent artists on the planet and then offer funding, premium distribution and marketing support to take them to the next level, without taking their rights.Music Business Worldwide

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