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Paid streaming-music services such as Spotify and Apple Music gave the global recorded music industry its fourth consecutive year of growth in 2018, as record labels deepened investments in emerging markets.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, or IFPI, released its annual Global Music Report on Tuesday, revealing 9.7-per-cent revenue growth worldwide last year to US$19.1-billion. This marks the highest rate of music-industry growth the IFPI has seen since it started collecting such data in 1997. Streaming services accounted for 47 per cent of that revenue, according to the lobbying group, which represents the world’s biggest record labels.

Canada, however, saw growth of just 0.5 per cent, to US$441-million, in revenue last year, as a one-time back payment in performance royalties in 2017 skewed that year’s results. Music Canada said that otherwise, growth was about half the global rate. Still, Canada was not the only country or region to hit a surprising wall in growth despite streaming successes: Europe, including Spotify’s home of Sweden, similarly saw only 0.1-per-cent growth.

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Asked by The Globe and Mail if this may be a sign of a slowdown as the streaming market matures, Stu Bergen, Warner Music Group’s chief executive of international and global commercial services, said on a conference call that was not the case. “I don’t think we’ve hit a plateau,” he said, citing 2017′s royalty back payments as obscuring broader growth in countries including Canada and Germany. The United States, for instance, saw 15-per-cent revenue growth last year as more users adopted streaming services.

Executives on the call particularly focused on the importance of emerging markets in contemporary music. The South Korean group BTS was the second-most-listened-to artist globally last year, behind Drake, according to the IFPI report, which also highlighted the stellar rise of Colombian reggaeton singer J Balvin.

“There’s much more openness to music coming from developing markets in the streaming world, and I think that’s opened opportunities that weren’t present before for music from those areas,” said Stu Bondell, Sony Music Entertainment’s international executive vice-president of business and legal, when asked by The Globe if the emerging-markets focus might be a strategy to offset potential slowdowns in established markets.

The music industry effectively peaked in 1999. At that time, it was worth about US$25-billion, as boy bands and nu metal ruled the high-margin CD market just before Napster burst the sector’s bubble. Long-time music analyst Mark Mulligan of Midia Research wrote late last year that even if the record industry were to reach US$25-billion again soon, it would still be only half the value of 1999 in real terms.

The industry would likely hit a wall before reaching those soaring heights again, Mr. Mulligan wrote in December: “While it is not realistic to expect a US$50-billion market, getting towards the inflation-reduced US$25-billion is certainly a realistic target.”

In that same report, Mr. Mulligan wrote that artists taking their music directly to streaming services – bypassing the often-costly overhead of traditional record labels – were bringing in revenue three times faster than the rest of the market. Executives on the IFPI conference call made multiple references to the continued importance of the role labels play continued importance of their role in the music industry, bringing artists connections, investment and services they wouldn’t necessarily get by striking out on their own. “With a record company, you get the whole package," said Glen Barros, chief operating officer of California-based Concord Music, on the call.

Stockholm-based Spotify, which brought streaming music into the mainstream and went public last year, has 96 million users, while relative newcomer Apple Music has at least 56 million and has grown at a strong clip since launching in 2015, benefiting from Apple’s brand recognition. Both charge about $10 a month for premium, ad-free services.

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Despite delivering increasing revenue to IFPI’s record-label members, Spotify’s shares are down about 16 per cent from their opening price last year. How their own revenue streams are distributed is under constant contention, too: Spotify is among the streaming companies appealing an increase to songwriter royalty rates from the U.S. Copyright Board. (Apple Music has not been reported as taking part in the appeal.)

Songwriters and recording artists, meanwhile, continue to struggle with reduced incomes of their own, with streaming hardly replacing the lost revenues of the CD era. Earlier this week, the Montreal band Stars gave a fresh glimpse into modern musicianship when they tweeted to fans to “please invest directly in music." Despite having 233,000 unique listeners on Spotify in March, the band wrote, they only made $1,200 in exchange. “Is that fair? is that sustainable? is that just? please think about where you are spending your hard earned money.”

The sale of music continued its decline in 2018, as listeners delivered 21.2 per cent less revenue through downloaded music, with physical revenue falling 10.1 per cent. That’s despite the years-long upswing in vinyl sales, however, which saw revenue grow 6 per cent.

In Canada, streaming revenue grew 32 per cent to US$265-million, and now accounts for 60 per cent of total music-recording revenue. Physical-sales revenue fell 23 per cent to US$64.4-million.

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