By Daniel Hunter

The most in-depth study ever of the digital music industry has revealed that UK-based BitTorrent consumption hit 43 million album and single releases downloaded during the first half of 2012.

Torrents are bundles of files - so one torrent could include numerous songs. According to the first ever Digital Music Index (DMI), published later this week by global analysts Musicmetric, 78 per cent of the torrents were albums and 22 per cent singles.

Shoreditch-based Musicmetric anonymously tracks the entire BitTorrent sphere - meaning the data sample offers the most extensive and accurate picture yet of the digital music universe. No data is retained and it is not possible to identify any individuals through the anonymous data.

If each album is assumed to contain at least 10 songs, then the total number of tunes downloaded would exceed 345 million for the first half of 2012. Apple sells new singles for 99p and albums for £7.99 in its iTunes store.

The DMI will reveal that Manchester had the highest rate of downloading per capita, followed by Nottingham and Southampton.

Torrents can be legal as well as containing illegal files - but the majority of albums listed are not legally available via BitTorrent.

According to Musicmetric, the most popular pirated albums in the UK were Ed Sheeran’s - “+ (Plus)”, Rizzle Kicks’ Stereo Typical and Rihanna’s Talk That Talk for the first half of 2012.

Of course there are other important aspects of the digital music industry where social media plays a key role in allowing artists to interact with fans.

Musicmetric tracks everything that happens online with music, bringing together downloads, online plays, social media interaction and sales which allows for any artist to be easily measured and benchmarked against another.

Knowing what impact advertising campaigns, tours or TV appearances make is vital for the industry.

Ed Sheeran’s latest album “+ (Plus)” topped the ubiquity rankings hitting number one by total number of downloads in over 460 towns around the UK, although those in Bournemouth showed a rather different taste in music with the Discography of The Eagles topping their chart.

“Knowing exactly where your fans are has long been a holy grail for record labels. Understanding what drives them to engage will be vital to helping the industry to really prosper in the coming years," Gregory Mead, chief executive of Musicmetric, said.

"For the first time, we have evidence that blocking Pirate Bay had little effect on BitTorrent downloading. It is also clear however, that availability of streaming services like Spotify does reduce this activity as people have greater access to music they want via legitimate means.

"The challenge for copyright holders is to find ways to monetise music files torrented online. The potential for converting revenue lost through file trading is not entirely a fairy tale, however it will differ with different genres and life stages of artist.

"While the file sharing network is largely ignored as a proactive channel, little progress can be made on figuring out how this might be possible.

"Clarity on the drivers between social media, file sharing and gig activity is what can deliver the industry and in our report these are being put under the microscope for the first time, which could prove a major turning point for the music industry.”

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