A Brief History:
Long ago, in a world dominated by dial-up internet, Napster was born. Founded in 1999, Napster was the music industry's achilles heel. Yeah, everyone was bootlegging the radio onto cassettes and copying CD's, but those physical formats only effected a marginal amount of sales.
Essentially, the music industry was in a bubble. All the different formats didn't sync together, so a fan would have to buy their favorite record multiple times if they wanted to access it everywhere. Let's say a fan would buy it on vinyl for their audiophile sound system at home, buy a cassette tape for their car, and buy a third copy on CD for their Sony Walkman. Also, albums were $20 and a fan couldn't just buy a single that was on the radio. Times were good for the big labels and it seemed like the industry was built to profit on new technology.
Once internet speeds and computers got fast enough, peer-2-peer sharing took simple mixtape sharing to a new level. Soon whole discographies were online for free download and by the time the record labels knew what hit them, the damage was already done. The power transferred from the record label gatekeepers to teenagers with a desktop computer at home. Also, Pro Tools started chipping away at the physical nature of music by recording into the computer and opening the door to non-destructive editing.
All of this added up to the claim that the music industry was dead. The industry thought the business couldn't survive after pandora's box had been opened. Growing up between those two eras, I disagree and believe that the music industry has had to evolve and adapt in ways that have made the music industry better. Here are five ways:
The record labels used to be the gatekeepers of all things around recorded music. In order to record, an artist would need studio time in a million dollar studio. In order to sell records, an artist would have to distribute costly physical formats to huge music stores like Tower Records. Musicians could perform live, but, especially in the 70's, nightclubs were being dominated by disco DJ's.
The record label created pipelines for promising artists called A&R. Record labels would sign an artist, develop their talent, and control their destiny.
Today, the artist controls their destiny. This has taken away the development structures from the labels and has given the artist complete freedom to develop themselves. Although, you could spin it into a negative change, I believe that this puts the artist into the driver's seat for their career and with this risk comes substantially more reward.
The key to keeping the industry alive is trying to find new ways to monetize music. All the ways of the old are still here: album sales, ticket sales and merchandise sales. We have seen a revolution in the other aspects of music business with the development of new platforms.
Streaming and sync licenses have become huge for the independent artist and labels alike. Back in the day, profits were focused on album sales and radio streaming was not utilized as a big source of profit but instead used to promote album sales. Now an artist makes money every time their song is legitimately synced on a YouTube video or streamed on Apple Music, Tidal, or Spotify. There is also money being made by getting music into video games which is a growing industry. The ways of making money besides selling music for perpetual use are growing. With independent distributors and start-ups, it is much easier for an independent artist to get their music on multiple platforms. In the future, it may end up being even more lucrative to get a fan to stream a song 100 times than for them to buy it and stream it unlimitedly.
Anyone today can record or edit music for little to no money and make money doing it. Although this has lead to an over saturation of music for the beginning musician and a distraction barrier for record labels, it has lead to more creativity. Music taste can vary and some people hate Top 40, so the fact that small music communities can thrive means that music culture is better.
An entire generation of music executives was ousted and forced to fend for themselves, and confusion and chaos were the watchwords of the day. But in times of confusion and chaos, creativity often sees and seizes an opportunity. We are currently in a period where I believe that to be true. The artist community has grabbed the moment and become less dependent on the record company executives who hustled hard to break their records. The music has outgrown the radio, retail and record company monopoly that I was a high-profile participant in many years ago. The music has changed but it continues to thrive; more of it is heard than ever before. -Gary J. Harris, The State of Black Music and Beyond: Following the Path of Rhythm, The Huffington Post, Sept 29th, 2016
As a DJ, the way the music has evolved has made my job easier. I don't have to lug records to every gig and be limited by what I physically have available. I can research, listen, and download music without leaving my house. I am able to find communities of people that like the same music as me across the world. I am able to bring all of these aspects together to make for a better live show.
Also, the culture of popular music is better than it used to be. Instead of only being limited by radio, most of the people are proud of the fact that they follow multiple genres. It has only become easier for the consumer to find new music and easier for artists to monetize. People now are capable of having access to music from around the world at all times.
Can you imagine having all your favorite albums on vinyl, getting a Walkman, and having to repurchase all of your favorites on CD? Can you imagine being limited to what CD's you've purchased? What about only having access to the inventory of your local record store?
Fans now have unprecedented access to music and it is brilliant. I can listen to anything and everything on-the-go with just my phone. I don't have to bring anything with me to carry my music and I don't even have to purchase individual records to hear them, my streaming service divides my contribution for me to the artists that I choose to listen to. This is new ground not only for artists, but also for the fans that support them.
Play it Cool,