The way Internet has changed the whole music industry
By: Diego Rodriguez Sanchez
All images are from Pixabay were all photos are published with a Creative Commons license.
If your time to you is worth savin’
then you better start swimmin’
or you’ll sink like a stone,
for the times they are a-changin’
Bob Dylan – The times they are a-changin’
Music has always been bounded to society. If we take the example of the African American community in the United States we can see it clearly. In the beginning of the 20th century the black community still didn’t get over slavery and the blues songs got some of their lyrics from the chants in the cotton fields. When society changed, an unconcerned soul was born, but in the 60s, with all the civil rights movements going on, soul shifted from Ray Charles to Marvin Gaye’s political contents and also we could see how funk funneled the community’s rage, a feeling that then disappeared but was picked up by rap’s violent lyrics and beats in the need of representing the concerns of a community that still felt margined.
Although it’s in Spanish, this podcast explains in depth the changes in the American music due to the changes of the black community.
But not only in its contents, music has also been changing in other ways with society. For example, in the new digital era, the way artists used to record their songs has shifted from analogic to digital, and even some new genres like EDM (which stands for Electronic Dance Music) have been created due to the technological society were involved in.
When we talk about music, we are not only referring to its sound, its melody, but we are also talking about its industry, which involves labels, artists and, of course those who make it happen, the consumers.
The Internet, new ways of exchanging information
Lots of words have been written trying to prophesize about internet. How it’s going to change everybody’s lives, how it has already changed most of them, how to take advantage of this phenomenon and a long etcetera. Up to now, the only truth is that internet is quite new and we are still assisting to its effects. Several industries such as music, but also others like TV, journalism and movies, have been deeply affected by the growing use of internet by the consumers. Provided this scenario, we have been able to watch how some industries tried to stick to the “old-fashioned” ways, avoiding changes by all means. But the truth is that those changes are unstoppable and that time spent in maintaining things as they were has been wasted instead of looking for new ways of adapting.
It wouldn’t be excessive to classify these changes as a social revolution, where people participate actively in the way information is exchanged. For example, according to a publication of the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2014 76% of the adults in Great Britain admitted that they access internet every day, that’s 21 million people more than in 2006. We can even say that now, internet is not limited to a computer but that there are several ways of being permanently connected. Another fact of the ONS proves it by ensuring that the use of the phone to access internet grew from a 24% in 2010 to a 58% in 2014.
With the popularity of the World Wide Web, information broke the boundaries of time and distance, but also, some information like music or videos that used to be limited and you had to pay to consume them, now have been spread all throughout the globe without almost any boundary.
Music is one of the industries or businesses that has been deeply affected by this new era. The way people now listen to music, go to concerts and buy records has provoked a major revolution in the industry and in its culture. Things don’t have the value they used to have, artists have to look for new ways of reaching their audience, and record labels now have to find new ways of not being needless.
The traditional music industry was a very narrow and closed business. As an artist, you had to try your best to record some kind of demo, and then make an effort to send it to a record label, or, in the case you were good enough, someone from the label would contact you to tell you how much of a profit you would make if you signed with them. After signing, everything passed through the label; they would help you make your music, as well as promoting it with marketing and advertising. The label would have an art department to make your covers; they would manage the licenses of your music, take a part in legal matters and get your songs played on TV and radio.
As a consumer, you would go to record stores, buy the music, many times even without knowing if you were going to like it, and you would go to the concerts of those artists you liked the most or your friends told you they were good. If you were European but didn’t live in the UK, you would have to wait until someone you know travelled to London so you could ask them to buy the latest records. If they travelled to US, you could even manage to get an MTV show recorded on VHS or an issue of the Rolling Stone magazine.
These were some romantic ways of getting in touch with new music, but they reflect a closed industry, and this is because the musical business relied on its physical sales. Now, it’s nothing like that.
Here you can listen to Don Passman, one of America’s top entretainment attorneys talking about the major changes in the music industry.
The way people now listen to music, and the change it has forced in the industry
Music has always been bounded to technology. In first instance, we could perceive a change of quality in the music when the new technologies were applied in the recording process for example, but we can also see how the way of listening to music has also changed due to technology when we changed from the vinyl to the tapes, to the CD or from the Walkman to the MP3 reproducer or the iPod.
As it was said before, the musical business relied on its physical sales, but this technological revolution towards internet has changed the whole industry. According to an article from the BBC, from 2011 to 2012 the album sales in the UK dropped a 11.2%. That’s a really big amount for only one year. But if we look at it from a different angle, BBC also states that in those same years, the entertainment market increased its online sales on an 11.4%, and only music digital sales showed a rise of 15.1%.
When internet got popular, people discovered they could get for free for what they used to pay before. And in music this led to piracy and other ways of exchanging information such as the P2P where Napster appeared. Accepting these changes, Apple got ahead and they started selling iPods to listen to music, and they launched iTunes, a way of consuming music, cheap, but legal. This changed everybody’s minds on the music culture, now you were able to listen to music without the need of a record player and there was no point in buying a CD, because after you bought it, you would still have to put it in your computer and convert it in a MP3 file you could listen to wherever you wanted.
With iTunes, independent artists and labels, who before didn’t have a chance of getting into the industry because of their budget, now had a chance of selling their music in the same platform as other well-known and consolidated artists. This set the basis for the new music industry we know today, and the effect grew bigger with YouTube. The video social media started allowing anyone to upload their music and spread it along the globe. It’s true that labels with a big budget can optimize the use of YouTube better than others, but now, anyone can upload a video, and by knowing how to use internet, they can spread their music as any other major company, because internet belongs to no one and to everybody at the same time.
Since this moment, the power got to the people as they could choose what to listen to, without only consuming what big record labels published. This is the major change that internet brought to the music industry. It made the industry get more democratic although this sometimes can become a handicap, because too much information is created due to the free access, and there´s lots of bad music circulating through the web that hasn’t passed the quality standards labels used to set. But that’s the problem of democracy; if people choose a bad President, it’s still the President the people chose, and the freedom to choose is a major gain compared to the loss that would be generated if people didn’t have that power.
This new music industry got consolidated with the appearance of Spotify. It’s similar to what iTunes created but different in the way that it’s not a platform to buy music, instead it was created to listen to music for free. By having advertisements or an add-free premium version, Spotify generates income to later on pay the artists or their labels. According to Spotify’s web page, 70% of the income they received goes directly to the artists, bus some controversy has arose because some people think that it’s just a way of earning money by selling songs in a very cheap rate. Due to this, some famous artists like Taylor Swift, The Black Keys and Adele as well as classics of the music like Radiohead, AC/DC or The Beatles, don’t display their music on Spotify.
Despite the controversy, it’s obvious that this model is a response to the new characteristics people have made out of the music industry, and fighting against it can be useless. Maybe trying to look for better ways could be an answer, but not trying to go back to the old model which is now non reliable. When interviewed, Paskual Cantero, a Spanish music promoter said that “There is no point in thinking if the changes are good or bad. It’s obvious that you can’t go back so the smartest thing is to adapt. All changes are opportunities.” Also, Alex Nooirax, another promoter in the city of Madrid, states that “Internet is a double-edged sword, but if you use it as a tool to spread and get support, it can be very useful for the bands and their projects”. “Nowadays in the music world nothing is too necessary. We’ve seen that there is nothing written on how to get success, and new technologies like internet make possible that you can spread music in non-conventional ways, without a business structure” adds Paskual Cantero.
What remains from the old music industry
Although the music industry has suffered changes in its most characteristic basis, people will always do and will always want to listen to music, so differing from other industries that might end up dying; the musical one will always keep evolving. In fact, even though the record labels can’t rely on selling albums, they’re still quite important for the industry. Juan Laguna, an underground artist states that “Labels are quite still important, and if you want to appear in mass media besides social media they will help you. Without them it’s almost impossible that people talk about you with frequency.” So if not as necessary as before, labels still offer the professionality needed by an artist to make the most of their music, get the albums in the shops, the songs in the radio or TV, as well as arranging concerts and festivals, and that’s never going to change.
In other cases, labels take the initiative by creating something like their own artists. There’s a tendency to take a pretty woman or pretty man and make them become brands; tell them what to do and how to do it. The musical result of this is good and bad at the same time. The people working behind these artists are fully qualified professionals, so they know how to create a good product, but it usually results in commercial, easy, music, that doesn’t contribute much to the world of music, but it certainly can report a big amount of money. On the other hand, being labels dispensable allows other artists that are already famous without labels to act more freely and be less conditioned, so it all goes into a balance that keeps the industry going.
So there’s no point in saying that the music industry is dead, it’s just assisting to a major transformation lead by the way people listen to music. Like in any major change, some jobs are lost, like those of the art department that used to design the artwork of the albums, but on the other hand, other jobs are created for example those that come from an increasing popularity in music videos due to some phenomenon like the one YouTube hosts. It’s similar to when Gutenberg invented the printing press, many jobs were lost, bus society made a shift you couldn’t ignore, and usually, when society makes those shifts is for the best.
International R&B star John Legend talks through the Big Think project about how things have changed, and it can be used as an introduction to how artists develop in this new situations.
The role of artists in this new scenario
Up to this point, we’ve talked much about the labels and the consumers, maybe they’re the principal actors of the music as an industry, but musicians are the ones when understanding music, not as an industry, but as an art. Everything that’s happening in the industry and that we have been analyzing affects the way they work.
Before, all the efforts of an artist had to go to record some songs and show them to the label hoping they would then assume the promotion, but nowadays everything has changed. There are still lots of artists that work for a label and go on with their musical careers as they used to do, but now a new type of artist, or way of doing things by artists, is arising, especially when they’re starting their careers.
With internet, a new opportunity came to artists, now they can do almost everything by themselves. Once an artist records a song, he or she can upload it in different platforms like YouTube and Spotify. When you have an internet connection, you have the chance to reach anyone in the world that’s also connected, so you just have to find the way. This has become a very powerful chance for artists, they now don’t need as much intermediaries as they used to do, so they can become the only responsible of their work. This can be bad sometimes because it may seem like they have no support, but if we look into the good part; we can see that new opportunities arise and that no artists are leaven behind because of not having the means to make it.
This makes musicians having to assume roles they didn’t need to assume before, like looking for their own financing and becoming active members of the social media, but many opportunities for this have also been created like for example Bandcamp, where you can directly support the artists by donations, or the “crowdfunding” where people can give money to make possible artists’ projects. So overall, some musicians, especially the consolidated ones, can be a little sceptic about their role in these changes, but most of the new musicians and the alternative record labels that have been born in this changing society, look at internet as a whole world of opportunities. “The new musical industry has it’s good stuff, thank you to internet music is much more democratic and as a musician, you can get new influences, even though sometimes there’s too much information out there. But due to internet, my band has been able to carry out gigs in cities like Dakar, London, Manchester or Johannesburg for example” adds Juan Laguna “In our band [which is called TranceUntes] we try to make the most out of internet by being present in social media as well as doing good videos of our music because it’s what people want to see, and we don’t need any help from major record labels”. To prove it, here is a video from the band
So, to conclude, the overall appreciation we can take is that the music industry has definitely changed into new ways. As always, something new can be a bit frightening at the beginning, but as consumers and artists, it looks like it’s a whole new world of opportunities where music is now more democratic and, as everything hit by the internet, the boundaries are each time narrower.