The Rapidly Changing Music Industry

The music industry has been rapidly changing for decades. We now live in a world with instant streaming music services–such as Spotify, or SoundCloud–which allow fans to create and share playlists, listen to single songs off of an album, or even communicate directly with the artist. Long gone are the days of rockstars making the majority of their earnings from Cds and concert ticket sales; Today’s musicians must rely on merchandise profits, ad revenue with sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, licensing fees from TV shows and movies, and instant concert recordings. Instead of having two sure-fire ways to net their income, rock stars in this era have become more creative when it comes to earning their paycheck.

When Steve Jobs created iTunes, he was met with resistance from music labels before ultimately changing the industry forever. Thomas Hesse, the former Chief Strategy Officer at BMG Music Entertainment said that Jobs’ requirements for working with labels were shocking.

Steve Jobs said to us, ‘There’re two things you have to accept: 99 cents for every single song, and every song has to be sold as a single.’ And we went home and swallowed hard because that was tough for us as a music industry to accept…. If certain songs were really popular we should be able to set the price at whatever we thought was the right price as opposed to the $1 price. Steve said, ‘You know, you’ve got to keep it simple, you’ve got to keep it clean.

In the early 2000s, many criticized Jobs for “unbundling the album,” or selling hit singles for 99 cents, as opposed to having to purchase the entire album. At the same time, illegal downloading sites like Napster were already siphoning away the artist’s profits and eventually paved the way for Spotify, Soundcloud, and 8tracks. These may be an improvement from illegal downloading (as Spotify and SoundCloud offer paid services that send money back to the artist and their label), but many contemporary artists are still taking a stand against the platforms. One such artist is Taylor Swift, who criticized Spotify for “devaluing her art” and reducing album sales. In 2014, Swift wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal explaining that an album’s value is based on two things:

  1. How much of themselves the artist put into their work
  2. How much money the artist and their label believe the work is worth

Swift argued that file sharing, piracy, and streaming have lessened the value of the art she creates and that when something is valuable, you must pay for it. As part of her effort to ensure all musicians are paid fairly for their work, she also wrote an open letter to Apple. In a tumblr post, she asked Apple to pay the artists, writers, and producers for the three month-free trial period offered to fans trying out the service.

The singer further explained that some music sharing platforms (even ones that require a paid subscription) devalue her music and cost her part of her earnings. So what are the positives of the new music industry then?

For one, musicians have the option to easily distribute their music through social media, blogs, or other media platforms. Another benefit of the industry’s changes is that artists can easily connect with their fans and see which albums are their favorite, or which songs they’d like to see live. The new music era also allows musicians to easily connect with fellow artists and collaborate on songs, albums, or upcoming performances.