How the Internet has Changed Music
No one would dispute the fact that the Internet has changed the music industry drastically over the past couple of decades. In fact, things continue to change at a rapid rate, and the music business is still struggling to keep up. From early issues like illegal downloading and music sharing sites (like the now-defunct Napster) to current disputes over music streaming services and how much the artists/labels should be paid in royalties, the Internet still seems to be raising more questions than it is answering.
That being said, not all the news is bad. While the Internet has made music more accessible to the public (and made it more difficult for artists to make money), it also happens to be an incredible tool that enables independent musicians to find a global audience without the help and backing of a major label. In short, the Internet has changed the music industry in both positive and negative ways. Let’s take a look at both sides.
While huge segments of the public are hailing the Internet era for making music easier and cheaper to obtain (or steal), the down side is that the business side of music is struggling to generate enough revenue because of the new technology. Most of the people who are part of making a record are paid in royalties, and anytime music changes hands without money being involved, those royalties can’t be paid—which is why so much has been done in recent years to try and reduce music piracy. Some progress has been made to curb this trend by offering easy, cheap downloads through outlets like iTunes and Amazon; this has helped because consumers can now purchase and download specific songs they like, rather than buy the whole album for just one song. A more recent development has been the emergence of Internet radio and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, who offer either ad-based or paid subscription streaming of their music libraries. However, this new solution is currently still disputed by artists and labels because the current pay structures are still far less than if a consumer buys the music outright. These issues are far from being resolved.
The upshot is that in many ways the Internet has made it more difficult for artists (and their labels, when applicable) to make a decent amount of money from music sales. Many artists have resorted to playing live to subsidize their loss of income. While one day these problems may be resolved, a lot of questions still remain.
Almost paradoxically, the same Internet that has caused all the problems mentioned above can also be an artist’s best friend, particularly in the case of independent artists who aren’t part of the current “industry machine.” How is this possible? Simply put, the Internet allows people to connect with others all around the world. This enables certain smart musicians who are otherwise unknown to find their own audience without the aid or backing of a major label, virtually eliminating the need to be “discovered” by talent scouts or A&R reps. In some cases, this can result in attention from the labels themselves (many current worldwide recording artists today got their start putting their own stuff up on YouTube). In other cases, it simply means they can market and sell their own music to their audience without the need for label or radio promotion. The audience might not be as large as it would be otherwise—but neither does the artist have to share profits with the labels. The result is that music fans now have access to a lot of music they’d never hear otherwise, and many forward-thinking musicians have leveraged the Internet to carve out nice incomes for themselves without ever courting a record label.
So while the Internet has changed the music industry greatly in recent years, there are both positive and negative side effects. One thing is for certain: the Internet isn’t going away anytime soon, so the music industry will have to find a way to adapt to it, rather than to fight it. If history is any indicator, eventually the current issues will work themselves out. Time may soon reveal that the Internet has been more friend than foe to the music business.