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Making a Living in the Music Business


The proliferation of the Internet in the late 1990s has had a dramatic effect on practically every other existing area of the media.  The music business in particular has changed drastically over the last decade.  Most of that change can be directly attributed to the Internet.

In the late ‘90s the appearance of free downloading music services like Napster caused a tremendous uproar in the music business.  Suddenly it was possible to download sound files of songs and records you previously had to go to the record store to buy.  At the time the whole concept of downloading music, legally or otherwise, was considered a dangerous threat to music business as a whole.

While this viewpoint has proven itself to be in many ways true, it should be noted that not all the changes to the music business brought on by the Internet have been bad.

The Internet and the music business seem to have come to a sort of uneasy peace with one another.  However in so doing the music business has had to almost completely reinvent and redefine itself.

The days when bands were signed to huge five-album record deals are largely behind us.  Once labels practiced what was known as “artist development,” signing bands with potential and allowing them to grow over a span of two or three albums before expecting them to produce “a hit.”  U2 and REM are good examples of bands that were allowed to develop over time and a few albums.

Nowadays bands are expected to already have an instant, ready-made hit that can be marketed on film soundtracks, as a ringtone download and in commercials.  If your band has such a hit, this can potentially lead to instant success.  However for many bands, this success is short-lived as they are often thrust into to center of the business before they have matured enough to sustain themselves.

There was also once a time when record sales were many artists primary source of income.  This is no longer the case.  Records stores across the country have shuttered their doors as more and more people now acquire their music online either legally or illegally.

While record sales may no longer be a good potential source of income for artists, other revenue streams, like ringtone downloads have opened up.  But perhaps the most artist friendly change in the music industry to have come out of the Internet is an artist’s ability to broadcast themselves.  The Internet allows anyone to put up a website or MySpace page from where it’s possible for people to download your songs for free or for money. 

When thinking about whether or not to charge people for your music consider this:  When starting out in the music business, your biggest enemy is anonymity.  Allowing people to download your music for free can get your name out there.  Getting your name out there means people coming to your shows.  And in today’s music business, that may ultimately be where success lies.

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