How the Internet has Changed the Face of Music

Few realized upon the advent of the internet that it would have such a massive effect on how we consume media today, and indeed the music industry has been irrevocably change by the internet—for better or worse. The question still remains however on whether the internet is a force for bad or good in the music business: is it actually helping generate more profits and give consumers power or is it truly ruining labels and musicians alike?

Generation Illegal Downloading

Napster has become a one-word summary for how P2P sharing first began to eat away at single and album sales, and it is undeniable that the internet was the primary cause of the massive dip in worldwide music sales. Even the least tech-friendly of computer users were suddenly able to download masses of music with the click of a button, with young people especially liable to download music in such a manner. Record labels have waged a semi-successful war against illegal music sites, usually in unison with other parts of the entertainment industry, but problems still remain. For every Napster or Pirate Bay that is closed down, ten clones pop-up in its place.

Digital sales and creating user-friendly platforms

With all the drama of illegal downloading panicking the industry, it was surprising how little effort was put into creating an easy and cheap legal downloading platform to start driving downloads back down the legal path. While many legal downloading services popped up in the early 2000s, it was not truly until the iTunes Music Store debuted in 2003 that legal downloading became as accessible as illegal downloading. As sales of iPods and later iPhones boomed, Apple was able to make buying legal downloads also as easy as the click of a button. By locking in the new main method of listening to music with an in-built store, consumers took the bait and began to buy legal downloads in droves. Sales have recovered in the past few years and are steadily rising, although few expect them to reach pre-internet levels.

Streaming as sampling: getting new music out there

The advent of streaming music (both via video with YouTube and music-only via Spotify) has provided an opportunity for the music industry to ‘tame the beast’, and they have done a good job in balancing customer wants with industry needs. When music first began to be uploaded to YouTube, record labels worked hard at encouraging YouTube to take down the videos. Now they follow a different track: YouTube place a link on the video to iTunes to encourage people to buy the song and they can also place ads on the front of their own official music videos. By monetising a ‘free’ music service, the industry is at least making some money off what would otherwise be a problematic medium. Streaming is also allowing the music industry to reach mobile users with a much greater effect. Mobile internet users are now much more likely to use streaming services through their phones as the spread of 4G and clear price plans makes it easy to do so. Instead of illegally downloading songs at their laptops, they can listen to them on their phones for ‘free’ while still supporting artists.

Going forward

So what is next for the music industry? Many suspect that attempts will be made in the coming years to break Apple’s monopoly on music downloads, but it is unknown how successful such an attempt would be given their colossal control of the market. In general however, there are signs of life again in the music industry and by changing business models, music and the internet can uneasily walk together into the future.

This is a post by Jefferson Vergo. Jeff is a freelance writer and an occasional guest-blogger interested in tech related topics. Currently he is working for an internet provider company which offers clear price plans. When he is not working he likes to travel and discover hidden untouched places around the World.

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