R.I.P. The Music Industry

For those who follow this blog, you will be aware that we are currently in the middle of a project that we call ‘The 24 Days of Christmas’ whereby we post ideas for Christmas gifts on each of the 24 days leading to Dec 25th, along with a song that is somehow related to the particular gift. For those who don’t follow this blog, click above to see a list of all the gifts/songs featured so far.

It fell to me to cover day 15, for which I decided to cover a 6-hour recording studio session for budding musicians – after a little thought, I decided to choose Twista’s ‘Overnight Celebrity’ as my song of choice for that gift. Quite apt, I thought. Although actually getting hold of a Youtube link for said video was nigh-on impossible.

Quite surprising, you might think, and you’d be right – produced by Kanye West, the song was a hit on both sides of the Pond, reaching no. 6 in the 2004 Billboard Hot 100 Chart and no. 16 in the UK sales chart. So why couldn’t I find a suitable version on Youtube?

The answer, my friends, is copyright.

Now, seeing as I’m imagining that you’re all young, frivolous and dynamic individuals with a lot of time on your hands, I’m not about to sit here and bombard you with statistics and figures; all I want to say is that it’s about time the archaic and increasingly irrelevant music industry as we know it was finally put to sleep.

When Napster was launched in 1999 and subsequently closed in 2001, it marked the beginning a major shift in consumer attitudes towards buying music; it offered the first user-friendly method of sharing digital music and opened many millions of people to the idea of pirating music. CD Writers were still pretty big, inefficient and relatively expensive, internet dial-up connections were prohibitively slow and chat-based clients such as IRC… well, they looked like this:


Not exactly easy to follow, I’m sure you’ll agree. Napster, and the other clients that it spawned, were simple; a search field, a search results window and a download progress window. Easy peasy – no wonder it took off the way it did.

Now, with a billion-dollar infrastructure in place to produce, record and distribute music, it is understandable why the music industry was keen to stifle proliferation of web-based music distribution.

However, like the proverbial Goliath, Big Music was slow, unwieldy and unable to adapt to an environment increasingly reliant on the internet; one wonders, if they had embraced the concepts and technology behind file-sharing all those years ago, would we still be in the same situation now? Are its current practices of locking everything down under swathes of copyright red tape really doing anything other than harming its own cause?

Record labels are incredibly vocal about the amount that file-sharing costs them, although when you consider some of the practices that the industry has been involved in to shape the popular music scene over the past few years, it is arguably quite difficult to feel sorry for them.


They often come across as fairly selfless about the whole thing; placing the ultimate loss with their artists rather than themselves. Although since when did the industry care about the welfare of its artists?

Modern popular music is about fast turnover, not artistic integrity. Artists are milked within an inch of sanity by the terms of their contracts, forced to churn out bland, watered-down and accessible approximations of the music that got them popular in the first place, and when such artists appear to fall from favour, they are tossed away, destitute and worn-out. As soon as a major label gets wind of a particular trend, the market is flooded with identikit acts that loop relentlessly until we’re all sick of it and move onto something else.

However, while I am in one way grateful to the growth of file-sharing for the blows it has delivered to greedy, self-serving and culturally-void media institutions – this goes for Hollywood too, by the way – by providing people with access to any and everything, not just what the big companies deem should be popular, it has had some negative effects.

Aside from the obvious ‘it-takes-money-out-of-the-hands-of-emerging-musicians’ argument, which is nonetheless valid, it has created a climate whereby people think that paying for anything is unreasonable. With so much content on offer for free, many people feel ‘ripped off’ when it emerges that they may have to actually pay for something.

This is not a mindset limited to the world of digital entertainment; cut-price clothing from shops such as Primark nurtures the same attitudes from consumers. Why pay £25 for a top when you can get it for £3 at Primark? Why buy an album when you can download it for free?

Ultimately, the industry in question does suffer, but with a shrewd little shift-around, it can be engineered so that the only people that lose out are those Simon Cowell types who contribute little to the music industry and take a lot. Downloading is rarely identified for its positive traits – for example, it has enormous marketing potential.

Tracking of downloading habits can harvest enormous amounts of data about consumer tastes and should, therefore, be considered a necessary evil in a marketplace where people are unwilling to pay the frankly exorbitant amounts asked of them for media products.


The launch of Spotify in October 2008 marked an extremely positive step in the right direction. Spotify users don’t seem to be bothered that they can’t download the songs, highlighted by the fact that they have a six-month waiting list for a free account. Users have instant and free access to millions of tracks, interspersed with the occasional advert.

The Spotify method is by no means perfect; it has its fair share of critics but for now it appears to be catering for the best of both; the public gets access to ‘free’ music and musicians get a bit of cash. It may not be a lot right now, but the technology is still in its infancy and let’s face it, a little money is better than none at all.

In short, the music industry has been catastrophically slow in adapting to new consumer trends in music consumption and any money they lose as a result is nobody’s fault but theirs. Rather than spending a bit of cash in R&D, trying to find a viable way to incorporate digital audio and video files into their repertoire and slowly phase out media such as CDs, their attempts to retain global hegemony of the way we listen to music will eventually be their downfall.

Hopefully within a couple of years online products will circumvent Big Music altogether and make way for an industry made up of smaller, independent labels where musicians have more control over their content, their image and their workrate, allowing diverse, varied and user-led content to thrive.



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