Technology vs. Tradition: Evolution of the Music Industry

The development of technology has long-since been a hot topic of debate within the majority of industries over the last half a century.

Many people are of the persuasion that any technological advancement which moves an industry forward should be welcomed as a healthy improvement, whereas others seem to cherish the authenticity of certain industries and will do anything to prevent it being tarnished.

The music industry is no exception to this overwhelming trend.

As if contemporary music doesn’t give fans enough to debate about, people are now pondering how music should be consumed, how much access we should have to it, and whether or not the technology introduced to ‘improve things’ can, in fact, be detrimental to the physical art form.

It’s no secret that the biggest game-changer in the music industry since the turn of the century has been streaming services. Multi-billion dollar companies such as Spotify and Apple Music are the kingpins of making music accessible in today’s society – just about every song ever recorded at your fingertips for a mere monthly fee.

These services act as an absolute god-send for consumers around the world, as paying £10 a month to get music on an ‘all you can eat’ basis is a hell of a lot more appealing than nipping down to HMV on a Saturday and paying the same price for just one album like we were doing back in 2007. So long as you’re consuming more than one album a month (which, I sincerely hope you are), you’re financially better off as a music lover than you were ten years ago.

The real question which surrounds streaming is whether or not the artist is getting a fair deal and if handing over our money to big corporations rather than the artists themselves is helping or harming the industry.

The exact denominations of how much the artist and the label gets per stream has never been fully quantified and is likely to differ from one record contract to another, but surely if we are paying so much less for our music consumption then the artist must be losing out in some way?

That would seem rather blatant, but here’s why streaming might just be the fairest deal for everyone. Transport yourself back to 2004, where you probably, at some point, bought Usher’s sublime album Confessions. If you take that album home and listen to it every day for the next 10 years and it becomes your favourite body of work ever released, that equates to one album sale. If you were to take that album home listen to it just once and come to the conclusion that it was nothing but trash that wasn’t worth anyone’s time, do you know how many album sales that would equate to? You guessed it, one.

Streaming services however, offer something that has never been offered before, a more accurate reflection of what we, as consumers, are actually listening to. We can now say with much more confidence that whatever is sitting at number one, is there because it deserves to be, and it is there because the people of the UK simply cannot get it out of their head.

With every colossal shift in the music industry comes some sort of counter-movement or backlash, and the most notable one to the rise of streaming services comes in the form of the vinyl resurgence. Record stores are popping up around the country at what feels like the same rate as ‘Greggs’, and angsty teens have never been more proud to show off their first pressing of The Queen is Dead, which they got their hands on at a car-boot sale.

Artists like Jack White have been long-term supporters of vinyl, claiming that there is something that you get with a physical record which “you just don’t get with downloads”. But what is that certain something? A lower sound quality? Less portability? A criminally high price? Who knows?

It should be said, people of a certain age cherish their vinyl collection from their youth and why not? There is an obvious nostalgia factor which comes in to play and I’m sure in 20 years I’ll be the same when I find my old iPod Nano in a cardboard box. But to claim that music loses its integrity once it makes the move from physical to digital is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

Surely, the beauty of any piece of music is the music itself and not the way in which it is stored. What makes Prince’s Around the World in a Day so incredible isn’t the box that it came in, but its fusion of soul, funk, and rock music to create and album with irresistible groove. What makes Nas’ Illmatic so seminal isn’t the way the vinyl smells when you open it, but the way Nas managed to lyrically depict life in Brooklyn, New York, better than anyone had before him.

The physical sale of music is something that will never fully lose its place in the industry. But what traditional music fans need to come to terms with is that streaming services have got a lot to offer and they shouldn’t miss out on the amount of access the next generation is getting, or they’ll be left behind.

The hoards off p*ssed off music ‘purists’ who are under the impression that Spotify and Apple Music have spawned the death of the music industry altogether, might be surprised to find out that in reality they might have just kick-started it’s growth.

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