Thoughts on Technology and Today’s Music

Downloading Music – Whether Legally or Illegally – Technology Says It’s Time to Say Good Bye to the Big Label Mindset

Downloading of music on the internet has been a large topic of debate since the Napster controversy in 1999. Large companies and artists lose money due to illegal downloads, listeners get frustrated over rising costs of music – it’s a constant cycle that doesn’t show signs of ending anytime soon. But what about the legal music downloads – what kind of impact does that have and is it any less harmful to the industry, or does it mean the industry has to change to keep up with modern technology?

New technology makes the marketing and purchasing of music available in a very different format than what the music industry was built around; instead of listening to the radio and buying CDs, consumers are listening to streaming services and buying MP3s in single song format. This framework is causing an impact on the industry, even when it is done legally because the cost of a single MP3 does not recoup the total cost spent to record an entire album, and a streaming service might pay the label, or in some cases the artist, for the rights to a song or album, but this only scratches the surface of the costs causing big name labels to lay off engineers and sound designers and be more reticent to pickup new “unknown” artists.

What is a result of the shift in technology? The music industry has to change their business model in order to maintain profits, and one way that this might occur is through a change in how a label shares profits with an artist. Recording companies might want to look into “multiple rights or 360 deals, in which artists share with their label their earnings not just from album sales, but from concerts, merchandise, and other sources as well” (Jean Ferris). This mindset might enable the labels to maintain profits, but it changes the way things work for the development of an artist and definitely changes the way the artist profits on their own career.

The one thing that does stand out as a positive about modern technology and the interconnectedness of music sharing is that an artist is no longer solely dependent on big labels to produce and market them. An artist can now choose to build their own “independent” albums and market their career using the internet and social media which allows an artist to control and maintain the integrity of their work instead of following the direction from a big label producer. While there may be the loss of the big name as a source of security, the use of technology could be changing the name of the game and it’s certainly the end of the big label era.