This MLA essay explores the effects that the internet has had on the music industry on both the large and small scale. This sample essay was written at the undergraduate level to serve as a sample for the Ultius blog.
Effect of the Internet on the Music Industry
The internet has changed many industries as it has grown in popularity and accessibility. Millions of people are able to communicate, shop, and watch any movie they want from anywhere that has an available internet connection. Another industry that has undoubtedly been affected by the internet is the music industry, which has changed quite drastically over the past few decades. As technology continues to advance, the music industry is forced to adapt again and again. First, artists and others involved in the production of music were concerned about the affect file-sharing services like Napster and LimeWire would have on the profitability of their work (“How the Internet Has Changed Music”). Now, the main issue involving the internet and the music industry is music streaming like Spotify and Pandora and debates on how artists and labels should be paid in royalties. Still, the internet’s influence on the music industry has not been an entirely negative experience; it has provided several notable benefits as well.
One of the most obvious effects that the internet has had on music as a business is the impact on royalties that artists and those who work on their albums are making. The iTunes Music Store opened at the end of April in 2003. Between then and the iTunes Store’s tenth birthday, music sales in the United States have dropped almost five billion dollars; after adjustments are made for inflation, revenue has been cut by more than half (Covert). This is particularly frustrating for many artists because despite these numbers, people are buying more music than ever. This is happening because iTunes has popularized the cheaply priced digital single. Apple was able to initially offer individual tracks for ninety-nine cents and digital albums for only ten dollars.
People began buying music online like crazy and those sales overtook sales in CDs. Digital albums generating more than eight hundred million in sales during 2007 while CDs only generated five hundred million (Covert). Still, though, some say that royalties are not, in fact, too drastically affected by internet downloads or streaming. The chief executive of Music Managers Forum, Jon Webster, says, “any artist has to be on a streaming service now- it’s what consumers wants. It’s part of the future. And if you’re successful, you can still make a considerable amount of money from it.” (Wall). Still, the idea that artists do not receive royalties from streaming services like Spotify and Pandora is false. Spotify, for example, says that approximately seventy percent of its revenues from subscriptions and adverting are paid out to publishing companies, collecting societies, and record labels- the copyright holders of the music the program provides; Spotify estimates that they have paid out more than one billion dollars in royalties between 2008 and when the statement was made in 2013 (Wall).
While it is clear that social media has affected the way we listen to music, it has changed the music industry in other ways, too. Twenty years ago, amateur musicians with high hopes of fames were forced to rely on music producers to listen to their demo tapes, the internet has made getting discovered much easier, giving power to the artist themselves rather than corporate bigwigs. The internet gives artist the power to produce their own music, upload it to the internet, and promote it however they want to. This has helped a number of artists be discovered by listeners and producers, and in some cases, get signed and discovered.
Justin Bieber is a prime example of the power social media can have on an artist’s career. He uploaded videos of himself singing on YouTube and was discovered by Usher. Justin went from being relatively unknown to being one of the most famous musicians worldwide in only a couple of years (Alan). This is because social media has made it so that word-of-mouth is not just limited to the people we see regularly. A popular topic can start trending worldwide in a matter of hours or even minutes and countless people are able to find their fifteen minutes of fame much easier than they ever have before; in the case of artists like Justin Bieber, though, the fame lasts much longer than fifteen minutes. Artists who are able to master social media domains often find themselves doing incredibly well in a very short amount of time, presenting opportunities that were never available before.
Illegally downloading music is when a consumer downloads music without paying the artist or obtaining permission. In the late nineties, when file-sharing services began growing in popularity, many in the music business thought the entire industry was about to crumble. More and more people were able to access music that they did not have to pay for. A study done in 2007 by the Institute for Policy Innovation estimated that illegal music downloads were costing the United States economy more than twelve billion dollars per year (Wall). Record labels are no longer in control of distribution and labels have been forced to adapt in order to survive in the new face of the industry. On the other hand, though, artists are no longer at the mercy of record labels. They have access to new technology that empowers them to distribute and promote their music in a way they were never able to before, providing opportunities to reach and communicate with fans from Ethiopia to Portugal.
Before the turn of the millennium, Death Cab for Cutie was just one of countless indie-rock bands who, though signed to a minor record label, existed in general obscurity. They played mostly empty clubs for fifty dollars per night and did not garner a ton of support (Suddath). During the first couple of years of the twenty-first century, the band’s following steadily started growing and more and more people were coming to their shows with the same story; they had first heard the group’s songs on the internet. They caught the attention of the producers of The O.C. in 2003 without even having a website (Suddath). After thousands of illegal music downloads paved their way, Death Cab for Cutie has a gold album and worldwide name recognition.
This is surprising, as one would assume that illegal music downloading is harmful to the welfare of a musician’s career. However, the biggest problem any band has ever had in getting started is getting its music heard. TIME magazine explains, “For years, the music industry was confined to four multinational corporations that dominated the revenue stream of seventy percent of the music coming in, and four or five radio conglomerates that controlled what music was going out.
Now all that has been broken up unto millions and millions of little pieces and subcultures and niches that are serving small, really dedicated communities of music lovers.” (Suddath). While a consumer might not pay for their initial download of a song or album, if they like what they hear, they will follow the artist or band and become fans in the longer term. They are more likely to attend the band’s show, buy band merchandise, or buy more music in the future. If a band can establish a following, their fans will continue to want to hear new music that comes out or see the band in person. It could be worth letting consumers get whatever gets them hooked for free because their long-term devotion will lead to many money making opportunities in the future.
The opinion of musicians on whether or not the internet has been good for the music industry is mixed. The Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit presented a survey of almost three thousand musicians about how the internet had affected the music industry, particularly file sharing. Approximately thirty-five percent of the musicians surveyed felt that file-sharing services can be good for artists because they make it easier to promote themselves and distribute their work quickly; twenty-three percent said that file-sharing services are bad for musicians because they make it easy for other people to copy their work without their permission or any form of payment; and thirty-five percent of them agreed with both statements (“Artists, Musicians, and The Internet: Preliminary Data Memo”).
The musicians were also asked about the impact that free downloading on the internet has had on their music careers. Five percent of respondents felt that free downloading has exclusively damaged their career, thirty-five percent said that it has helped, eight percent responded that it has had a combined effect of the two; in addition, thirty-seven percent of those surveyed felt that free downloading had not made a notable impact on their music careers (“Artists, Musicians, and The Internet: Preliminary Data Memo”). The survey then asked the respondents if music sharing on the internet has made it harder for them to protect their music from piracy and illegal download. Results showed that sixteen percent of respondents felt that the internet has had a huge effect on their ability to protect their music from being pirated, twenty one percent said it had a small effect, and forty-one percent said that it has had no effect at all (“Artists, Musicians, and The Internet: Preliminary Data Memo”). Regardless of these results, the majority of those who responded to the survey feel that file-sharing over the Internet poses some kind of threat to the music industry.
In terms of providing free music themselves, though, most of the artists felt differently. Eighty-three percent of them have provided free samples of their music online’ the majority of those say that the free samples, which are most often given as free internet downloads, have helped them to sell CDs and increase concert ticket sales (“Artists, Musicians, and The Internet: Preliminary Data Memo”). It seems that many artists agree that free downloading is different when they are in control of providing the samples. In the same survey, almost seventy percent of musicians felt that the artist should have total control over their material once it is produced; comparatively, nearly thirty percent of respondents feel that the artist and copyright holder should have “some control” over the material while three percent feel that that person should hold “very little control” (“Artists, Musicians, and The Internet: Preliminary Data Memo”).
The internet has totally transformed several industries, including the music industry. The music scene was an entirely different place before the internet provided a new platform for sharing, buying, downloading, and promoting music. The many drastic changes have been mixed- while some things have negatively affected the way the industry works, it has also had many positive affects for consumers and artists alike. While the debate over whether the internet has been overall positive or negative, we can at least be assured that the industry will continue to adapt with technology.
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“Artists, Musicians, and The Internet: Preliminary Data Memo”. Future of Music. Future of Music Coalition, 2004. Web. 15 Jul. 2016. https://futureofmusic.org/artists-musicians-and-internet-preliminary-data-memo
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Suddath, Claire. “Greg Kot: How the Internet Changed Music.” TIME. Time Inc., 21 May 2009. Web. 16 Jul. 2016. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1900054,00.html
Wall, Matthew. “Is streaming technology saving the music industry?” BBC News. BBC, 27 Jun. 2014. Web. 15 Jul. 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-28023116