As once said by Marilyn Manson, “Music is the strongest form of magic.” It is a universally understood form of self-expression. Due to the eclectic range of genres, artists can appeal to wide audiences and communicate with them through songs and albums. And now, with the uprising trend of technology, reaching out to fans worldwide has become easier than ever. Artists now have a bigger impact on pop culture thanks to the influence of social media.
The digital revolution has brought about dramatic changes to the industry in the past few decades, with streaming now taking over most of the digital revenue, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.
However, the distribution of music in digital form has exposed the industry to more advanced forms of piracy, causing sales to plummet and copyright violations.
This essay aims to answer the research question by analysing the following:
1. How has digitalization changed the way music is distributed?
2. Why is piracy such a big problem in this era? Are there any ways to stop it?
3. What effect does social media have on musicians?
Issue #1: Piracy in the Industry – the Overall Effect of Streaming
In 1999, the global music industry hit a peak, earning almost $30 billion in total (IFPI). But since then, it has faced a sharp decline of losing 40% of its revenues until 2015. Only recently has there been an increase of 5.9% in revenues (2016), and from this we can withdraw that there will probably a slow but steady increase in the following years to come.
According to Oxford Dictionary, piracy is “the unauthorized use or reproduction of another’s work.” Piracy has been around for ages, from bootlegged cassettes in the 80’s to ripping CDs in the early 2000s. But ever since the birth of websites like Napster and Megaupload, piracy has been brought into the mainstream. People thought, “Why pay for something when you can get it free-of-charge?” And torrenting websites helped with just that.
This is notably important for my home country, the Philippines, where 8 out of 43 shops affiliated with the Philippine Association of the Record Industry (PARI) closed down due to the uncontrollable cases of piracy. When recording companies fail to sell enough albums, the value of music goes down. While PARI certified albums as Platinum upon selling 40,000 units in 1989-2002, this number has gone down to 15,000 in 2013. This shows that consumers no longer hold the same value for music as they used to during the pre-Internet era.
But during recent years, piracy levels have gone down- about 6% in 2017 (MUSO 2017 Global Sample Market Insights). The reason may be because of the uprising trend of streaming.
Reasons why streaming is so favourable include: you will not get fined or get arrested. A stark contrast between P2P (peer-to-peer) file-sharing websites and most streaming websites is that streaming is legal. Applications like Spotify and Apple Music have agreements with right-holders of all the music on their platform, which means that they have permission to stream the artists’ music, unlike pirate websites. Another reason is that streaming takes away the chances of getting malware into your device, which is something people would have had to gamble with every time they downloaded something from an online sharing website. This can be due to pop-up advertisements that usually open when a user enters these type of sites, and viruses can be downloaded to the device, with the user none the wiser. Downloaded files may also be infected as malware, disguised as an MP4 file.
Streaming also takes away most of the effort because users can easily access music without having to buy a physical copy, which may explain why digital revenues have eclipsed physical sales in 2016 (IFPI), as well as the efficiency of not having to own a CD player.
During 2017 in the U.S. alone, streaming increased by 80.5% in income. China saw a 30.6% rise in streaming as well, and this increase is notable due to the country having the largest population in the world. Germany, the world’s 4th largest music market, increased in streaming revenue by 73%, according to Billboard Music. From this trend, we can predict that streaming will be the mainstream method for enjoying music in the near future, since consumers will always look for easier methods to enjoy music free of hassle.
Issue #2: Social Media and Artists
Social media is one of the many products of the digital revolution. In January 2017, there were about 2.8 billion people on social media, which is almost 37% of the human population. Considering that a majority of these users are from the ‘Generation-Z’ demographic (the largest population segment), this number has most likely grown and will continue to rise. So, does the growing use of social media in the youth subculture affect the creative artists in the music industry? Is it an effective marketing tool for artists to create a platform on? Or does it only bring more disadvantage to these people, because social media becomes another burden for them to keep up and be responsible with?
Firstly, social media allows musicians to interact with fans worldwide. Videos, images and even thoughts and daily updates can be shared by tweets and Facebook posts by the musician and be seen by fans in different continents. With social media, artists can reach out to a wider range of fans with much less work, and fans can also communicate with artists in a simpler way than the traditional ‘snail mail’.
This allows a more personal relationship between artist and audience. Fans feel like they have a legitimate connection with the musician, because they can communicate with them in a way that makes them feel like they know them in person. In figure 2.2, British artist Harry Styles says, “I can’t wait to see you…” which makes the fan feel like the artist is talking to them directly, rather than reading a churned out, generalized message such as “Come to my concert!” on an old-school flyer. The following figures show examples of artists sharing day-to-day activities on social media.
This ultimately encourages more support from them when they release new albums, or other new content. This kind of relationship would have been impossible in the pre-Internet era when all you had were television programs, magazine interviews as well as word-of-mouth.
It allows smaller artists the chance to have a platform, even though they are not signed to a record label. They can record their music with programs such as GarageBand, then upload their music to sites like SoundCloud or YouTube and create a local fan base through the use of social media.
Possible Courses of Action
The Swedish founder of Spotify, Daniel Ek, reported in an interview with TorrentFreak that “if we could build a service which was better than piracy, then we could convince people to stop illegal file-sharing, and start consuming music legally again.” Spotify claims that the number of pirates decreased by 25% between 2009 and 2011, and this figure has most likely risen since then due to the application’s popularity. Though there may have been other factors contributing to the decrease of pirates, 48% of streaming users were formerly illegal downloaders, according to IFPI. 8 in 10 out of said users have stopped pirating.
Chairperson of the Philippine Association of the Record Industry Marivic Benedicto quotes “I think Spotify has reduced music piracy by 95 percent.” This is due to Spotify being the favoured music platform because of its design and features, she explains in an interview with Manila Standard.
Enforcing stricter copyright legislations can also help take down the rate of piracy. Technology can be used to track down illegal file sharing websites, and governments should work together with the industry to shut these down. An example would be from Hong Kong in 2012 when the file storage website, megaupload.com, was closed. Founder Kim Dotcom was seized about US $40 million in assets. This effectively shut down the copyrighted material and stolen creative content, preventing the 50 million daily visitors from accessing the works. (Megaupload Indictment)
In 2013, Norway passed a legislation that allowed music rights owners to monitor file-sharing websites. Actions by the IFPI and other publishing companies have also been exerting effort for broadband providers to block major infringing sites such as The Pirate Bay to make it harder for people to download illegally. This way, people are forced to use legal platforms. (Norwegian Videograms Association)
Vice President of Tencent Music Entertainment Group in China, Andy Ng, says that the company is working towards “legitimised and monetised business models” by educating young people to “accept that content has a value”. They are slowly transitioning from piracy by offering “a low-quality streaming service” to get people familiar with the idea of paying for music. Ng states that “China’s population is over 1.3 billion. If a small fraction of this population pays for streaming services, it will be the biggest music market in the world.” (IFPI Global Music Report 2017, Focus on China)
Evaluation of Sources and Conclusion
The statistics have come from reliable and sensible reports from major global companies such as the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and other news outlets such as Billboard Magazine. All sources cited were published within the last decade, so none of the information is outdated, meaning that the facts in which I have based my opinion on are reliable.
I personally believe that the digital revolution has changed the music industry and the attitude of consumers globally. Though I may be slightly biased due to being a post-millennial born in the age of technology, I have been exposed to the experience of listening to music pre-digitalization, courtesy of my parents. For example, I often hear stories about “life-changing” concert experiences from elder relatives, but nowadays attending a concert has taken on a different definition. Physical presence is no longer required, because you can simply watch a live stream of the concert on applications such as Instagram or YouTube. Fan mail no longer comes in written letters, but instead, chat messages or online comments. These are some of the many indications that point to change due to the digital revolution. The change in the way we experience music are all because of an advancement, therefore answering the research question “Has the digital revolution affected the music industry?”
In conclusion, I believe that the pragmatic way to act is to embrace the innovation from the new technological advancement. The furtherance we experience today will not stop or slow down for anyone, or any industry. We never know when the technology of today will become the vintage knick-knack of tomorrow, therefore the best way to go about it is to simply make use of what it has to offer, while it still lasts. The world is changing, but this does not necessarily have to be a bad thing.