For tens of millions of people ... to digital music, there is no going back. As music ... to ones and zeroes from physical ... the way it is ... sold, given away, and heard is
For tens of millions of people listening to digital music, there is no going back. As music transforms to ones and zeroes from physical products, the way it is produced, sold, given away, and heard is changing forever. And the consequences for musicians, fans and the recording industry itself are profound.
Millions of songs are now available--for free or for sale, legally and illegally over the Internet. The emergence of this audio landscape has delighted music fans, but has undermined the business model of the music industry. Major record labels are squeezing less profit out of fewer artists and attempting to ward off losses by a frenzy of mergers.
According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, as of the end of 2004, four corporations--EMI Records, Vivendi Universal, Warner, and Sony BMG--controlled 80 percent of the shrinking $32 billion global music market.
Even as the music industry has consolidated, CD sales have steadily declined since consumers have become increasingly reluctant to pay $17.99 for a CD, often to get only one or two good songs. "There is a major disconnect between the music industry and the reality of the way most Americans relate to music," said Michael Bracy, a lobbyist for the Future of Music Coalition. "There is an effort to commodify music which is fundamentally impossible to do."
Although strongly opposed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), music downloading has become a way of life for most music lovers, worldwide. As Janis Ian, a musician entering her fourth decade of recording, recently said in a radio interview, "The Internet and downloading are here to stay . . . Anyone who thinks otherwise should prepare themselves to end up on the slagheap of history."
Why, in fact, do people download music from the Internet? Primarily to hear NEW music, or to listen to records that have been deleted by the major record companies and are no longer available for purchase. The goal of listeners is not simply to avoid the $5 bargain CD bin at the local record shop, but to hear music they can't find anywhere else.
Musicians and distributors are tapping into the consumer anger to rewrite the rules of the music industry amid financial turmoil. GarageBand.com is one example. Once just a community of online musicians, it is now becoming the Internet's answer to a record label as well, one that leaves much of the power--and the selection process--in the hands of musicians.
So far, the digital music movement has been a double-edged sword for artists. Newcomers and struggling musicians find the Internet to be a revolutionary way to produce and distribute their own music, bypassing the major record labels. The Internet can provide what every musician needs to be successful--exposure. Without exposure, no one buys the CDs, attends the concerts or purchases the T-shirts, ball caps, beer mugs and posters sold by the artists.
On the other hand, some artists have reacted negatively to online music, fearing a drastic reduction in the royalty payments from CD sales and losses of other revenue.
Whether you support the idea of music downloading or not, there is no turning back. As of the end of 2004, 200 million songs were downloaded that year--a tenfold increase from the previous year. And the courts have ruled that file sharing software is NOT illegal, in and of itself.
While the major legitimate online music services like iTunes Music Store, EMusic, and Napster 2.0, with deals from major record labels, carry between 700,000 and 1 million songs, Internet upstarts like GarageBand.com already claim an expanding library of 1.8 million songs available for free.
Whether you use a subscription site and buy your tunes, or search out free music on the Web, there is no doubt that the entire music world has been radically changed by the Internet and the advent of digital music.
So get online, download your favorite tunes, turn up the volume, and "let the good times roll."
Larry Denton is a retired history teacher having taught 33 years at Hobson High in Hobson, Montana. He is currently V.P. of Elfin Enterprises, Inc., an Internet business providing valuable information on a variety of timely topics. For a recording studio full of information, resources and suggestions about music downloads, visit http://www.MusicDownloadHere.com