How the web changed music forever: it's both a boon and a bane to musicians.
How did the Beatles become the Beatles?
Before the days of YouTube and the Internet, a band's chances of striking it big depended on record companies. If a band was lucky enough to get a record deal, it gained access to a label's vast resources and connections. The company paid for the band's studio time, made sure its songs appeared in jukeboxes and on store shelves, and got its music played on the radio, reaching millions of record buying Americans.
All this changed in the mid-1990s with the Internet. Suddenly, unknown musicians could post music directly to websites and promote it for free, bypassing record companies and going right to the public. This "democratization" of music eventually opened the door for Justin Bieber and Korean rapper Psy, who got their starts by posting their music on YouTube.
Record companies remain an important part of the music business, but now fans have a growing share of the power to find the next Beatles.
"The Internet started this idea that suddenly you no longer really had to have a gatekeeper at all," says Steve Knopper, author of Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. But though the Web has benefited many musicians, it wreaked havoc on the record industry by making it easy for people to steal copyrighted music, which caused music sales to plummet. Napster, started in 1998 by an 18-yearold student at Northeastern University in Boston, became one of the most popular piracy sites, eventually allowing tens of millions of users around the world to "share" vast amounts of music with one another at the click of a mouse.
Record companies successfully sued sites like Napster and helped develop formats like iTunes, where customers can legally download music for a small fee. (Piracy is still a problem, however.)
But although more people are paying for music again, few are spending $20 on full-length albums, as they used to. Most are either buying singles on services like iTunes for $1.29 or legally streaming music for free on sites like Spotify and Pandora. That means record companies are taking home a lot less money--and so are many musicians. For every Lady Gaga, who earned $52 million in 2012 from her music and sponsorships, there are thousands of musicians earning 7 to 10 cents for every $1.29-single sold on iTunes, and only about half a cent every time a song is streamed. Many musicians complain that they're unable to make ends meet and resent that fans can access their music for free.
Knopper thinks that's a valid point and is sympathetic to musicians struggling to make a living today. But he says he's also hopeful that a new and more fair business model will eventually emerge for the music industry.
"I think, generally speaking, technology and its advancement is a good thing, democratization of music is a good thing," says Knopper. "And I think ultimately, people will [once again] start to make money out of it."
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|Publication:||New York Times Upfront|
|Date:||Mar 11, 2013|
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