The Music Landscape: Where It’s Been, Where It Is and Where It’s Going

Music is all around us. It has been many places we’ve never been and many places we’ll never be able to go. It spans generations, is as old as our ancestors and will ultimately float through the ears of our children’s children long after we’ve left. In order to understand something and where it is going you have to examine its past and where it has been. The landscape of the music business is exactly that…a business. “The music industry would like us to believe that the interests of the music industry and the interests of music are one and the same. This history shows they’re not” (Scribd). Music undergoes change for a variety of reasons like new times, new trends, new instruments, and different tastes. “Music history” is the distinct subfield of musicology and history, which studies music from a chronological perspective, but for our purposes we’ll be talking about the history of the “music industry.” Alas, a brief (sort of) history lesson…

In 1888, Emile Berliner invented the gramophone, which was music’s first disc form. The gramophone was a flat zinc covered disc 7-inches in diameter and could hold up to 2 minutes in recorded sound. In the 1890’s, this eventually resulted in the mass production of records assembled into the first jukeboxes that were leased for music listening pleasure, but because of their bulky size they didn’t produce much profit or widespread use. “Record players were invented in the late 1800’s. But there were no records. So for the same reason Microsoft made Word & Excel to make Windows more useful — electronics companies like Sony and Columbia started making records” (Digital Music News). By the 1900’s, the materials used and production methods continued to improve and gave recordings a more clear, strong and dynamic sound, birthing the start of the automatic music industry.

Because of the fragile nature of these discs, “the first “V-Discs” made of polyvinyl chloride, known as “PVC” or “vinyl,” were adopted as the new material for record production and shipped to entertain troops abroad in 1943. Vinyl survived as the record industry’s material of choice long after WWII ended,” of course while making boatloads of money for the record producers (PBS). In 1964 cassette tapes had their commercial breakthrough when Philips introduced its own 30-minute format for the tape cartridge and allowed for other manufacturers to duplicate the specifications. This standardization of cassette tapes created a market for an inexpensive and portable solution to reel-to-reel tape and with the price of a blank tape around $3 and a vinyl album at $6 by the end of the 1960s, the record companies started to worry about the recordable cassette affecting their sales (Digital Music News). The 8-track made a brief run at taking down the cassette with its increased sound quality, but consumers were more concerned with convenience than high-end production when it came to portable music (I wonder where this is headed).

The industry began to fight against “copyrights” in response to the complaints of vinyl bootlegging and artists not making the money they should. Record executives complained that teenagers tape and swap their favorite albums (an early form of sharing), but cassettes stayed on the scene with the introduction of Sony’s Walkman in 1979, assimilating cassettes into our cars and our pockets. Within just a few years the ’80s become the most explosive boom period in recorded audio history, as consumers replaced their vinyl collections but not with cassettes…with Philips and Sony’s new compact-disc (CD). Within three years of the CD’s arrival in the marketplace, the electronics industry sold 1 million CD players; by contrast, it took 11 years for color television manufacturers to sell one million units (PBS).

It was the 1990, Internet met audio on a summer vacation and there was an instant connection.

They began to innocently flirt and when one thing led to another their “combination created a combustible phenomenon called Moving Picture Experts Group-1, Layer-3,” but you might know their love child as MP3. Now the “adults” of the industry began to fight over “custody” of the digital technology for compensation. So with their baby taken from them, Internet starts to turn tricks on the streets using audio, streaming her all over the world and others start to take notice. Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker attempt to do the same with their “Napster,” followed by Kazaa and others.

Enter Apple.

Apple has been an innovator in technology since its first conception with the user computer, but its most revolutionary invention changed the music landscape, as we knew it, forever.

“Why music? Well, we love music, and it’s always good to do something you love. More importantly, music is a part of everyone’s life. Everyone. Music has been around forever. It will always be around.” – Steve Jobs.

Capacity, Convenience, Portability, and Personalization; these are the characteristics that Apple tries to bring to every product they put on the market. Gone are the days of skipping CD players that hold 15 songs by 1 artist on a $10 disc that gets scratched, broken and lost faster than you can memorize the lyrics. iPod took ALL of the music that i love, arranged in the way that i want, and put in i pocket (alright my pocket, but you get the i-dea). Capacity, check. Personalization, check. Portability, check. Then there’s convenience; the driving force behind most things in our society. How can I make this easier, more efficient, more comfortable, more fitting? What made iPod so revolutionary, so convenient? iTunes.

Unlike other MP3 players, which required users to drag music files into folders, iTunes allowed you to sync your music automatically to an iPod in a matter of minutes. No more going to the store and perusing through endless stacks of plastic, dealing with the hustle and bustle of the traffic and the mall. With a simple click of the mouse, your existing CDs were digitalized and automatically synced onto your iPod. The “real” iTunes (in my opinion) began in 2001 when Apple revealed the iTunes “Store.” An endless supply of music available at your fingertips in your home bypassed convenience and transcended into luxury. Not only did it allow you to skip the CD shopping and downloading processes, but it also shifted the dynamic from buying an entire album for a song or two of your liking to the option of purchasing individual songs for only $0.99, less than just 1 Sacajawea coin (remember those?).

A mixtape? What’s a mixtape? All of your favorites easily accessed and stored into one device the size of a deck of cards sounded too good to be true. The famous “shuffle” feature enabled the user to listen to songs at random as if they were fate, hand delivered from God’s – I mean Jobs’ – hands to our own ears at that exact moment in time for a specific reason versus knowing exactly what’s coming next every 5 minutes like in our daily lives (NOT). Fast-forward to 2005 – the iPod Nano. I said check to portability already didn’t I? Color photos, video and then the groundbreaking touch screen.

In 2007, possibly the most innovative, revolutionary, trailblazing, (insert other synonyms for awesome) technological device ever created was presented at MacWorld. You already know what I’m talking about. You’ve probably glanced at it 2-3 times while reading this if you’re not reading this off of it right now. iPhone.

They took the Internet, iOS X (user mecca), your iPod/music (that you carry around everywhere), your camera (which you never seem to have when you want it most), and your cell phone (running out of room here…) and put it all into 1 device that – yup, you guessed it – fits in your pocket. I won’t even begin to list all of the features that were added and then developed from that point to the technology we use today. I’ll just say, there’s Apple and then there’s oranges. In 2003, iTunes started with less than 50 employees, by 2004 they had sold 1 million songs, by 2006 they had sold 1 billion songs, ‘07 2 billion, and in 2008 they became the #1 music retailer in the world at 5 billion songs…ain’t that a B? (Paul Graham)

So what started this whole long-winded history lesson? I’m starting to forget al – oh right, music. CD stores are pretty much gone, along with DVD stores (RIP Blockbuster) and live streaming is the present and future of sharing and connectivity (Netflix and chill…?). The fact that this all stemmed from the desire to connect with an artist over a song after a bad case of the Monday’s arguably makes Steve Jobs the best Artist Representative and Manager of all time. Can you say…commi$$ion?

“Music technology generally, can influence music’s development and expand the musical soundscape. But music’s value has existed, as long as music itself – indeed without the central ‘communication of meaning’, the surrounding technologies would be worthless. Music’s political, cultural and social impact belies its economic impact; financially the music industry is a weakling (annually, the total sales of recorded music for the whole world added up to about one tenth of Wal-Mart’s turnover). The music business worries – as all businesses do – that it hasn’t got as much money out of music as it should; the myth of media carrier value helps calm those fears. Nevertheless, for music, the media carrier is a cost, not a value. The graph below compares consolidation rates (i.e. the market share of the majors) with musical creativity.  

There is no definitive mathematical proof that music industry monopoly crushes musical creativity, just as there is no proof that it nourishes talent. By its nature creativity cannot be directly measured and the proxy used here – new music genres – is a subjective measure. Even so, to put it plainly, to me it seems both intuitive and obvious that when four large corporations control up to 90% of the industry, music is bound to suffer. You, dear reader, are invited to draw your own conclusion” (Scribd).

So that’s where the music industry came from, where it has been, and where it has been recently. So where is it now?

Spotify. Apple Music. Tidal. Streaming services are the now and the near future of music.

It started with Internet radio, mainly Pandora, where you could choose an artist or song and listen to a “self-made” playlist of songs based on the initial entry vs. listening to the radio push whatever song of the week you’ve heard 100 times or paying $100 on iTunes to have those songs on your phone listened to at your own discretion. Then somebody thought, “Hey, I want to listen to what I want, when I want and not pay shit.” “Spotify is the go-to choice right now because it has nearly every feature other services have, it has the most users (your friends,) plus it’s gotten really good at what it does” (The Sweet Setup). As much as Apple has been a trailblazer in creating markets and “getting there first,” Spotify is the pioneer when it comes to streaming with its novelty, utility and social media component, and its ONLY $9.99/month ($4.99 with a student discount).

Just like in all good businesses, economics dictates that if a market is profitable then other firms will enter it. For once Apple enters the market instead of creating it, and, as of last year was far behind…but it is Apple. “Apple Music is new and fresh for the long-time music-loving company, but it’s still incomplete. All the pillars of its tenure are in place, but lots of the minor details are ripe to be updated and changed as an evolving product. Apple Music is a very close second and is extremely promising, but lacks some features and has some software bugs out of the gate” (The Sweet Setup). Apple has the capital and more importantly the brand to not only compete with anybody but also to beat anybody. So what was Apple’s go-to move to be “different” than other streaming services?

Hmm…well who is one of, if not, the hottest artist right now? Don’t say it — Taylor Swift. I knew you were trouble when you walked in…So Taylor comes out and says that she doesn’t want her music on Spotify’s catalog because they’re “stealing from artists,” and if you want her music you can buy it the normal way, but Taylor…what is an artist’s most significant stream of revenue? LIVE SHOWS. And how do they get exposure and a fan base to buy tickets? PEOPLE LISTENING TO THEIR MUSIC. In 2014, there were 434 billion total music streams, a 95% increase from 2013. Digital downloads revenue only dropped from $935.4 million to $835 million, less than 2.5%. Avicii is all for Spotify spreading content and awareness (Paul Graham). Lil Dicky (AKA The Original Pancake, AKA The Independent Variable, AKA The Boy Who Cried Wolf…Twice) even based an entire song and music video off of spending no money and getting a shit ton of views and with that fans.

For all of LD’s AKA’s see:

Now this may just be a coincidence or I may have just stumbled onto the greatest conspiracy theory ever, but I think if we’ve learned anything over the past few months: it’s Taylor Swift’s fault. “For about a hundred years (ending around 2005), artists were able to get rich off of duplications — records, tapes and CDs. We still even use the word “copies,” like when a platinum record sells a million copies. Early musicians didn’t have that luxury. Mozart didn’t sell one fucking copy. Taylor Swift sold 110 million. How many of those millions of people only liked one track but had to buy the entire album? iTunes fixed that by decoupling the tracks from albums. How many of those millions put the album on a shelf and never listened to it? Spotify fixed that—artists only get paid for plays. By removing herself from streaming services, Taylor Swift is intentionally adding inefficiency back into the market. Like Comcast and Walmart, her product is popular enough that people will put up with it. And while I believe an artist gets to choose what happens to her art, I still think it’s a dick move to her fans” (Digital Media News).

So Taylor thinks that Spotify is “stealing from artists,” but out comes Apple Music to play, and it’s basically THE EXACT SAME THING (except not as good in my opinion and others). If we know anything about Taylor by now, it’s that she likes her money and looovvvesss her brand. Taylor Swift trademarked the phrase, “nice to meet you, where you been” and “this sick beat”…. Are we not sure that Taylor didn’t know about Apple Music before the rest of us? Could it even have been her (or one of her people’s) idea? To become the face of the brand and get paid, while the company implements the exact same service paying artists marginally for plays but with more avid followers and a larger capital backing…smells funky. So there’s competition in the free market and the legendary Jay-Z decides to join in on the fun with his own streaming service, Tidal, and we’ll see how that goes.

I mean its fucking Jay-Z…everything he touches turns into B for billion or B for Beyonce (tough choice).

And that’s where we are. Streaming services are the present and the future and there’s competition in the market. So what’s going to happen next? Well what we know for sure already is that certain artists (Taylor) are going to start siding with one service or the other, in effect causing an all out bidding war and separating these services in some form or fashion to where you wont be able to get just one and have all of your favorite music or potentially new favorite music readily available to you. If I’m Apple’s CEO, my end game is to take enough business away from Spotify that I can buy them out and conquer the market for myself. So if I’m Spotify’s CEO, what is my next move? How do I keep my users and how do I get more users?

As I mentioned before, what is the most innovative technology that every single person has and uses on a daily – scratch that – minute-to-minute basis? An iPhone (or whatever other smartphone you have loser). Every person uses one (and entirely too much I might add) and they run all of your apps and (that’s right) stream all of your music using data. Eventually music will end up being free…or will it? Data is what you pay for, whether you know it or not and no matter what the price is. Say Spotify goes to Verizon saying, “hey, we have the most popular music streaming service and you have the 2nd most used wireless network. Why don’t we team up and provide music for everyone/make a shit ton of money and keep each other afloat/move to the top of the food chain?”

If we know a bidding war is inevitable and that it means the downfall of at least most of these streaming services then we need to make our service autonomous, widespread, and infinite.

We know that every person is going to have a cell phone and pay for data no matter the cost, so why don’t we (Spotify) join with Verizon and instead of offering our services to everyone for $9.99/month and you charging $25/month, combine the two and serve exclusively as Verizon Wireless’s streaming service for $35/month. This gets our fans and followers to pick you, increasing your revenue, and delivers our services to our existing users and all of your existing users, whether they like it or not. If they have it, and they pay for it then they’re probably going to use it (and who cares if they don’t? They’re paying for it). Music becomes more widespread than ever so artists naturally want to be in our catalog.

Next Apple Music pairs with AT&T because they’ve always done exclusive iPhone/iPad/iWhatever deals with them and do the exact same thing and copy us…again. Jay-Z and Tidal go find Sprint or whatever other mobile company doesn’t absolutely suck…let’s say T-Mobile for the use of wordplay. Jay-T, or bring in Justin Timberlake (JT) or Z-Mobile, yeah I like that. Reverse the situation and Jay-Z buys into T-Mobile and launches his own cell phone service provider/music distributor and streaming service. The possibilities are endless as long as you continue to think outside of the box and get there first. Music reaches an all-time peak and continues to climb and everybody makes a little bit of money in the process (Sorry, A LOT of money in the process). Just remember at the end of the day…it’s All Taylor Swift’s Fault.

If you’re still on the fence about what streaming service to pick:

Works Cited Page

“A Brief History of the Record Industry, 1890-2005 – Digital Music News.” Digital Music News A Brief History of the Record Industry 18902005 Comments. N.p., 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.

Harris, Johnathon. “A Brief History of the Pre Internet Music Business.” Scribd. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.

Hayes, Tyler. “The Best Music Streaming Service – The Sweet Setup.” The Sweet Setup. N.p., 29 Sept. 2015. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.

Howard, George. “What The Music Business Could Learn From The Internet Of

Things.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 27 Sept. 2015. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.

Tainter, Callie. “Chronology: Technology and the Music Industry.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.

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