How has the digital age helped the music industry?

There has been a lot of debate recently about the damage the music industry has endured because of digitalization. Piracy has been a major issue the industry complains about. Some say that the introduction of digital music caused a fall in music sales and income because people can now get music they would have bought for free. However, looking at the music industry beyond just album sales, digital music largely has improved the music industry. Digitalization has helped spread music globally and now music has grown to a large global stage.


I’ve been told so much about vinyl records and players, which were, unfortunately, the only way to listen to music in that time. You would have to go to a record store (if available) and purchase all the records of your favorite artistes. And if you didn’t know who they were yet I guess you would have to buy all the vinyl records. Nowadays, that isn’t very practical and it’s sad to know that that was the only way music could be publicized back then. But now publication has become far easier and there are a lot more artistes now making music than ever. The music industry has grown since the inclusion of digital music because it provides a very easy means for people around the world to access songs and videos.


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Fig 1. New study says: Illegal Music Downloads Not Hurting Industry. Digital image. Buzzentnet. Buzzent Network Ltd., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.

Spotify, ITunes store and radio, Sound cloud and much more are the major means several artistes are able to publicize their music. Before all this the only way you could release a mix tape was by somehow recording your music and burning the songs to as many CDs as possible before handing them out to the people you meet for instance, on the roadside, and you’re not sure if they even liked your songs because it was really difficult to receive feedback. The only other way would have been to somehow get a radio station to air some of your songs and unfortunately, there was no way you could ensure that you’d get good reception at the particular time the song was aired. But with the digital age, everything is so simple… your songs would be online for as long as you want, people could leave you comments on a song, iTunes could advertise an album or single you’re about to release and if you’re looking to make money, a particular price could be added to a song, album or music video. Even YouTube and, more specifically, Vevo offer easy ways of streaming the music videos of your favorite artistes. Artistes could even have their own websites where you could purchase concert tickets quickly and securely, sell their own merchandise or just even learn more about them – this really helps fans and potential fans get to know an artiste better.

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Fig 2. Cut out image from music Streaming vs. Music Piracy. Digital image. Medium. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.

There is a general assumption that the digitalization of music has reduced the music industry’s revenue. Due to increasing large amount of music downloaded freely on the Internet, it looks like the music sales are drastically reducing. A study conducted by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies in 2011 showed that illegal music downloads actually has a positive effect on music sales, though piracy has been blamed by many for the loss of revenue by the music industry. The ability to purchase a song individually through iTunes and other of such services, as opposed to having to buy a whole CD, seems to be the vital point to explaining the effect on digital music sales. The illegal download and music streaming, rouses more digital music purchases. When people illegally download a song online, the results of the study suggests that they aren’t doing this to for go a purchase they would have made initially, instead they use it to sample the song to see whether it is worth buying or not. As the researchers from the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies suggest, “Sharing can allow consumers to sample specific songs or albums which can inform them on what to buy. Similarly, the sampling of a specific song may stimulate individual demand for other songs by the same artist.” The researchers observed the online habits of 25,000 people as they browsed various illegal or legal music downloading sites. The researchers were able to monitor Internet users from five countries, including Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and Germany, and their consumption of music. The researchers did find that online piracy did not negatively affect music sales and that there are some positive effects of illegal downloading. The researchers noted that their results suggest that the vast majority of the music that is consumed illegally by the individuals in our sample would not have been legally purchased if illegal downloading websites were not available to them. Piracy does not hinder a future purchase of a song instead it acts as a means of detection of good quality music.

Looking at music sales in recent years, the music business has expanded widely into new markets and now attracts more users to digital music services, thus conveying artists to a larger global audience. Artists are now popular in many regions of the world where their cd sales would never have reached. According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), “the music industry’s digital revenues grew by 4.3 per cent in 2013 to USD $5.9 billion. There was a steep growth in both the revenues generate from music sales and the number of users for music subscription services. Globally, digital music is now 39 per cent of the total music industry global revenues. Revenues from streaming services are also growing aloft by 17.6 per cent in 2013.” Record companies have now started adapting their business to suit a model progressively built on the access to a song, and not necessarily the ownership of that song. The industry now gets 27 per cent of its digital revenues from music subscription and ad-supported streaming services, an increase from 14 per cent in 2011. Digital downloads still remains a key revenue stream as online purchases still account for a significant two-thirds of digital revenues. Some believe that album sales have dropped because no artist is currently selling as much as Michael Jackson but looking at the large volume of quality music available now, it is very difficult for one artiste to win the heart of all the fans. Statistically overall digital album sales still increase as consumers still show a strong demand for owning the album.

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Fig 3. Swensson, Andrea. 40 Years of Album Sales Data. Digital image. The Current. Minnesota Public Radio, 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.

Digital music has helped improve the music industry grow with promotion activities like live performances, merchandise, etc. Statistics from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reveals that the “broader music industry,” which included “revenues from music in radio advertising, recorded music sales, musical instrument sales, live performance revenues and portable digital music player sales (among a few other income categories)” grew from $132 billion to $168 billion. Live music particularly grew dramatically. This growth can be largely attributed to the growing popularity of music globally. Now an artist like Beyoncé can host a concert in foreign country like Switzerland or Singapore and still sell out seventy thousand tickets. Before the digitalization of music, this would never have been possible. Artists would have only gained popularity in a smaller region where their cd sales could cover but now artistes are globally acclaimed.

Yes, the digital age has brought some negative effects with it on the music industry, but we cannot just shut our eyes to the positive thing. Without digital music, music sales might still have continued to plummet through the years.

It took almost thirty years to replace the breakable Vinyl records with the infinite digital world even with its vast advantages. But clearly, it was a good investment because music sales almost tripled in a matter of ten years. Artistes became more popular and even more came up. It is clear the digital age has helped the music industry.  Can you imagine what the world of music would have been without digitalization?

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