The Digitization of the Music Industry

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As with many other fields, the music industry is undergoing swift and dramatic changes due to emerging technological advancements. The digitization of music has fundamentally shifted every aspect of the industry, from the way music is recorded to the manner in which albums are distributed and marketed. From record labels and music producers to the recording artists themselves, everyone involved in the industry has been forced to adapt their approach to music making and how money can be made.

Music educators are responsible for educating the next generation of musicians or music lovers. Keeping up with these advances and integrating them into the classroom is important for preparing students for what’s to come.

Modern music technologies at work.

The Streaming Model

The way that streaming music services have fundamentally changed the music industry and the way that audiences consume music cannot be overstated. Indeed, many in the younger generations of music consumers have never bought a physical copy of a recording in their lives. Whether or not this change marks a step forward is largely a matter of your point of view.

On the one hand, listeners have easy access to a universe of music, often for free via both legal and illicit avenues. Even paid streaming services that offer access to wide catalogs of completely authorized music are much less expensive than physical musical media ever was; a month’s subscription to Spotify Premium or Apple Music is the equivalent of the price of a single CD in the late 1990s, for example. Affordable and authorized streaming services have also helped reduce the amount of piracy across the music industry by shifting the balance between risk and reward for would-be pirates.

While the affordable and broad choices provided by streaming services are a boon to consumers, and the reduction in piracy benefits to both recording artists and record labels, many musicians are still less than pleased with the proliferation of streaming services. The amount of royalties received by an artist when a listener streams their song is significantly less than what they would receive from the purchase of a physical album. Some musicians, such as Taylor Swift, have pulled their music from these services for this reason.

Despite obstacles, streaming services present a unique opportunity for educators as well as strong support in a time when music education direly needs it. Music educators can use these services to bring a diverse set of sounds into the classroom, at the touch of a button. Further, many of these services support important music education causes that keep the love of learning music alive for many. For instance, streaming service Spotify has been known to host “hackathons” to support music education and tomorrow’s musicians. These events have led to a number of new music analysis and teaching tools that will continue to impact music educators and students in the years to come.

Shifting Income Sources

When the music industry was dominated by record labels and physical media for music distribution, the recording artists behind the music had a much smaller role in the musical marketplace. Record industry executives were the ultimate decision makers, deciding what artists to sign, what music to release and how to market it; record sales were the major avenue to financial success and the primary way to measure the viability of a particular artist within the industry.

Digitization has shifted the balance of power within the industry, giving more decision-making authority to consumers and musicians themselves. While streaming music services may have reduced the amount of royalties that artists receive when listeners tune in to their music, the increasing digitization of the music industry has granted recording artists greater opportunities to involve themselves in more revenue-producing opportunities within the industry. Under the old industry model, record labels dictated marketing efforts, and the emphasis was on selling records. Now, musicians have the freedom to experiment with novel marketing methods, such as free distribution of their music and surprise album releases, while relying on alternate avenues to generate revenue, such as touring and merchandising.

Heightened creativity in the face of shifting income services can benefit today’s music students in addition to existing musicians. More students can feel free to engage in self-expression through their music, and can strive to become professional musicians on their own terms. These greater opportunities allow music educators to encourage students to follow their dreams and help them find new and different ways to break onto the music scene.

One Person Versus a Whole Band

For many musicians, one of the most profound effects that music digitization has had on the way that they make music is how it has enabled them to do more with less. Prior to the technological advancements of recent years, the only way to produce the sound of a full band was to actually have a full band in the studio with you. Innovations, such as loop machines and digital audio workstations, now enable one talented musician to replicate the sound that used to require an entire band. With these options solo artists or smaller bands are able to achieve the same results with fewer band members to coordinate, making the recording process more convenient and profitable for the remaining musicians.

In addition, new technologies have led to new sounds and innovative sampling techniques. While fully replacing a four- or five-person ensemble may not be practical for touring rock bands, shifts caused by technology are driving new musical trends allowing recording artists to embrace fresh musical styles that depend on digitally produced sounds rather than an extensive and expensive band of backing musicians.

With access to this technology, music educators can also showcase a number of different sounds and instruments in a more relevant manner. If these are the tools musicians are using, then students should be able to integrate them into their learning of traditional instruments. Understanding the number of different sounds they can produce can help today’s students become tomorrow’s professional musicians.

Technology and Accessibility

Prior to the digitization of the music industry, musicians and recording artists had one path to fame, success, and a profitable musical career: getting signed by a major record label. To be sure, record labels still hold clout in the industry, but they can no longer act as the gatekeepers they once were. Digital technology has made it possible for musicians to record without the financial backing of a label. Further, the advent of digital technology has allowed for much less expensive studio space that musicians themselves can produce recordings in, and the entire process has shortened to a matter of weeks or even days.

Releasing music has also become untethered from record labels. While vinyl has seen a surprising resurgence lately, new bands and recording artists have the completely valid option of releasing their music without concerning themselves with manufacturing or distributing physical copies at all. Digital avenues, such as YouTube and Spotify, allow musicians to access a receptive audience of potential fans without incurring the heavy costs of manufacturing and distribution.

Both of these developments open new and exciting avenues for aspiring professional musicians. Music educators now have the unique opportunity of teaching students in an era of unprecedented accessibility, both to music creation technologies and to new and different sounds being created by today’s artists. Music has never been more accessible, and it’s an exciting time to be teaching it.

A strong system of music education forms the basis of the music industry, and the U.S. school system needs talented music educators now more than ever. When you choose to earn your Online Master of Music in music education from Kent State University, you can gain the knowledge, skills, and real-world techniques needed to advance your career in music education. Contact Kent State University today to learn more about our program offerings and find out how you can apply.

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