It all started a few years ago with the creation of Napster in 1998, a crazy project by 19-year-old Shawn Fanning. The principle of the platform was to offer free downloading of music files. A long legal battle with record companies and the RIAA then began. These traditional market players fiercely opposed free and peer-to-peer music and wanted to protect CDs. They attracted the anger of a section of consumers by launching a campaign denouncing Napster users. In 2002, following the launch of the iPod, a real revolution for all music lovers, when record companies refused to join the digital music market and therefore allowed Apple and its iTunes software to gain a monopoly. However the real growth area for music is now the Internet.
The emergence of digital music sites (Spotify, Deezer, Grooveshark, etc.) from 2006 changed the way music is purchased. Access to music has become unlimited. It is no longer necessary to store music and users are being offered new services. These sites use an algorithm to recommend radio stations, playlists or concerts based on current tastes and preferences. For under €10 a month, “Premium” packages which are ad-free and available offline, have convinced many users to abandon CDs and even pirate downloads in favor of legal streaming. For €0.99 a track, consumers now prefer to graze, putting together playlists instead of listening to whole albums. Their standards remain high, of course, but they are now more versatile and less loyal.
Live or on-screen?
Discs are certainly now in a weaker position. According to the Digital Music Report, published by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), consolidating data from 19 countries, “physical” media accounted for just 39% of the industry’s revenues in 2015 (compared with 45% for digital). But the music industry has been able to find new revenue streams, for example from concerts, which account for an increasing share of income for artists, as well as merchandising and television. Indeed, music is at the center of some very popular TV shows, including “American Idol”, “Glee” and “The X-Factor”, and benefits from the publicity. This diversification of musical income streams does not mean more money for artists, however – a “value gap” strongly criticized by the IFPI.
The race for clicks
The decline of CDs has not harmed music generally. Digitization has made it possible for artists to increase their number of potential listeners. Some now become famous via the Internet and no longer need to release a record to be successful. Artists such as Justin Bieber, The Weeknd and PSY, the Korean singer of the mega-hit “Gangnam Style”, started out on Youtube and now fill concert venues with Internet-users. Popularity is now measured in the number of hits instead of the number of discs sold. Volumes have also changed. Whereas a Gold disc was previously awarded for 50,000 albums sold, we are now talking about millions or even hundreds of millions of streams. The rapper Drake, the most listened-to artist in the world on Spotify in 2015, notched up 1.8 billion streams.
Music certainly now comes in many forms. We can listen to a vinyl disc at home, a CD in the car and then switch to streaming at work. New consumer habits, new players, new services – if one thing is certain, it is that music is now just as much a part of our lives, if not more so. And music lovers still have plenty to look forward to. For example, Spotify is preparing a new aggregator for photos of fans taken at concerts. And Google has recently launched the Chrome Music Lab – a great site promoting musical awareness and creativity.
Top 3 of Spotify’s most streamed artists of 2015
Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud
The WeeKnd – Can’t feel my Face
Drake – Hotline Bling