Over the years, technology has played a key role in shaping the music industry. Consider the progression from the phonograph and analog tape machines to digital recording software and internet-based streaming services. The past two decades of rapid innovation in digital technologies have particularly disrupted the music business at every level.
Technology has changed how people create music. Composers can produce film scores from their home studios. Musicians can play for fans around the world through livestreamed performances. Songwriters can record albums and release them on digital distribution and streaming platforms without ever landing or signing a record deal.
For the music professional, the ins and outs of modern music business and music technologies is must-have knowledge. Southern Utah University offers an online Master of Music with an emphasis in Music Technology degree program. With options to focus on performance, studio, or game audio technology, this program offers students the technical and business skills they need to navigate the complexities inherent in the music industry today.
How Did the Digital Era Change the Music Business?
Advancements in digital technologies led to monumental shifts in most aspects of the music business. Early digital recording hardware and software made the recording process cheaper and simpler, to some degree. Compact discs ostensibly improved the quality of audio for consumers and minimized manufacturing and distribution costs.
Digital technologies led to growth in the music industry at first. Then came Napster. The internet became advanced enough that users could share and download music online. Pirating music no longer demanded dubbing tapes and burning CDs. People could download virtually any song they wanted through file-sharing platforms — for free.
This caused revenue in the music industry to plummet. Paid digital distribution platforms, most notably iTunes, followed shortly after Napster and revolutionized the monetization of digital downloads. Streaming services like Spotify have more recently revolutionized how people consume music. However, while these platforms now constitute the bulk of music industry sales, revenues still haven’t returned to levels prior to the age of Napster.
Is the Influence of Technology on the Music Industry Entirely Negative?
While the digital music revolution inarguably hurt music industry giants in terms of sales, it also leveled the playing field between big music businesses and smaller ones like indie record labels. Advancements in home recording software allow musicians to record at low cost. Digital distribution platforms also let artists and small labels sidestep larger industry-controlled distribution channels.
Social media and video streaming services enable artists to connect with fans directly, reducing the need for expensive PR campaigns. In general, the digital era has led to a democratization of the music industry, improving opportunities for artists and professionals of many types.
Innovative music technologies are also integral to the creation of a lot of modern music. Software-based virtual instruments and MIDI technology allow people to use millions of sounds in the production of their music, which musicians can program and manipulate in complex ways. This offers a great deal of creative potential to the tech-savvy composer or producer.
How Have Music Professionals Pivoted During the Digital Era?
Musicians and music businesses have had to diversify revenue streams in creative ways to make up for lost sales. The live music industry has always been an important source of income for performers, audio engineers, venues, promoters and other professionals. Thus, many people in the music industry began to focus more on live music as the digital era decimated album sales.
Before COVID-19 hit, live music saw steady growth over the last two decades. During the pandemic, musicians have been monetizing livestreamed performances over social media platforms using donation links or paid access services.
Recording artists and publishers are also focusing on placing music in TV shows, films and commercials to generate revenue from licensing and royalties. Professionals who are savvy with music technologies like digital recording platforms, MIDI composition and audiovisual programming software are exploring new lines of work in booming industries.
Video-streaming is one such industry, with services like Netflix constantly creating and releasing new content. The video game industry is also seeing wild growth, dwarfing all other entertainment industries. Composers, sound designers, audio engineers, and audio programmers are essential in these audiovisual industries, which creates important income opportunities.
The digital era has been tough on the music industry, but it has also opened the door for emerging artists who might otherwise never have gotten the exposure they deserve. This democratization and proliferation of music through technology is a boon for music lovers, as is the opportunity to watch a performer live online from thousands of miles away. Advancements in music technology have spurred growth and innovation in music creation, which is, after all, the point of art.