Even if you’re not a huge music fan and don’t actually buy all that many albums or singles, there’s no getting away from the fact that music has a huge presence in our everyday lives. It’s everywhere – on TV, in films, in elevators, at the end of the line when you’ve called to complain about your heating bill. We may not always notice how music infiltrates our subconscious, but we’d certainly notice a world without it.
The spread of broadband worldwide has meant that music has been brought to an even wider audience and exposed music lovers to every genre imaginable. Previously, anyone who lived in a remote village or rural area would have had to rely on the radio to get their music fix, or stock up on their favourite albums on shopping expeditions to bigger towns. Nowadays however, all anyone needs to build up their music collection is a PC and a broadband connection.
The advent of the Internet has also meant that we have access to a huge amount of free music. Bands, producers and singers who are trying to build up a new fan base, or simply show appreciation for the fans they already have will often offer free music downloads on their websites. It’s an instant way of connecting with people and at the end of the day, who doesn’t appreciate the offer of free music? Marketing at its best!
Of course the radical changes in our music buying habits haven’t been entirely positive. While most people welcome the opportunity to buy MP3 downloads at a very reasonable price, the growth of illegal online music sites has been an issue from day one that music industry bodies are still tackling. It would be nice to say that the majority of people do actually pay for their MP3 downloads, but a recent survey carried out by the The Recording Industry Association of America revealed that only 1/6 of the people surveyed who bought online music said they exclusively used legal sites, while 51% admitted acquiring their music downloads from illegal sites.
There are those who argue that free music downloads should be the exception rather than the rule and that artists should accept that the majority of their money will now come from touring and merchandising. While this might seem like a reasonable argument for big name stars, it leaves new and up and coming artists in a vulnerable position. The fact is they rely on fans paying for their MP3 downloads as they certainly don’t make money from gigging in small bars and clubs.
Free music for all is a great idea in theory, but in practice is not a viable option for emerging artists. The costs involved in producing, distributing and marketing a record mean that unless it is a massive success, there is very little profit to be made. The growth of online music and the fact that music downloads now outsell CDs has certainly made it easier for artists to connect with their audience, but the falling revenue from CD sales has put many struggling artists under huge pressure. Most will tell you that they don’t make a living from their music and the overall advice to anyone hoping to carve a career in the music industry seems to be ‘don’t give up the day job!’