As a young teen, there was nothing more important to me than my unnecessarily large CD collection. It wasn’t uncommon for me to purchase up to eight CDs a week. Many times they were artists I’d never heard of before.
When iTunes came out, I loved studiously converting each CD into digital mp3 format for my computer, but for a long time I still used a portable CD player. I strongly protested my dad’s notion of getting me an iPod for Christmas. I didn’t like the idea of not having my CDs with me, of not being able to touch them, look at the album art, or read the lyrics obsessively. Well that didn’t really stop my dad (hardly anything does) and I was the annoyed owner of an iPod before I knew it.
It took me a while, but soon I was in love with my iPod and iTunes. I only bought physical albums from the really important artists to me. Then I began using sites like Napster and Limewire to download entire albums at no charge what so ever. Forget about the sentimentality of holding an album in your hands when you can experience all types of music totally free!
Then we all know what happened next. Illegal downloading became an issue and musicians started to wine about not getting paid and such (someone should tell them they’re in the music industry). And while they did their best to fight it, there really is no getting around the fact that the attitudes around music ownership are changing, and the industry needs to change with it.
In this culture of new media, the internet, and iTunes, the idea of owning music has completely disappeared. What was once the abstract thought of streaming music or sharing digital files has now become the norm. It has completely wiped out any desire to clutter your room and drain your bank account by purchasing actual CDs or vinyl. While a special bond to the artist is still there for consumers, they have learned to trust intangible forms of connection to them.
The iPod and other mp3 players made it unnecessary to have CDs for portable use, and music streaming, set up to combat illegal downloading, has made the possession of mp3 files almost unimportant.
While in Los Angeles, I had the unique opportunity to talk with Gary Heller, NBC’s Vice President of Research and Audience Measurement. He talked to me a little about streaming and the future of music ownership.
While the impression I got was that streaming eliminates the need to purchase music, Heller said that it actually works the other way around. More dedicated music listeners will stream and then go purchase the music they like. He said that as long as there is exposure to an artist’s music, a relationship between them and the listener is created, and the listener is more likely to purchase the artist’s album.
What is the bigger threat to the music industry are video games, TV, and other sources of media. “Any other use of [the consumer’s] time or money is competition,” Heller said. “The more important music is in people’s lives, the better.”
Internet streaming allows bands more outlets to get their music across to a more specialized audience. With this massive shift in how the music industry is operating, it’s important for bands and artists to connect with their fanbase.
Recorded music (CD’s, mp3s, streaming, etc.) has become the marketing tool for live shows, when it used to be the shows advertising for the album. Merchandising, which has always been critical for musicians, is now more important than ever. Most of their profit is coming from concerts and t-shirt sales, rather than album sales.
What streaming and the internet can do for the music industry is allow them to be more creative. They can focus more specifically on smaller demographics for particular styles of music, which will ensure a higher success rate. While the heavy hitters such at U2 and Dave Matthews may be a thing of the past, more styles of music will get a chance to be heard.
In Heller’s opinion, streaming music has in fact cut down on illegal downloading, but I wondered if it will replace more traditional forms of music sharing, such as radio. Yet Heller told me that even with the option of streaming people would still listen to the radio. The difference is that now they can stream their favorite radio stations or shows, which many listeners do.
So, even though it is not important for me to have my entire bookshelf crammed full of CD’s anymore, my iPod, filled up to capacity, can’t be pried from my eager little fingers and my Pandora account has extremely specified stations that I have spent hours perfecting by clicking the thumbs up thumbs down buttons for every track.
What Heller was telling me, and what I believe myself, is that true love for music conquers all. The music industry is experiencing a huge shift right now, but those of us who can’t go a moment without our tunes are ensuring a future for the industry everywhere.