Finally, after dreaming all my life and saying "one day", next Sunday, May 24th, I will complete one of my bucket list items and going to see The Rolling Stones. Wheel chairs and respirators aside, that really got me to think about how much music has changed over their career during the past 50+ years.
In the 1970's, television had a real big impact on music. Shows like Saturday Night Special put faces to the stars that only previously were known by their voices. You knew Elvis's voice, but could you pick him out of a line up out of costume? The invent of the TV really changed the way that we consume music.
Skip forward another decade to the early 80's and MTV took what started in the 70's to a whole new level by putting music videos, twenty-four hours a day on TV. The industry was changing. As the song goes, video killed the radio star. This was true. It was now harder for ugly, overweight people to become "rock stars". You had to take care of yourself. Now you didn't have to look good just for a photo shoot, but you had an image to keep up all the time. It was a different world than it was just 15 years prior.
Finally, we reach the tech era. Ever since Aerosmith released the first commercially available song for download back in the early 1990's with CompuServe things have been spinning at points out of control. Just as television and video technology shook the industry a decade earlier, I don't think that anybody could prepare the industry for what was ahead.
The digital age is probably the biggest game changer that the industry has seen yet. Napster really set the stage with connecting millions of people through a dial-up modem to any song their heart so desired. Slowly but surely, physical media was dying out. Change was impending and the music industry had a big choice in front of them, embrace it or ignore it.
My personal belief is that while they dabbed into messing around with tech, they never really embraced it until the 2010's. Instead of suing Napster (thanks Metallica!), they should have embraced it and worked with them closely to develop a better product and a new digital market. Maybe they did try and Napster was unwilling, but they should have started an alternative at minimum. The music industry is a very strong lobbying force and with very deep pockets. They could have took control of the market and drove the market the direction that they had wanted. If they had done that the current market could be totally different.
One could argue that it was best for the consumer that they did ignore it. During the 2000's after all the definitions were define of what is and what isn't piracy with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), piracy still ruled the world. People were downloading even more. Why? Not because they didn't want to pay (OK, in some cases) but mostly because the music industry failed to adopt to the market and find the solution that users wanted. Purchasing $20 albums when really all you wanted was one song was not the solution that consumers wanted.
Anybody that knows me, knows that I am not an Apple fan, but what they did was really change the market and made the marketplace that the RIAA should have made years ago. Being able to purchase high quality, secure songs for $0.99 cents each online was the answer most people were looking for and it showed because Apple made billions with iTunes over the year. For as good as the industry is with picking out music that people like, they were really tone-deaf to the actual conditions of the market.
That leaves us to today where we currently are. You have stars like Taylor Swift complaining that she isn't getting enough royalties for her music. Artists should not work for free. They deserve to be paid. They deserve to be paid a pretty penny. Unfortunately for Ms. Swift, she is suffering the consequences of the music industry to not be able to adapt to the current market or the technology that was available.
The all-you-can-consume music buffet services that all streaming services seem to offer is the future of music. The industry may not like what the free market picked as the result of their lack of vision and guidance, but to look on the bright side of things, people are once again paying for music and not downloading it for free.
I think the television industry needs to take note. Things are changing for them as well. They have been able to weather the storm so far and did a far much better job of adapting than the music industry did. Services like HULU and other streaming services offered by almost every TV station has saved the industry so far, but eventually people will want only a-la-carte programming. The cord cutting movement is growing.
One last random thought on the whole music industry. How hard is it to get a song played these days? In the 70's and 80's you had songs from only a few decades to compete against. We are now starting the last five years of the 2010's and most radio stations, especially rock stations have a catalog of songs that spans over 60 years! You could have a Beatles song from their first album in 1963 followed by a song that just came out from Royal Blood. How many songs from our past are being forgotten on the radio waves? That's where we come full circle being in the digital realm and with streaming, you can create your own station to focus on those forgotten gems. Let's hope the music industry embraces the digital age this time and works with consumers to find a good middle ground to where everybody wins.
David Strausser is a graduate of Penn State. He holds a degree in Information Sciences and Technology and is currently seeking another degree in Business.