The music industry is a fickle one; just as patterns begin to emerge in consumer habits and industry standards, old ways of doing things give way to new approaches. After a decade of ever increasing sales of digital downloads, the future of the music industry is, in some ways at least, once more a mystery.
Changing Habits Define the Marketplace
While streaming services have taken off over the last several years – led by such services as Pandora, Spotify, SoundCloud and Samsung’s Milk Music – even this stalwart is showing possible signs of weakness. Recently, Taylor Swift, America’s love-her-or-hate-her Queen of Pop Music (queue the Beyonce fans with torches and pitchforks), announced that she was leaving Spotify after compensation disputes. If one of America’s most popular pop musicians is leaving one of it’s most popular streaming services, what does that say about the future of music?
A simple summary may be difficult to provide. After all, of all the entertainment industries, the music industry may just be the one with the least predictable trajectory. If there is one thing that is certain, however, it’s that people will continue to listen to music online. Beyond that, it may just be anyone’s guess. With that being said, here are some good bets.
Streaming – It’s Not Going Anywhere
Rest assured, if you like to listen to music online, you will still have plenty of opportunities to do so. Yes, it’s true that Taylor Swift has ditched Spotify, but thousands of other hugely popular bands still make their music available on a whole range of streaming services, and even holdouts, like Garth Brooks, have explored other, more unique streaming options (in Garth Brooks’ case, starting his own streaming company called GhostTunes).
Suffice to say, streaming appears to be here to stay, and is slowly replacing the monolith that was iTunes in the first decade of the 21st century. Consumers seem to be making a seismic shift in the way that they consume music; gone are the days of purchasing albums or individual songs online. In its place, more and more people have decided that they would rather pay for the privilege of having a nearly universal catalog at their fingertips. If you have access to something at anytime of your choosing, does it matter that you don’t own it?
Vinyl – The Technology of the 21st Century
Perhaps against all odds, but to the delight of audiophiles everywhere, vinyl has been making a strong and steady resurgence over the last half-decade. In fact, 2013 was the best year for vinyl sales in decades; certainly since the introduction of cassette tapes and CDs in the early 1990s (and for those “shop local” types, they’ll be happy to hear that roughly 65 percent of these sales came not from huge, corporate box stores but independent, so-called “mom and pop” shops). Could it be that the new hot technology of the 21st century is the vinyl LP? In outright numbers, the venerable format still has a ways to go to catch up with digital, but it has long left CDs in the dust. For some things, there’s just no arguing with a physical medium, it would seem.
Digital Downloads – Time Up?
The writing might just be on the wall for traditional digital album sales. Once the largest name in music, iTunes saw a 13% drop in sales over 2013 – not an insignificant amount – and this is after years of flagging numbers. Put simply, for the price of a single album on iTunes, a person can have unlimited streaming access to a service like Milk Music or Pandora for a month – during which time, he or she can listen to an unlimited amount of music, from a nearly unlimited catalog. It truly makes the prospect of buying individual albums online seem a foolish one. And it would seem that people are starting to notice.
What’s the Future Hold?
Isn’t that the ultimate question. If we knew the answer, we’d have billions of dollars in the palms of our hands. However, if we were to place a bet, we’d say that streaming will continue to gain while digital downloads will continue to dwindle. And for those true audiophiles, the vinyl is here to stay, not just for the sound, but for the experience. There’s just something about placing an LP on the record player and lying back on the couch on a Sunday afternoon that an MP3 player can’t replicate.