Change is the only constant in life. We experience change on a daily basis in major or minor ways. Be it a change in weather, change in schedule, or even forgetting some change with the conductor leading to a change in budget plans, change is inevitable.
Like everything else in existence, the music industry has experienced changes ranging from the evolution of artists and genres to the restructuring and outright dissolution of business models. Taking a brisk walk through the streets of history reveals the music business to be dynamic at best and volatile at worst, with dramatic changes happening over it’s 150+ years in three main areas; Live, Recording and Publishing. Worthy of note is a bulk of this change has occurred in the last 20 years.
In the past decade, streaming has nullified the need for compact discs. Streaming currently makes up 80% of the music industry’s revenue, according to the 2019 Recording Industry of America mid-year report. Physical music sales — i.e., CDs — make up a mere 9% of the total. Similar to how the CD era killed off cassettes which almost did the same to vinyl records. Almost because vinyls are making a comeback as vintage special limited editions of albums. As of January 2019, vinyl record sales increased 15% in one year alone, according to Nielsen.
In the contracts side of the music business, artist royalty rates were originally designed to account for physical shipping and manufacturing, and contracts were rigid with the company’s right to retain or drop follow-up projects, few guaranteed releases, Unbalanced royalties against artists etc. This has changed to more favorable terms for signed artists with 50/50 splits, master reversion (copyrights returning to the artist after 10+ years), fewer options (2 or 3), and more loosely defined product commitments.
With some knowledge of the past and acknowledgment of what presently plays, it is pertinent for stakeholders in the industry to look to the future so as to be adequately prepared for potential opportunities or guarded for possible threats. With music being an ingrained aspect of our lives, the future of music is implicitly our future, and shapes how we will live. Below are some projections for the art and the industry;
Social Network Genre: The spread of social media will lead to more social media tailored music and possibly a new genre. This is already emerging with artists consciously creating music with captionable/tweetable lyrics and also composing with elements that can trigger viral challenges
Artificial Intelligence: Beyond algorithms, music will become A.I supported or even driven. In 1997, a music theory professor trained a computer program to write new compositions in the style of Bach; when an audience listened to its work next to a genuine Bach piece, they couldn’t tell them apart. In 2018, American singer, Tayern Southern released an album composed and produced by AI in its entirety. Aptly titled I AM AI, the project is a first of it’s kind and possibly many more to come.
Diversity: The world is a global village and music a global language. Many artists point to the lack of diversity within major boardrooms as a problem in the industry, as they feel inadequately represented and largely misunderstood. This is likely to improve as more genres crossover to the US Markets as seen with K-Pop representing Asia and Afrobeats representing Africa.
To conclude, there is no certainty on what will occur or be created, however two things have always shaped the world of music; society and technology.