Technology & music, these days, are synonymous.
Over the last two decades, software and technology have entered the industry, ushering in the digital age, and changing how music is created, processed, listened to, and put out to its very core.
Today, we are going to take a deep dive by jumping through and examining some of the marquee moments associated with technology within the industry.
So let’s go through a timeline, of sorts...
Gone are the days of going to the record store and purchasing your favorite band’s latest disc, bringing it home, and watching that big thing swirl around as tunes spew out.
Gone are the days, largely, of purchasing your favorite artist’s latest album on CD and popping it in your car.
This was the norm for a long while - Then came Napster, circa 1999.
Let’s call Napster the founding father in a long line of developments that began to change the music industry right around the beginning of the new millennium.
In short, Napster made it possible to share music files on a computer, thanks largely to the realization of the power of the internet. Pirating music no longer demanded dubbing tapes and burning CDs. Those who were able to navigate the internet could now download any song they wanted through file-sharing platforms — and for free.
Emphasis on free - not to say that music stars today are suffering, but the radical change and ease in which a consumer can now access any music they want at the snap of a finger has changed the financial structure of the industry.
Remember running to Barnes & Noble in 2004 and purchasing the hottest new album for $10? Twelve songs for $10. I bet you now pay $10 a month for millions of songs on Spotify.
So this caused revenue in the music industry to plummet. Paid digital distribution platforms, namely iTunes (remember iPods?), followed after Napster and revolutionized digital downloads.
iTunes was prevalent for quite a good period of time. But now Spotify has taken over as king. Why pay $1 a song when you can have unlimited music for a reasonable monthly fee, while even sharing your account with family?
SOFTWARE & COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY
How music is produced has drastically changed, as well. And the examples are endless.
Google Rick Rubin - an American record producer - a maverick in the industry’s evolution. Rubin has produced music for countless stars. One example: Rubin is credited for helping construct Jay-Z’s song 99 Problems. Did Rick Rubin sing the song? Nope. Jay-Z did. But through technology and the creation of computer-powered beats, Rubin is credited with establishing the rhythm and flow of the song.
This is almost the norm in the industry today. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a good old acoustic track. But the industry has largely shifted to taking full advantage of the power of production software.
Cher, Kanye, and Post Malone… all talented artists. They all are aided by autotune and other computer-generated beats in a good percentage of their songs.
More proof of how essential technology & computers are to the industry: Right here in our backyard, Carnegie Mellon has a Music & Technology Program. This program, launched in 2009, brings together CMU’s School of Music, Computer Science Students, and Computer Engineers. Together, these three departments are all essential sects of what the music industry relies upon during present day.
SOCIAL MEDIA & THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF MUSIC
Social media has played a HUGE role in the evolution of the industry. Prominent artists can just grab their phones and tweet out exciting news that millions of fans can access instantly. They can post promotions of their upcoming albums, and tease their new song that is scheduled to be released. Even interact with fans.
In short, social media and video streaming services enable artists to connect with fans directly, reducing the need for expensive PR campaigns. this has led to a democratization of the music industry.
Which leads me to two of my last points.
Video streaming & music videos are cool. But they’re not the same as taking in an actual live concert. But I would bet that many of you tuned into live-streamed concerts from your favorite artists during COVID when they couldn’t get out and put on a live show. That was pretty cool, no?
Lastly, the technological evolution within music has made it so that Joe Schmoe is more likely to be seen. Think about it. It doesn’t take much money, if any, to post your music on YouTube. See how Post Malone / Justin Bieber was discovered as evidence. To me, this is a great thing. If you have talent, thanks to technology’s essential role in music these days, you have a much higher likelihood of being discovered and living out your dreams.
I will leave you with a quote from a Southern Utah University article I was pursuing earlier this afternoon while drafting up this blog post:
"The digital era has been tough on the music industry, but it has also opened the door for emerging artists who might otherwise never have gotten the exposure they deserve. This democratization and proliferation of music through technology is a boon for music lovers, as is the opportunity to watch a performer live online from thousands of miles away. Advancements in music technology have spurred growth and innovation in music creation, which is, after all, the point of art.”
That quote, my friends, is an eloquent, acute, and spot-on synopsis of the digital era in music.
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