When was the last time you dropped by the record store to buy a CD? Do you even have a record store near where you live?
From consumption to production, technology has had sweeping changes in the music industry. What used to be a mostly analog experience has gone almost exclusively digital. DJs with their laptops have replaced rockstars with their guitars in the popular imagination. And songs are now almost exclusively produced on digital audio workstations, not analog tape.
How exactly is technology changing music? And what will be its impact on the music industry? We’ll share some answers in this article.
- Software is replacing real instruments
Think of last summer’s biggest worldwide hits by The Chainsmokers or Justin Bieber. Chances are, these tracks were made entirely with software.
This is one of the biggest shifts in music creation: software replacing real instruments. Barring a few genres (rock, country, jazz), music production today happens almost exclusively with software synths.
And for good reason too: modern synths like Serum can replicate nearly any sound you can imagine. Unlike real instruments, they are also easier to play and edit. An amateur without any musical training can “play” a guitar by adding notes in his DAW’s digital editor – a creative process that has made it easier for millions of people to make music.
- The listening experience is changing
When they were first launched, Bluetooth headphones were expensive, clunky, and lasted barely a couple of hours on a single charge.
That has changed drastically today. Bluetooth headphones boast enough battery to last all-day, cost as little as $20, and are light enough to carry to the gym.
This is just one example of how technology is changing the listening experience. You can now take your music virtually anywhere and not even deal with wires. With new developments such as smart watches with built-in mobile connections (as in the Apple Watch 3), you don’t even have to carry your phone with you to listen to your favorite tunes.
- Music distribution is going online
The biggest phenomenon in music of late is the growth of so-called “cloud rappers”. This is a broad term for hip-hop artists who started their careers releasing their tracks on SoundCloud. SoundCloud’s massive reach enabled them to grow an audience, which, in turn, helped them grab major record label deals.
Artists like xxxTentacion, Lil Pump, etc. are a testament to the power and reach of these digital platforms. As they’ve hit mainstream popularity, they’ve also changed the way music is distributed. A musician today can expect to gain millions of fans without ever landing a record label deal. They can distribute and market entirely through self-controlled digital platforms such as SoundCloud, BandCamp and YouTube, giving them 100% of the profits.
Listeners also benefit from this process of cutting out the middlemen. For one, fans get to build deeper relationships with musicians. They can also buy individual tracks and albums for lower prices (since there is no record label to deal with).
Clearly, it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
- “Owning music” is an outdated idea
The data is clear: music streaming is the future. In the US, Apple Music and Spotify together have over 60M paying subscribers. Globally, Spotify counts over 180M users. Other services in different countries such as Gaana, Deezer, Google Music, etc. bring music streaming to nearly anyone with a mobile connection and a smartphone.
The advent of streaming services means that “owning” music is an outdated idea. Streaming services rarely allow you to download tracks. You can ‘save’ tracks, but there is no sense of ownership involved. Unlike old vinyl records, your kids won’t inherit your digital copy of Despacito.
This is fundamentally changing listeners’ relationship to music. Because there is no sense of ownership, fans often consider streamed music more “disposable”. They might jump from track to track instead of listening to an album in full. This has given rise to the so-called “singles” artists, i.e. artists who only release singles instead of entire albums.
Together, all these developments are changing the music industry in dramatic fashion. How musicians make music, and how they interact with their fans is changing fundamentally. Whether these changes are good or bad for music as a whole remains to be seen.