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Josh Dyer
Upper Sixth
South Town

Why all music will be free in ten years

Why all music will be free in ten years

For some I reason found myself watching a repeat of this years ‘Brit’ awards the other night. What struck me whilst watching was that aside from the intense show-business tackiness that surrounds these awards each year, the flashy and extravagant air gave off the impression that all is well in the recording industry.

Graph, courtesy of Forresters, showing the decline in music sales since 1999

This could not be further from the truth. It’s well known that CD sales have plummeted with the arrival of the ‘digital age’, but as you can see from the graph to the right, it’s not simply a case of consumers changing from buying music in CD form to buying MP3’s. In fact, music sales including digital, CD and Vinyl have plummeted in the last 10 years, with the recording industry worth less than half that it was worth in 1999.

So what is the cause of this downward trend? Well, it seems that the decline was initiated by the introduction of the website Napster; a file-sharing site that allowed music to be downloaded for free. Now this suddenly gave the consumer a choice, to pay for their music or, to download it for free. A slight blip in the graph shows a small rise in music sales around 2003, this coincided with the introduction of iTunes in the same year, providing a way to download music legally. However, the ease of which you can download for free and the negligible risk of being prosecuted for doing so have led to the only thing stopping illegal downloading being the consumer’s moral conscience — something that clearly cannot be relied on.

The problem for the music industry may actually be its greatest opportunity. Despite the great decline in sales, the Internet has exposed consumers to more music than ever before. But that accessibility has been difficult to monetize.

So what is the answer for the music industry? The music industry has tried to keep up by licensing ringtones, licensing music on popular Internet radio stations like MySpace Music and Pandora and licensing music videos on YouTube. Digital licensing revenue reached $84 million in 2009, and it is expected to grow substantially in the coming year.

But how can the bands themselves make a living? The answer lies of course in live music; just as record sales have declined, profits from live music has increased. Touring is the key, and it will become the cornerstone of a band’s income; to be in a band will be synonymous to constantly being on the road selling tickets and t-shirts.


I for one couldn’t be happier; it means there will be more gigs for me to go to, and also means that bands now have to earn their keep, not sit on their backsides for half a year followed by a three date tour.

Dan Ingala, founder and lead singer of the band Plushgun (pictured left). The band who recently released a full length FREE album, summed the future of music up perfectly: "People will steal music regardless, so it's not worth trying to fight against something where the fight's already over, it's only a matter of adjusting," said Ingala. "At the same time, it’s helping us create an audience."

So there you have it, the future of an industry predicted in 555 words; I’m off to bed.

8 October 2010

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