It is a commonly held belief that the age of digital recording is bad for the music industry. While it cannot be denied that this new era of recording has caused drastic and long lasting changes to the way that the music industry functions, it is not entirely correct to say that the industry is really in decline as a result.
Multi-faceted disclaimers such as the above come from the fact that the changes to the way that music is recorded, produced, and sold have proven to be both positive and negative, and may affect the industry in several ways. For example, while the digital production of music has made piracy more prevalent, it has also made purchasing music easier, and more personal. Basically it has become another type of gadget, except this one is in digital form.
The way that music is purchased in the digital age has also received negative remarks from economists and critics. It has only recently become profitable to sell music on a song-by-song basis due to the fact that no hardware must be produced in order for a song to be sold whereas in the past a record, tape or CD was required even for the sale of a song released as a single. The prevalent sale of individual songs has lead to what is called by some “The Death of the Album”. The elimination of the album as a way of organizing and producing music would have large effects on the way that music is both listened to and purchased.
Some predict that the Death of the Album will lead to the end of conventional music sales as single songs become more profitable than albums, leading to all-digital music sales. Some music enthusiasts take a different approach and claim that the Death of the Album will simply mean that music will become increasingly superficial as recording artists attempt to make profitable songs rather than meaningful albums.
The Return to Vinyl
Fortunately, so far neither of these predictions seem to be coming true. Perhaps albums are not as stylistically consistent as they once were as more emphasis is placed on individual songs, but albums don’t really seem to be going anywhere. As for sales of music recorded on analogue devices, several recording artists have returned to releasing albums on vinyl due to their collectivity, vintage look, and arguably, sound quality.
Another result of music going digital is the large diversification that the music industry currently enjoys as recording artists are less reliant on vast, centralized fan bases due to reduced costs of production and increased availability of material. This trend can readily be seen in the recent expansion of “alternative music” paired with a reduction in “conventional genres” such as Rock or Country as listeners have more to choose from than those recording artists that become popular enough to be played on the radio.
This has created something of an anomaly in which music becomes popular because it is on the radio rather than being on the radio because it is popular. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as part of what makes music so important to culture is that it is shared. The radio is what keeps this aspect intact in the age of Digital Music, as two people can have drastically different music collections, but both know the words to the songs “on the air”.