Social media has broken the music industry’s mold

The music industry, for many years, remained relatively static in terms of how it operated. Record labels essentially owned artists, and supported them financially through the process of producing and releasing albums and music videos, and took a large cut of the sales in the process.

Since the advent of social media, the entire landscape of the music industry has been radically changed. Music sharing subscription services like Spotify (which has become a social network in itself) have killed album sales. Music is now available for free or for an extremely low monthly cost to consumers, who rarely purchase physical albums anymore. In 2018 alone, album sales fell by over 18%, while music streams increased by 35%. This means that artists and labels no longer make much money from record sales. The majority of artists now have to support themselves financially through touring and other sales, which has caused the price of concert tickets and merchandise to skyrocket. Artists are spending more time touring, and have also had to adapt to the realities of digital releases being more popular than vinyl, CD and even MP3 sales.

Another way that social media has changed the music industry is the concept of the music video and music video television. “Video killed the radio star”, but YouTube killed the music video television network.

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As recently as 15 years ago, a major way for bands to get exposure was to release music videos for their singles, to be released to television networks such as MTV, VH1 and, specific to Canada, Much Music. Many musicians had much of their career liftoff directly attributed to success on music television.

Since the advent of readily accessible and free video content on social media, music television has essentially become a thing of the past. Much Music formally changed it’s name and branding away from music entirely in 2013. Labels became less likely to pay for big budget music videos since they wouldn’t be played for a profit anymore. Very popular artists, backed by large labels, still do make music videos for digital release, but gone are the days of even lesser-known bands scraping together funds for a music video with hopes that Much Music would pick it up and incorporate it into their regular rotation – a sure recipe for success in the past.

On the other hand, YouTube has made it easier for musicians to get their songs out into the world without a record label. A well-known example of a YouTube success story is Justin Bieber, but he is only one of many stars who rose to fame via YouTube. Their self-made content garnered them enough exposure and hype to attract major labels, which is a new phenomenon. In decades past, aspiring recording artists’ main vehicle for attracting the attention of a label was to tour constantly, playing small clubs and bars, hoping for word of mouth advertising. Social media has made the world smaller and less costly for musicians starting out.

Finally, social media has forced musicians to give more of themselves personally than ever before. In the past, information about a band was much harder to come by. Fans would have to buy magazines for interview content, subscribe to official fan clubs (which sent newsletters in the actual mail!), and listen to the radio for concert announcements. Much more work went into being a fan, and for less “payoff”.

Nowadays, nearly every artist uses several social channels to connect with their fans. Fans can very easily keep up with tour schedules, releases, and other news. Musicians also experience pressure to share more details of their personal lives with fans than ever before, in order to keep their followers interested and engaged. This can become very emotionally taxing and cause constant drama that was a rarity in the past (which is a whole other topic for another day!).

The flip side of this is that fans are now able to engage with their favourite artists in very direct ways, and create relationships, which build the kind of fan/artist connection that music consumers of past generations could only dream of. Teenage me, who came of age in the late 90’s, would have given my right leg to have the kind of access to my favourite bands that we do now. A retweet of a fan’s Twitter post, or a comment on an Instagram story, or even a “like” on a Facebook comment from a beloved musician, can firmly establish fandom for life from a follower.

Social media has changed our society in many ways, and the world of music is one of the most rapidly and permanently changed. Some of these changes have been great for fans and artists, but some would also argue that social media has destroyed the music industry entirely.

What’s your opinion? Are these changes for better or worse? Has social media improved your experience with music or do you miss the “good old days”?

Has social media killed off the traditional music industry? It’s a whole new world out there for artists and fans! http://bit.ly/37TnYnF

How social media has changed the music industry – join the conversation! #musicfans #outwiththeold http://bit.ly/37TnYnF

4 thoughts on “Social media has broken the music industry’s mold

  1. Great post!! I love the way we have access to music now, I myself use Spotify and I love it. This way I pay one amount per month and have access to all different types of music, even music that I would never had gone to make a purchase for before. I also love that you can create playlists and have just the favorites. That said, I grew up listening to records, and they have a really unique sound that I love. I don’t know why it ever has to be either or, I think all options should be embraced. That way there is something for everyone and for each persons individual unique taste. Awesome read, thank you.

    • We have similar styles of music appreciation; I am an avid Spotify user and also collect vinyl. I like to buy my favourite artists’ albums on vinyl as collector items and also to support them financially, since I don’t otherwise buy music.
      Thanks for your comment!

  2. This was a very interesting read Jenna!

    I still remember seeing Justin Bieber before he became super famous… I showed a video of him to my friends who didn’t seem super impressed… not even a year later they’re showing me videos of this new singer Justin Bieber!! Imagine my face….

    I still remember how music videos were super huge!! I would sit and watch Much Music for hours after school some days, as it was such a great way to discover new music and artists.. Now I could just browse spotify for hours… but they make it so easy! I always tell people that Spotify knows my music type better than I do myself…

    It really is unfortunate how much pressure is put on artists these days – Justin Bieber had to end his last tour early from the stress of it all, and Ariana Grande went and continued her tour even after one of the arenas was bombed… The strength is absolutely impressive, yet it feels like she didn’t have a choice – people would have criticized had she not, just like they criticized her for returning to Florida right after it happened. I think sometimes people forget that celebrities are humans too, and they’re subject to having feelings just like the rest of us. I really do admire how strong they can be in the face of everything that gets said either to or about them.

    • Much Music was a huge part of my life growing up! I think everyone had their favourite VJ (clearly George was superior to them all 😉). I have vivid memories of a lot of their content. I miss it a lot, but, we can’t go back; only forward, I suppose. Oh, nostalgia!

      Spotify knows me pretty well, too. I’ve discovered more than a few new favourites from their recommendations and playlists. We don’t get many radio stations where we live so all of my new music comes from Spotify!

      I can’t imagine how hard it is to be so closely and harshly scrutinized by so many people. I don’t envy celebrities at all.

      Cheers, Brittney!

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