Despite the transformation in how listeners get music, industry experiences growth
EDMONTON — Fourteen years ago, the booming music industry hit a thick fog, leaving it adrift as dollars disappeared from even the most influential record labels. Though many thought Napster’s 1999 debut would signal the commercial downfall of the industry, music thrived despite it, expanding and evolving to the benefit of artists worldwide. As a result, the cash-draining fog is finally lifting, revenues are up and the music industry is once again headed for growth.
According to a recent report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 2012 saw the worldwide music industry grow for the first time since 1999, with a 0.3 per cent growth in global revenues. While such an increase may seem insignificant, it’s emblematic of a rejuvenated respect for music that many criticize the current generation as lacking.
However, a lack of respect for the music industry is what led to fans so easily jumping on the pirate ship in the first place. By the late ‘90s, albums such as the Spice Girls’ Spice and the Backstreet Boys’ Millennium topped the charts, both indicating the keys to high sales were perfectly manufactured lineups and strategic advertising. Though the talent of these groups shouldn’t be understated, the majority of the profits from their successes went straight to the masterminds behind the scenes. Manipulative commercialization was at the forefront of the industry rather than the music itself. And because raw talent was no longer the measurement for success, the music industry would face increasingly disenchanted consumers.
Since the collapse, the public has significantly changed how they consume music, simultaneously pressing into the digital future while jumping into the retro past. Digital downloads increasingly outsell physical media, with digital revenues up nine per cent in 2012. The growing speed and ease with which music can be bought online will likely ensure that compact disks and vinyl will never catch up. Nevertheless, vinyl has made a noticeable resurgence of late, with sales booming every year and many opting to pay much more for the prestige and art of the physical form that was once thought to be completely obsolete. With the majority of vinyl purchased at independent record stores, chains like HMV are rushing to cash in on the trend.
Regardless of the form, the best-selling albums are being purchased legally and in higher quantities than in years past. Adele’s 21 has been atop the charts for two years, with combined sales of more than 10 million copies. Just when selling three to five million albums was becoming the norm a decade ago, Adele proves that immense talent will still bring in sales.
[pullquote]”2012 saw the worldwide music industry grow for the first time since 1999.”[/pullquote]
But the most powerful indicator of a renewed respect for music stems from the unprecedented ubiquity of music festivals. Prior to Napster, only a handful of enormous music festivals gained steam around the world, and many of them struggled financially despite bringing in the biggest musicians of the day. Now, new music festivals sprout up from nowhere every year, and the ease with which they sell out comes not from massive headliners, but their ability to fill lineups with a diverse array of artists of lesser fame.
Whereas the ‘90s saw the music industry controlled by cunning record executives, music today is healthier, more diverse and led from below. Thanks to the internet, music fans set the trends, giving underground artists the exposure they need and forcing the business to follow suit.
While many decry today’s music fans as entitled, the truth is that an industry built on exclusivity and pure profit motive was destined to crumble, and music is now back on track as an increasingly creative and profitable profession.