Music at the edge

We all want instant gratification, and thanks to the internet, all of our entertainment cravings are filled immediately. Purchases are almost guilt-free; you want it, you click it, you got it. No cash exchanged, not even a swipe of a credit card. All it takes is the push of a button, literally.

As digital music distribution becomes more and more common in our world, some question the decreasing value of music. Does digital distribution of music destroy the value of an album?

Single song purchases from digital storefronts are convenient and quick. With the launch of iTunes 4 in 2003, Apple introduced the iTunes Store. Now, the music superstore has had well over 10 billion songs downloaded. These purchases only give the consumers exactly the song they want.

While it is true that sales of singles have skyrocketed since the introduction of the digital storefront, the sale of entire albums has decreased even more quickly.

In an interview with Billboard, will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas stated, “I’m trying to break away from the concept of an album. What is an album when you put twelve songs on iTunes and people can pick at it like scabs? That’s not an album. There is no album anymore.” Other artists specifically request that their music be available online only with purchase of entire albums.

Programs like Limewire and Bearshare give music lovers opportunity to illegally obtain music from their favorite artists free of charge. These digital music exchanges are largely undocumented and account for approximately a fourth of all music obtained.

In 2007, Radiohead debuted In Rainbows online, asking consumers to pay “whatever you think it’s worth.” Fans were invited to download the album for free or pay as much as $212. The band distributed more than three million copies of the album and now easily fills arenas whenever they tour.

When another band, Skybox, was interviewed regarding online downloads, they surprisingly responded, “If you like the album, pick your favorite song and email it to ten of your friends. Simple as that. That way you get to enjoy the record and our music gets promoted.”

Studies have shown that file-sharers do tend to buy more music and musical paraphernalia. File-sharers also argue that free distribution and exchange of music help bands to gain popularity, thus earning more money for the band through merchandise and concert ticket sales, but there is no such research to back it up.

The value of an album can be viewed in two ways, artistic or commercial. Organizations like The Recording Industry Association of America rank albums gold, platinum, multi-platinum or diamond depending on the record’s sales.

On the other hand, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rewards artists and bands that have influenced the music industry.  Music makers and consumers must decide whether music is a business or art.

This debate is a web of opinions that come from every direction. Traditionalists love their local music shops, while others illegally and legally download music online. Major music labels want everyone to buy their own copy of music even as indie bands encourage buyers to share with their friends.

While we may never quite resolve this problem, one thing is clear – digital distribution is the future of music.

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