To musicians, the most effective tool for spreading music is not a service implemented by the recording industry. Rather, it is the Internet.

“All they’re doing is signing the artists, and they (the music majors) have connections to distribute the music,” said Armstrong. “It’s not like there’s any Sam Goodies anymore. The industry is dead and it’s all about the artist now. And through the computer, through the Internet, it’s artist directly to listener.”

As early as 1999, Napster demonstrated that there was high demand for digital music and that consumers were willing to trade the music quality of CDs for convenience, as they started downloading small files from huge, illegal, online collections.

Cha-ching. Image taken from gsmdome.com.

As Jason Rutter, professor at the School of Mass Communication Research in Leuven, Belgium stated, Napster showed that there was “an untapped potential for a new model of music distribution and consumption. What might be seen as a natural extension of early Internet utopianism for free exchange of information and a frictionless market had, however, a significant impact on the music industry and, in turn, other digital content industries.”[1]

A recent Bloomberg article titled “Digital sales hit the wall as listeners turn to streaming services,” stated that U.S. sales of all kinds of recorded music—CDs, downloads, and other formats—will fall to $7 billion in 2012, or a bit more than half their level in 2005.

Impact on sales has not been entirely negative. The most viable of changes in the music industry as a result of digital innovations was the launch of iTunes by Apple in 2001 to compliment its mp3 player—the iPod. By February 2010—a quarter in which it was reported that iTunes sales accounted for 28 percent of the U.S. market and 70 percent of U.S. download market—Apple had sold 10 billion songs through the iTunes store, and had a catalogue of 12 million tracks. [2]

Photo taken from The Garfield Messenger

The success of the digital download market has played a major role in revitalizing what was considered to be a dead element of the traditional music market—the sale of singles. In 2009, just 1.2 million vinyl and CD singles were shipped in the UK, contrasting with 113.2 million units in 1996. Thanks to digital downloads, however, that year the UK music industry managed to show its highest ever level of single sales with 152 million units being sold with 98 percent of these sales being digital downloads. [3]

Digital downloads are beginning to lose their new-car smell, however. The number of music enthusiasts using iTunes, Amazon.com, and other digital music stores has leveled off at about 40 million people, market researcher NPD Group reports. Audiences are increasingly turning to ad-supported streaming sites such as Pandora.

“I generally am introduced to new music through radio or Pandora. If I like a track, I’ll usually download a couple additional (tracks) off of the album. Sometimes, I’ll download the whole album. If I like it, I buy the CD,” said Aronno.

The problem is—at least for the recording industry—is those services are far less profitable than sales of individual tracks. “It would take 200 streams to make up for a single download,” said Robb McDaniels, chief executive officer of INgrooves, an online music distributor, in the aforementioned Bloomberg article.

Rutter explains it best: “Digitalization has driven a shift in the nature of the market from one in which music sales were focused on physical goods, to one where digital distribution and secondary markets are the driving forces behind income generation.”[4]

The future of the music industry remains elusive as Bond, James Bond. Not the suave Sean Connery Bond of the ‘60s, but rather the newest of the Bonds, Daniel Craig. Craig is a destructive Bond who uses force to achieve his objectives, not realizing that his actions are hurting rather than helping.

The recording industry cannot stop music fans from clicking that download button one more time.

Aronno believes that at some point the music industry will hit bottom and start to build a new model of operation from scratch.

“Artistic movements are always subject to peaks and troughs, and we’re going through an unprecedented trough, because private industry has been repressive of talent and the creative process. Major labels own the airwaves and use them to flood the market with Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift,” said Aronno. “The result is something a world away from a period of enlightenment. Industry has literally dumbed down music, and we’re feeling the impacts of that now. It’s why people are… playing games about music rather than writing their own music. At some point, something new has to happen. But that’s not going to come from the think tanks inside the major labels. Much the opposite, they will fight any change with ever cent left in their coffers.”

Your new best friend. Image taken from Fileserve.

Large numbers of people are using illegal download services to obtain their music, and while the demographic doing so may not surprise you (18-24 year olds) the view points of musicians using these services might.

“It’s better for the artist (file sharing) because everyone has the ability to listen to their music if they have Internet access. If they want 30 more cents… I’m not buying music,” Armstrong lets out a genuine laugh. “I don’t have money to buy music. I’m not in a union. I don’t have a living wage. My priority is: I like music, I like to listen to it, there’s nothing good on the radio, I don’t want to spend $1.29 on a mp3 that I could fuckin’ ‘steal’,” Armstrong raises his hands, gesturing quotation marks. “I guess, is a word you could use. I like the term borrow.”

[1] Rutter, Jason (2010). “Consumers, crime and the downloading of music.” Prometheus, 28:4, 411-418.

[2] Apple (2010). “iTunes store tops 10 billion songs sold.” Press release, February 25, 2010, available at http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2010/02/25itunes.html.

[3] Rutter, Jason (2010). “Consumers, crime and the downloading of music.” Prometheus, 28:4, 411-418.

[4] Rutter, Jason (2010). “Consumers, crime and the downloading of music.” Prometheus, 28:4, 411-418.