What Does the Future Hold for the Music Industry?

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By Anahita Bahri

As a loyal fan of the recently named Producer of the Year, I pre-ordered Pharrell’s new album G I R L right after streaming it on iTunes Radio. The anticipation of the album started through a surprise announcement from Pharrell not long before the album release. Just last year, Justin Timberlake dropped two albums, Beyoncé unexpectedly released a self-titled “visual album” on iTunes, and Jay-Z released Magna Carta Holy Grail to a million users on Samsung Galaxy devices. Are innovative album releases the future of the music industry, or are streaming services going to take over?

Some Berklee students like to stream music, while others like to buy music to support artists and/or to have a physical copy of the album. “The bulk of what I recreationally listen to is streamed. It’s so convenient. My favorite way to support a band is to see them live,” said Adam Burgess, a seventh semester Contemporary Writing and Production student.

“I stream more than I buy, but I spend more on records than I do on streaming,” said Kyle Billings, a seventh semester Music Business student. “Now that the barriers to discovery are gone, I’m spending money to own the music that I never would’ve found before Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc.”

Ken Sullivan, a Professional Music student in his eighth semester, streams his music on Spotify. “It’s really worth the ten bucks a month, and it’s way cheaper than buying albums. Also if I don’t like something, I don’t feel like I’ve wasted money because I already bought it. I just don’t listen to it anymore. However if there’s an artist I support, I’ll make sure to buy the album just to support them, although I’ll still probably just listen to it on Spotify because that’s where the rest of my music is.”

Jordan Popky, a fourth semester Songwriting major, buys albums for the same reason Sullivan does, “I’ll buy an album when it’s by an artist I really love and actively want to support.”

“I mostly stream music, unless I find a song or album I’m constantly returning to,” said Alexandra Zablotsky, a fourth semester Music Education student. The last album Zablotsky bought included a single that wasn’t available any other way.

Most consumers prefer to stream music because of its convenience and low price. The music industry changed back in 1999 when Napster was founded. It changed the way most people obtained music and altered the perceived value of music by lowering the average album price of around $12 to nothing. Even if iTunes sold singles a couple of years later for 99 cents, it just wasn’t as attractive as $0.

The growing popularity of digital music has enabled streaming services to gain millions of listeners, but not necessarily much revenue. This is because most streaming services’ business models give away free music to most of their listeners through advertising. Streaming platforms thus rely heavily on advertisers to fund most of their costs.

The emergence of streaming services may have led to the decline in sales of digital tracks, CDs, and albums overall last year. Interestingly enough, vinyl sales have actually gone up 32% since 2012. The numbers are still small since the account for 2% of all album sales. Since CDs are declining in sales, those who want a physical copy may no longer see a reason to prefer a CD over vinyl, due to its sound quality and nostalgic charm.

Will accessing music in the future be through streaming services and vinyl? If streaming services succeed, it may be because of a change in their business model and the consumers’ need to discover new music—through platforms such as Songza, Spotify, and the new Beats Music service. If artists continue to find ways to surprise, excite and offer valuable album experiences to consumers, album sales may not end completely.