The Internet’s Effect on the Music Industry

When someone asks what the most popular albums that have been released this year are, what comes to mind? Many of the candidates here could be Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Drake’s Views, Beyonce’s Lemonade, Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, or David Bowie’s Blackstar, among others. What do these five have in common? Release schedules.

These albums were all released with relatively unorthodox promotion schedules and dates. First of all, The Life of Pablo had a couple of singles and was delayed and revised multiple times before release. It was put out exclusively to stream on Tidal (Jay-Z’s streaming service) and because of this broke piracy records, with over 500,000 illegal downloads in three days. There was very little actual promotion done by Kanye or his label; rather, he used cryptic tweets and word of mouth to spread his release around. Views was more typical than the others here, but still did not follow the strict path that was used in the past, with Drake’s use of Snapchat promotion and also his signing the rights exclusively to Apple Music. Lemonade was released almost spontaneously, through a film that aired on HBO, similar to Beyonce’s unannounced release of her self-titled album three years ago that included use of visuals for every track. A Moon Shaped Pool had two singles and was announced two days prior to its release, being put out at exactly 7 P.M BST on May 8. Blackstar was more orthodox, but was still released with only two singles and a lot of secrecy.

This obvious divergence from normal release schedules (months of promotion, loads of singles, and tours) shows how the music industry is evolving from what it was decades and even just years ago. No longer do labels need to promote their music through traditional forms of media (newspapers, magazines, television or radio); they can let the Internet do it for them. The minute an artist with a considerable following releases new music, millions of people on a host of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Reddit and many others will already be engaged with the music, whether it be streaming or downloading. Music can just about spread and market itself in the digital world.

This probably sounds like a great thing for labels, but in reality it may spell their doom. Labels nowadays need to do more to prove that they are still even needed. The internet has made it much easier to independently promote one’s music alone, without needing a record label to forge connections with radio and get music out to the public. In the past, labels were needed to promote a band’s music, even to the point where the label was even more important than the bands or artists themselves. Because an artist can also distribute music digitally very easily using the Internet, another one of the most important functions of a music label is taken away. Artists don’t need physical releases to be successful anymore; just look at the many mixtapes and albums that dropped digitally and became huge successes (most notably The Life of Pablo).

When one looks at the way the shifts in media have changed music distribution, it is also plain that albums themselves are starting to fall by the wayside. Though albums still can be very popular among the general public, playlists as a result of streaming seem to be eclipsing the album as the primary way in which songs are grouped. Internet streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, and Apple Music have made playlists almost more important than albums, and years from now they may rise even more in popularity. Streaming has made albums close to obsolete, though they still have a following amongst people who are more inclined to care about their music or a particular artist more.

In summation, streaming and the Internet have put a huge dent into the monopoly that major labels held just twenty or so years ago. Online interfaces like streaming services and downloading forums like have made putting out music independently so much easier than it was prior. The Internet will continue to change the way we listen to and purchase our music for as long as it is around.