What happened to the quality of music that record labels once presented to their fans? I can sum that up in two words: File sharing. When Napster busted on the scenes in June of 1999, who knew that they would change the landscape of entertainment forever. The industry no longer held their consumers hostage, when it came to gaining access to their product.
As a fan at the time I believed this new craze was a good thing. Napster seemed like the modern day Robin Hood for its fans, but nothing could have been further from the truth. People tend to ask me where did music go wrong, and I can point to that one significant service as the downfall of an industry. I know this may be somewhat of a dramatic interpretation, but the long term ramifications speak for themselves.
I will give you a few reasons why I feel this way and you can agree or disagree.
I don’t simply have this opinion because I am an artist; I have these opinions first and foremost because I am a fan. So the consumer in me was elated being able to listen to my favorite artists’ new album before even being able to buy it at a brick and mortar store. The artists that once sold on reputation no longer reached the high debut sale weeks that they once did in the past.
As a fan this was not the end of the world. At the time I believed that labels would be more accountable to the product that they released to their fans — but the opposite happened. In the beginning the fans received less frequent releases from their favorite artists due to the demand for quality material. The record industry had to find a way to maximize profits and still survive the decline in record sales. In order to create a buzz, many major labels would buy large numbers of their own marquee artists first week releases in an attempt to garner more interest from fans. If a label told fans that so and so sold 200,000 copies in the first week, the perception would be that the album was a must have purchase. I do not fault the record companies because this tactic has been going on in the music business since the beginning. With that being said, let’s find out where the dominos began falling, to get us to the state of music that we have now.
Since artists were releasing projects at a less frequent pace, there had to be a better way to initiate more publicity for them. Say hello to the birth of the mixtape era and essentially the death of quality music. Ask any artist and he or she will tell you that unless they are on a major label, a mixtape is basically the artist giving away free music with no compensation.
This is where the lack of effort became evident from the artists. Imagine listening to an artist who releases 3 mix-tapes per year, when previously an artist would only release one album per year. Artists began to over saturate the market. which as a result produced the “here today gone tomorrow ringtone era.” Fans began to tire of artist much faster than they ever did in the past. Plus anyone with a computer and a microphone could produce a mixtape.
The only people this hurt in the beginning were the more established artist because their fans had become bored of hearing the same thing over and over again. It would take an artist an average of 3 to 5 album releases to wear out their welcome, so in artists years that’s a 5 to 10 year music career. Unknown artists became the craze of the music world. Everyone was out to find the next hot artists, and mixtapes replaced artist demos.
So that brings me to the present the modern day music business. Artists no longer make their music on album sales — they make their money on shows. The only real money for a hip-hop artist is to create huge shows, travel around the country, and to score a hot single with heavy rotation on the radio. One catchy single can ensure an artist stardom at a fast pace but the fame is generally short lived.
Why are there so many fad artists out there these days? Why do we love an artist one day and then despise hearing their voice the next? The answer is simple the industry has become a copycat market. When one artist becomes hot, every other artist patterns that person’s sound. Even the established artists adopted the style of the next hot person out and move away from what made that artist relevant in the first place.
At the pace that we are going hip-hop will completely be pop music in next 5 years. It’s like we have all lost our identity. All of this from the snowball effect of file sharing. Who would have known?