Let me start out by mentioning that this is not meant in any way to be some kind of entitled social critique on — decidedly — the pathetic state of our society’s musical preferences. It’s totally fine with me that Taylor Swift and “The Biebs” hold the top two bestselling songs on iTunes right now, and while I anxiously await the day Mackelmore’s “Thrift Store” loses its puzzling appeal to the masses, it’s completely fine to admit if it was expelling its obnoxiously catchy, nonsensical lyrics through your headphones right before you stopped to read this column.
Anyway, what I find myself far more worried about this afternoon is the steady, if not accelerated decline of the music industry altogether, and what that means for the way we are all going to listen to music in the future.
It may not feel like it, but music sales have steadily declined for the past decade, according to CNN. In 2000, music sales totaled close to $15 billion, compared to the comparatively anemic $6.3 billion the industry brought in ten years later in 2010. And while digital music sales have continued to rise, they have not done so nearly enough to bring record sales back to the levels they were at in the pre-iTunes era.
The problem really is two-fold, and it will continue to prove insurmountable for many of the startup bands that used to rely on record sales to lift them out of the underground and present them for the world to hear.
The first, and arguably greatest problem, stems from the way we as a society now go about purchasing our music. Where it used to be considered normal to make a run into your nearest hometown record store in order to pick up your favorite bands newest album upon its release, now such an activity is considered primeval. And understandably so. It really doesn’t make sense to go riffling through any record store’s inexplicably alphabetized collection of CD’s only to find that the one you’re looking for is already sold out. Such a way of life is far too time-consuming and regimented for today’s high-paced, instantly gratifying society, and this particular breed of retail will go the way of systems like Blockbuster sooner rather than later.
Yet, now that platforms like iTunes and Amazon have given us the ability to purchase music with only a few clicks and a password, we have begun to do so in a way that stifles out the creativity of those who have worked so passionately to share with us their talents.
I am speaking of course, of single track purchases, the kind I myself am guilty of from time to time. Admittedly, it is often convenient, if not more frugal, to spend 99 cents on the one song you happened to find catchy while listening to Pandora or Spotify on some random afternoon before class, rather than the $9 to $11 for the entire album by this faceless artist you know next to nothing about.
But in doing so you are robbing both the artist who slaved over the album — sometimes for years — and you are robbing yourself of the ability to fully appreciate one of the most fascinating abilities mankind has in the creation of music and, perhaps, of an opportunity to discover your new favorite band.
Instead you get the one song. One small segment of a much larger work that will burn bright amongst the other forgotten purchases in your library for a brief window of time until it finally succumbs to the most recent tune sweeping our perpetually trend based popular culture.
The second problem, which has become increasingly prominent in recent years, is the illegal piracy of online music. Many of us are guilty of illegally downloading music at some point in our lives — it is has been reported that the average iPod contains approximately $800 of pirated material, according to Go-Gulf, an international online web application design and development company.
There isn’t much to say on this topic other than the fact that you shouldn’t do it.
Piracy in the music industry purportedly amounts to a potential of $12.5 billion in economic losses each year not including the additional $2.7 billion in worker earnings potentially lost along with the theft, according to the Recording Industry Association of America
Sadly, such trends do not appear to be moving toward any kind of fundamental change any time soon. But at the risk of sounding self-righteous I would ask that maybe the next time a song catches your ear while you’re idly listening to the radio or watching television, that you not go rushing to iTunes or your favorite felonious hub of music theft to claim the track for your own. Instead, do some research and spend 20 minutes listening to some other stuff by this new found group.
Afterward proceed to iTunes and buy the album with the song on it, listen to said album in its entirety, and then maybe go out and impress someone with your unrivaled knowledge of the newest group on the airwaves.
Anthony Bellafiore is a junior majoring in English and economics and is The Daily Collegian’s Wednesday columnist. Email him at email@example.com