The music industry is on the brink of oblivion. With album sales reaching all-time lows in recent years and established artists struggling to remain commercially viable, it is evident that the music market is in disarray. What is the root cause of this sudden collapse in sales? The answer is simple: illegal downloads.
At the break of the new millennium, record sales soared to new heights with artists such as Britney Spears, Eminem and N’Sync debuting on the charts with album sales easily surpassing the 1 million mark. Indeed, labels enjoyed their booming profits while continuing to charge exorbitant prices for their products. However, even the most astute industry pundits could not have foreseen the almost catastrophic decline that was perched on the horizon.
The advent of file sharing services including Kazaa, Limewire and, of course, Napster, ignited a shift in the balance of power. Consumers were now the bearers of discretion; allowed the freedom to download their favourite tracks without cost. This increased audience power has since broken the monopolistic grip of labels on the music industry thus leading to a substantial decline in sales. In fact, the last album to be certified diamond in the US was Usher’s ‘Confessions’ LP of 2004. Undeniably, artists now find themselves struggling to sell records; incapable of matching the successes of their predecessors.
Coincidentally, this chaos has led to the revival of quality. As acts face stiff competition from not only the contemporaries but also music pirates, they have been forced to fight for their stake on the charts. Performers such as Beyonce and Kanye West are being pushed to continuously evolve in an effort to remain relevant. Indeed, Usher himself has felt this pressure with his ‘Here I Stand’ album selling substantially less than his preceding release. Therefore, it has become increasingly apparent that there is absolutely no room for error.
Hence, with an embattled music market and the incessant demand for new material that was created by the arrival of the ‘Digital Age’, artists are being mobilised to improve their crafts. As Susan Boyle and Taylor Swift have recently demonstrated, consumers are indeed willing to purchase albums. However, the presence of several mass media outlets (most notably the Internet) has increased their demand for not just quantity, but also quality.