Hear that sound on the Internet? It’s the death knell of the music industry.
It’s been pretty easy to read the writing on the wall for a while now about where the music business is going. With album sales down and digital consumption (either legal or otherwise) on the rise, it seems the days of the big record companies are numbered, unless they find a way to adapt.
And then there are artists out there who make it look like the majors don’t even stand a chance.
Internet phenomenon The Weeknd, a somewhat mysterious Canadian R&B artist whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, recently announced and promptly sold out a tour across the country. His May 3 show at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall reportedly sold out almost instantly.
With this latest success and three digital-download only albums under his belt since early last year, Tesfaye seems to have knocked one more hefty chunk out of the foundations of the traditional music industry.
All one has to do to get his albums is log onto his minimal website and press “download.” It’s as easy as that, and you don’t even have to worry about the RIAA knocking on your door with a multi-thousand-dollar lawsuit.
Whatever money Tesfaye makes with his music will presumably come from his tour, and based on the way tickets sold for that, it doesn’t look like he’ll have to worry too much. And without a major label on his back taking its cut, he’ll certainly be raking in the cash.
This no-overhead approach was first made famous by Radiohead with the pay-what-you-want online release of their 2007 album “In Rainbows.”
The difference there was that Radiohead already had a massive following. Tesfaye built himself up from nothing, originally with postings on YouTube.
So now anyone with the Internet and something to record with could theoretically be selling out a tour within a year of starting.
The question now is: Why have record companies?
Everything that record companies offered to artists is now available to anyone at home. Recording is easier than ever, self-promotion is a YouTube upload away and as for the money, artists will be getting a fairer share than they ever were before.
So what if new artists won’t be getting massive record deals?
Who said Sting deserved to be able to buy a goddamn castle in the English countryside for writing “Message in a Bottle”?
As for the possible loss, or virtual loss, of physical music sales, it’s simply an evolution of the medium.
There’s no doubt that there’s something satisfying about holding a piece of music in your hand, particularly vinyl records, but it is ultimately about the music, not the object.
We need to remember that the music industry we take for granted now is a pretty recent phenomenon. The recording-based nature of the industry is only as old as recording technology.
Granted, like many developments in artistic mediums, the forms rose from the technology.
Pop music as we know it is of course a result of the limitations of recording technology. The bounds were expanded slightly by the introduction of CDs, but the forms remained the same.
And with The Weeknd releasing his music in the form of traditional albums, it looks like the forms we’ve grown to expect and love will likely outlast the industry that created them, but the opportunity to greatly overstep those bounds will be there for those willing to do it.
So at the end of the day, it looks like everyone wins, except of course the industry bosses, but who gives a damn about them anyway?