The Music Industry’s Indie Takeover

When I want to know about new music, I go straight to the internet. I know my chances of discovering something new and something I like without the internet are slim to none. Instant gratification is what I’m looking for and the discovery doesn’t come easy through TV or radio. On the internet, I have thousands of blogs at my disposal and even blog aggregators, filtering music by popularity, genre, or artist. The way I browse for music has transformed the type of music I listen to, which can be anything from remixes of independent artists to an aspiring rapper’s mixtape. What I hear on the radio and what’s at the top of the charts always seems to be yesterday’s news.

The music industry is scurrying to make changes that will get consumers to start buying music again, but with the variety of music that is available for free, will things ever make a change?  In the fall of 2003, there were 5 major labels heading the industry, today there are three. In less than ten years, the change the music industry has faced has been drastic, but the transformation is nowhere near complete yet. As society turns to the internet for nearly everything, as long as we have a digital device, we have the capability to stay connected. The format in which we are consuming our music has caused digital sales to surpass CD sales and has caused industry revenues to take a steep decline. As this trend continues, the forces headlining the industry are slowly becoming one.

Shortly after the release of Warner Music Group’s 2010 annual report, the company announced that it would be seeking buyers for the business. Warner Music Group is not the only company up for grabs, after Citigroup seized EMI from Terra Firma in February, EMI is on the market too. Ten years ago, Billboard reviews were from artists on major labels. Today, you’d be lucky to recognize at least 3 label names on a page full of album reviews. This year’s Grammy Awards show validated the place of independent labels in the music industry.

While the remaining three labels are leading the industry, independent artists and labels are finding themselves playing in the big leagues. Cake landed their first No. 1 Billboard album with just 44,000 copies sold according to Nielsen SoundScan. The band’s first number one album also marked the music industry’s lowest selling No.1 album in SoundScan history. When independent artists are breaking records and albums aren’t selling, we are faced to see what is happening with the music, or lack thereof. The variety of choice we have access to with the internet widely available at our fingertips has dispersed different kinds of music through different kinds of mediums, reaching different types of people. It is becoming hard for the industry to break an artist that will have a mass appeal and continue to crank out hits and records.

Sales from independent albums and labels continue to rise. Although they are small, there are many and there is power in numbers when it comes to music. With indie labels accounting for 80% of America’s music, those independent labels maintain the rights to the recordings. As the major labels are consolidating, and dwindling to only a couple at the top, the indies are thriving and seizing the opportunities in the loopholes and cracks in the system. Indies are giving consumers options that the major labels could never support. Independent artist and labels look toward the internet as their main realm of reaching the consumer. Because the consumer sees it on the internet first, it is now the bloggers and tastemakers on the internet that are telling us what we should listen to.

The structure of the music industry is drastically changing. With the major labels dwindling down, it is likely that only one will make it to the top.  With Warner seeking buyers, EMI owning to corporate bank Citigroup, Sony announced its plan to lay off 300 workers at one of its two CD-manufacturing plants this March. Developing technology is making it easier than ever to become your own record label, record producer, and PR company. Independent artists and entrepreneurs are leveling the playing field with the major labels, changing the face of the industry and the way business is done.

Works Cited

1.     Christman, Ed. “U.S. Album Sales Fall 12.8% in 2010, Digital Tracks Eke Out 1% Gain | Billboard.com.” Billboard.com. 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2011. <http://www.billboard.com/news/u-s-album-sales-fall-12-8-in-2010-digital-1004137859.story#/news/u-s-album-sales-fall-12-8-in-2010-digital-1004137859.story>.

2.     Potential Buyers Place Bids For Warner Music.” FMQB. 23 Feb. 2011. Web. 23 Feb. 2011. <http://www.fmqb.com/article.asp?id=2117528>.

3.     Christman, Ed. “Match Point.” Billboard 5 Feb. 2011: 5. Print.

4.     Christman, Ed. “Take It To The Bank.” Billboard 12 Feb. 2011: 5. Print.

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