No, The Internet Hasn't Destroyed Quality Music Either

from the panic-panic-everywhere dept

At what point will the music industry stop crying wolf? Remember that part of the reason behind the 1909 Copyright Act in the US was the arrival of the player piano, which some feared would put musicians out of business. Same with the phonograph. Remember, John Philip Sousa told Congress in 1906 how those darned "talking machines" were going to stop people from singing:
These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy--I was a boy in this town--in front of every house in the summer evenings you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or the old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal chord left. The vocal chords will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape. The vocal chords will go because no one will have a chance to sing, the phonograph supplying a mechanical imitation of the voice, accompaniment, and effort.
And, of course, basically every other technological innovation was a threat of some sort. The radio was supposed to kill music. "Home taping is killing music" was a slogan! The RIAA undermined digital tapes and tried to limit CDs. It sued over the earliest MP3 players. It's sued countless internet companies and even music fans.

Through it all, the refrain is always the same: if we don't do this, "music will go away."

But, of course, throughout it all, music only expanded. In the first decade of the 21st Century, more music was recorded than all of history combined, and it's likely the pace has increased over the following five years as well.

And because of that, we've started to hear a new refrain from the same folks who insisted before that music was at risk of "dying" because of new technologies: that maybe there's more music, but it's clearly worse in quality. Some of this can be chalked up to the ridiculous pretension of adults who insist that the music of their youth was always so much better than the music "the kids listen to nowadays." But plenty of it seems to be just an attack on the fact that technology has allowed the riff raff in, and the big record labels no longer get to act as a gatekeeper to block them out.

However, as pointed out in an article in The Age down in Australia, not only is music doing phenomenally well these days, but a recent study suggested that the quality of music continues to increase as well. Now, obviously, quality is a subjective thing, so it's difficult to "measure," but here's what the report noted:
Yet all these years on we are still surrounded by music. It follows us throughout a day from our bedside to our commutes to our earphones at work to our drive home to settling into bed.

And an astonishing amount of it is new. A decade after the arrival of file sharing, US economist Joel Waldfogel charted what had happened in a paper called Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie? The Supply of New Recorded Music since Napster.

There is no doubt that recording companies are making less money since file sharing, he says. But that doesn't necessarily mean they are making less music, or even less good music.

Assembling data on the quality of songs from the "all-time best" lists compiled each year by Rolling Stone and other magazines he finds that the albums regarded as good tend to be recent, and increasingly so as the internet age wears on.

The good new ones aren't even by old artists. He says around half of the good new albums are by artists who only started recording since file sharing. It has neither killed new music, nor frightened people away from beginning to make music.
Now, there are reasonable quibbles with this methodology. You can say that of course newer lists of "all time" best music will weigh heavily more recent favorites, even if they might not truly last the tests of time. But, at the very least it does suggest that plenty of people (myself included) are still finding a ton of new music to listen to that we find to be just as good, if not better, than music from decades ago.

Filed Under: business models, internet, music, predictions, quality, streaming


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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Jan 2016 @ 8:20am

    Percentages and numbers

    But plenty of it seems to be just an attack on the fact that technology has allowed the riff raff in, and the big record labels no longer get to act as a gatekeeper to block them out.

    Assume for a moment that the above is true, that it was only the vigilant guard of the record labels that kept the public safe from the horrors of bad music, and that with them no longer in total command, the floodgates for lousy music are open.

    Even then more good music is being created and made available than ever before.

    When the bar to create and get your music heard was higher, when the labels had all the power and could decide whether or not you were heard, they were able to act as quality checkers(and for this example it will be assumed that they did so flawlessly), allowing only the 'good' stuff through. At the same time many that might have been able to create and share their music were left in the dust as just not skilled enough to be worth label attention.

    With the above, say there was 100 potential musicians, 10(10%) were deemed 'good enough', and 90(90%) weren't, and therefore weren't heard. Thanks to the labels, 90 bad musicians were unable to inflict their audio-carnage on an unsuspecting public, while 10 excellent musicians were heard.

    However these days the bar has been set much lower, such that significantly more people are able to try their hand at music, creating high quality music with a modest investment and being able to offer it for a small cut of their sales, if not flat out free.

    Most of them(90%) are still pretty bad, probably not worth a second listen at best, but that 10% of excellent musicians are still available to make up the slack. The difference is that while the percentages are the same, the pool of musicians has exploded, so where before there was only 10 good musicians now there's 100.

    Sure there's going to be more low-quality stuff out there, that's a natural result of opening the playing field up so more can create, but given that also means drastically more good stuff, I'd say it's a more than acceptable 'cost'.

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