Week 8 Blog: Major Label Resistance to Technology

Throughout popular music academia, there has been a recurrent theme of resistance within industry study. Specifically, a reluctance to incorporate new technologies into the existing business models has been repeatedly pointed out by academics as an almost-defining characteristic of the major labels. This is despite the clearly central role technology plays (and has always played) in the music industry – Wikstrom even uses technology as chronological check points when creating his historiography of the music industries (2009).

Technologies that today seem vital to the music industry were initially resisted. Peer-to-peer networks and the rise in popularity of mp3s were heralded by the major labels as killing their business model and industry (McLeod, 2005), yet the mp3 became the format used by the world’s biggest music retailer – iTunes. In addition, recorded music is now considerably more accessible and cheaper – streaming has given recorded music and access to the ‘celestial jukebox’ (Burkart, 2013) a price point of £5-£10, which is about the same an album costs to buy. With such a monumental change in the recorded music industry business model, one would expect the years preceding today’s streaming-centric music consumption landscape to be full of industry resistance to these changes.

However, this has simply not been the case. Spotify launched in 2008 in the UK – it certainly wasn’t a meteoric rise, but Spotify and services like it have successfully and slowly grown, with many competitors appearing (Tidal, Apple Music, Youtube Red etc.). Even now, the major labels seem to understand they need to evolve with technology rather than resist – this is illustrated by Warner’s newest venture – a streaming-exclusive record label called Artists to Watch Records (Malt, 2017).

The prerogative of Artists to Watch Records is to identify songs that have potential to succeed on streaming platforms. The recommendation and discover playlists Spotify use are becoming extremely popular, and are beginning to be seen in a similar light to radio in recent years – ‘airtime’ on these playlists is invaluable due to the reach of these playlists and the taste profiles Spotify use in their creation (Prey, 2015).

It would seem streaming services may mark the first time the ‘major’ side of the music industry have taken up a technology during its rise in popularity with almost no prior resistance.

Bibliography

  • Burkart, P. (2013). Music in the Cloud and the Digital Sublime. Popular Music and Society, 37(4), pp.393-407.
  • Malt, A. (2017). Warner launches streaming-only label | Complete Music Update. [online] Completemusicupdate.com. Available at: http://www.completemusicupdate.com/article/warner-launches-streaming-only-label/ [Accessed 28 Mar. 2017].
  • McLeod, K. (2005). MP3s are killing home taping: The Rise of Internet Distribution and Its Challenge to the Major Music Monopoly. Popular Music and Society, 28(4), pp.521-531.
  • Prey, R. (2015). Henri Lefebvre and the Production of Music Streaming Spaces. In. Other Senses of Place: Sociospatial Practices in the Contemporary Media Environment. Mulino, Bologna: Societa Editirice.
  • Wikstrom, P. (2009). The Music Industry. 1st Cambridge: Polity.
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