There is a lot of speculation about the future of the music industry. Most of the commentary is disparaging, forecasting impending doom. In a recent interview, Garbage’s front woman, Shirley Manson, said, “the music industry has been slow to adapt and has become a dinosaur.”
In 1877, Thomas Edison invented the cylinder phonograph and, in 1999, there’s the digital revolution with the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) is in a legal battle with the music sharing network, Napster. In the 123 years between Edison and Napster, the 78 record debuted, the Victrola went through machinations, the audio cassette went mainstream, Clearwire Internet was developed and the compact disc emerged – effectively killing the market for both the cassette and the LP. Has the music industry been quick to embrace new innovations? Absolutely not. New technology has almost always been met with resistance as it was in the case of the LP, cassette, CD and MP3. But ultimately, it’s not the music executive who will determine the future, it’s the consumer. For the consumer, it’s all about delivery. It’s about getting it quickly, simply, conveniently, compactly and economically even if that means sacrificing quality.
If the history of the music business is anything, it’s a long story about change, about adapting to technological milestones. Shirley Manson is right. The music business, as we once knew it, is a dinosaur. It’s extinct. It’s unclear exactly what the business will look like in ten or twenty years from now, but one thing is clear, people want music. Change may come slowly or with a fight, but as long as people want music there will be a music business, one that delivers.