“We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far” is a lyric from “Video Killed the Radio Star” and perfectly encapsulates my opinion that music is dead. But music is everywhere you protest, how can music be dead? Let me explain.
In the pre-Napster days, the 20th century, recorded music could only be consumed via a physical product. Vinyl, cassette, CD and so on. This fact ensured that recorded music was a multi-billion dollar industry. And more importantly, a critical influence on pop culture.
The term “rock star” was only possible because of the primacy of recorded music. These rock stars were loved by millions and their record labels made billions. Live tours were also money-spinning affairs. From the 1950s to the 1990s, the music industry enjoyed tremendous success peaking in 1999 with almost 40 billion dollars of annual revenue globally.
Since the new millennium, the music industry has sharply declined due mainly to the onset of illegal digital downloads and sharing. This downward spiral was only arrested when the concept of music streaming – popularised by Spotify – took hold.
Spotify’s initial gains came by way of their “freemium” membership i.e. free streaming monetised by advertising. By 2010, most fans expected recorded music to be ‘free’. Youtube was another source by which young fans could have free access to recorded music.
Now, it stands to reason that anything that is free has little to no commercial value. The same understanding was now applied to music. It no longer had commercial value on its own. Instead, post-2000, music was a means to enhance the value of technology. For instance, a platform – like Spotify or Youtube.
Video had already become an important factor in the marketing and promotion of recorded music with the launch of MTV in the 1980s. Music’s inherent value in enhancing the video experience was instrumental in prolonging music’s relevancy but only in support of film, TV and video games.
As a standalone art form, music has by 2020 lost much of its influence and relevance. Popular contemporary music artistes are now influencers first and artistes second. Their ability to engage social media audiences is prized above musical talent and skill.
Yes, of course, music is still being written and recorded but musicians do not earn a living directly from these recordings, which typically are streamed on a platform that pays them pennies for streams. Pre-COVID, it could be said that music artists could make a living from live performances but that too has vanished due to the global pandemic and nobody is certain what the new normal will look like for live music.
Thus, effectively, music is dead. It’s pre-eminence as a standalone pop cultural force is long gone. Killed by video effectively. The most latest trend is Tik Tok, which also has music in the mix but not at all at the fore, is it? Case closed.
Still incredulous? Check out the tweet below. Sunak is the current Chancellor of the Exchequer in the United Kingdom.
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