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Free music and the affect it has on the music industry

The music industry has changed hugely over the past twenty years, locally and globally.

The internet has resulted in music being made available for free in tonnes of different formats, whether it be streaming websites like Youtube and WE7 or sites which allow files to be shared online. Of course, this has also meant that music can be downloaded as MP3s from the likes of iTunes which has revolutionised the way music is bought.

Figures show that once again digital sales are increasing exponentially, while CD sales are dwindling, yet sales of music in physical forms is on the up this Christmas.The fact that Cardiff’s record shops such as Spillers Records are too busy to comment on this topic shows how busy they are around Christmas:

One down side of the digital overhaul of music consumption is the rise in illegal downloading which has seen the music industry take a huge financial hit. A recent survey carried out at Cardiff University showed that 70% of people download illegally, and only half of that amount feel uneasy about doing so. Only 23% stated that they never download illegally, although research has shown that people are still interested in buying physical copies of music.

Chart to show the opinion of 75 postgraduates on illegal downloads

Dan Tonkin, 21, from Newport said: “I do still buy CDs and I am probably one of the few people that still does from what friends I know are up to. I just like being able to have an actual physical copy of the music and I also enjoy flicking through the booklet, or at least having the option to do so.”

Dan is in the minority though, and with more people seeming to think that illegal downloading is not a serious matter, this is likely to continue. Paul Davies, 45, from Cathays, Cardiff, said: “What is the difference between my sister recording the chart show on a cassette tape when we were young, and someone downloading music on their laptops these days? It wasn’t frowned upon back then, why should it be now?”

Ben Jones, 23, an ex-Cardiff University student, shares similar views, although does acknowledge that illegal downloading is wrong, as well as stating that Spotify is now the happy medium between illegal downloads and parting with our hard earned cash.

Will Gilgrass, another ex-Cardiff University student, now working for BBC6 Music agrees: “It is too late for the illegal downloading to be stopped. I think streaming sites like Spotify where you pay £10 a month for unlimited streaming is the way forward. Record labels should have got onto it sooner.”

He added: “Music being available online on sites like youtube is extremely healthy. Obviously bands gain so much more exposure because of people being able to experiment with the music they listen to.”

Bands looking to gain recognition and exposure profit hugely from being able to share their music with fans for free. Aberdare five-piece Reaper in Sicily owe their growing fan base to their online presence and mainstream successes like Merthyr Tydfil’s The Blackout use social network sites to increase their fan base. Some have gone far enough to say that without exposure online, bands looking to make a name for themselves will not stand a chance.

That said, the financial losses suffered by bands are a worry for the industry. Without the promise of profit, bands starting out for the first time will struggle to keep producing music, and those with large fan bases may spend more money satisfying the demand of their fan base than they do from music sales. Russell Pugh, 21, from Cardiff sees things differently though.

Will Gilgrass believes the quality of music currently produced has been affected by the availability of music online. “It used to be the case that albums would have 10 or 11 songs on. Three would be shit hot and released as singles but the rest were just filler. Now, if that is the case, people will just download the good tracks, leaving the band out of pocket.” Bands also profit from the availability of music online, by enabling them to listen to artists which could influence the music the band goes on to produce. Dan Tonkin said: “In a perfect world, any losses which the band suffer through their music being available online will be more than made up for in their own music and income from their increasing fan base.”

If bands were to stop making their music available online then how would they gain exposure? Before the influx on digital platforms, radio was the only platform available to listen to music for free, with John Peel OBE being the most iconic figure for exposing new bands. Although it is argued that traditional DJs will withstand the mass of online music reviewers, bloggers are becoming more influential in exposing up and coming bands, and the availability of music online is pivotal to this trend continuing.

  • This feature will be followed up by an interview with Ashli Todd, owner of Spillers Records, in January.
Photos taken by:
Andreas Blixt
Walt Jabsco


8 thoughts on “Free music and the affect it has on the music industry

  1. CDs aren’t dead an buried yet, but they will be within a generation. I haven’t bought a CD in years, and don’t even own a CD player any more. But I think illegal downloading will become a thing of the past. ISPs can really easily stamp it out. For instance, BT throttles Bittorrents, so you can’t download music illegally between 6pm-12am. They could easily extend this, and probably will over the coming years.

    Posted by Rhys | December 17, 2011, 12:44
    • I agree, as long as CD player are available and seen as either a way to listen to high quality music or a cheaper alternative to buying a portable music device then CDs will continue to circulate. Much like VHS though, the inevitable seems to be on the horizon and physical music sales will fall even lower than they are now. That said the recent surge in Vinyl sales could change this.

      Posted by liveandloudrock | December 17, 2011, 16:23
  2. The often felt disappointment in previous ages of buying a CD based on the previous work of that artist, only to find out that the CD was to your mind, a disc of liquid hate, is enough to deter anyone from the voracious CD consuming of the past. I personally don’t have 9 pounds to throw away on a punt that a CD will be good. I use sites such as Youtube and Spotify to come to some form of reasoned judgement before I impart my money to the music industry. This ability to trial the material is unparalleled in other media, but it works due to the nature of music, the desire to listen to it again and again. You wouldn’t for example pick up a book and read it entirely and then decide if you wanted to buy it, or play through the latest console game and then deem it worthwhile of 45 pounds (which is ridiculous, but a point for another time). But this process is necessary in a society where people are growing more cautious about their hard earned money when free downloads and free streaming is so readily available.

    CD’s were the end of the Vinyl format, or so many would have us believe. But I buy more Vinyl records than I do CD’s because of the inherent quality of an LP and all the album artwork that accompanied it (As Dan Tonkin referred to in respect to CD’s in fact). My purchases on vinyl are directly linked to my experience and reasoned judgement in the ‘free sphere’. In fact I’d go as far as to suggest that the ‘free sphere’ is a catalyst to my own consumerist attitudes to music.

    I think the music industry needs to react to this new environment, don’t vilify people that illegally download, nor ruin the lives of the token prosecutees. But encourage a follow up purchase of the record or CD (accessed in the ‘free sphere’) with additional features, artwork, literature. Whatever. Record companies could make whole albums and back-catalogs available for a limited time to registered users, who use their personal details to register on their site, the user would then have a limited time after selecting music for free listening privileges. I envisage this delivery similar to that of Spotify, which has gone downhill recently (in terms of freedom for free users), even interspersed with adverts for new singles and albums available on said supposed record label.

    If this sort of system were to be introduced, then I think the sales would speak for themselves. People will always access music for free and truly great artists will never starve.

    Posted by Tom D | December 21, 2011, 21:20
  3. I think that people will always want to buy CD’s, but downloading will always remain more popular. After all, in this day and age, people are more likely to listen to music on ipods than on a CD player so there is a reduced need to buy it on CD. Having said that, there will always be people who want a hard copy of the music. I for one, like to have CD’s, simply because I like the experience of going into a shop to have a good look around at what’s available. Then again, you could argue that you can do this online, which is what most of my friends do.

    Posted by Ellie | January 4, 2012, 17:06
  4. So it seems that people are still happy to part with their money for music, although are hesitant to do so before trialing it on Youtube or Spotify for example. I would have to agree with this idea, especially on the back of the BPIs latest figures: http://bit.ly/xjKe9R. The figures show that CDs are declining, yes, but not by the amount that some may have thought, which may show that they are not going the same way that VHS did with the emergence of DVDs and later, Blu-Ray. The strength of digital sales does show that people are still parting with their hard earned cash though instead of downloading music for free, so the hit being taken by local artists and the industry as a whole may not be as big as once thought.

    Posted by liveandloudrock | January 4, 2012, 17:14


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