When a writer tackles this kind of article, the first thing we have to do is try to be fair. Even if some developments in digital music are concrete and undeniable, there is a happy medium to be struck between nostalgia of “good old times” and the exciting prospects of the future.
I will not focus only on economic impacts, but I will try to give several points of view about how we can compare digital music, a result of the digital revolution in the music industry, to analog music, and all the possibilities that follow, that influence all aspects of music.
Basically, digital recording consists of creating or recording music in binary numbers that can be interpreted as sound. Beyond this scientific language, it first means that you can diffuse a digitally recorded song more easily and stored many songs using only minimal storage (especially since the invention of MP3).
What about quality? It is sometimes better than the past music compression file types. But better quality and storage does not necessarily mean better music. To clarify, some people think that we cannot really rediscover the soul of an instrument, and the chemistry that exists between a musician and his instrument. Indeed, the stored signal does not have anything to do with the original signal, and a 100% virtual sound can loose its authenticity (Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin for instance would sound better left unanalyzed).
With keyboards, however, it is possible to reproduce the sound of traditional instruments, like a pan flute or others, but it would definitely not sound the same. This is how a single person, like a DJ, can duplicate the sounds of an entire orchestra. Whether digital music represents an improvement to reproducing sound not, everyone has a different opinion, but the faithful reproduction of a live concert is suffering.
Another consideration is that digital recording is mainly based on dematerialized, or virtual, songs. Will can take note of what is happening with the book industry. Should vinyl’s aficionados, for example, settle for a simple song on a computer or on a USB stick? Collectors will always exist, but vinyls today are already relics that are hard to get.
A lot of people prefer to feel physically “feel” music and artwork on paper or a canvas will always be different than some pictures posted on a Facebook or Pinterest page. To know the lyrics from a song now, all that a person needs to do now is search on the internet and we find almost everything we want about a song. It is very interesting to learn about the writing conditions and evolution of a song, but there is room to believe that some compositions should keep their origins secret in order to remain mysterious, and thus be more noticeable.
YouTube is probably one of the best examples we can find: you can see music videos for free (in spite of the regular advertisements), see how the artists look without having to pay etc. It creates a new generation of web artists, most of the time fleeting.
But the most important issue is that the Internet revolution has permitted a huge dissemination of songs, and has created some conflicts regarding the privacy rules. The multiplication of laws in Europe and United States like SOPA and PIPA had aroused a lot of reactions and brings the debate to center stage. Because beyond the freedom to share simple files, there is a real right defended by the active members of the Internet’s cause.
It is understandable that some artists want to protect their songs and live with their music to continue to record CD’s and perform in shows. But what an extraordinary advantage to be able introduce your own music to the largest number of people possible, for free, and to share your songs all around the world without promoting them. Some artists share their own songs via file-sharing, also known as peer-to-peer networking.
This way, they reason, once an artist is discovered, people will maybe buy a CD or at least come to see a live show.
Art and commerce always have and always will have an ambiguous relationship. But the record labels want to save a business in decline and are not ready to give in to the hands of internets activists who advocate total freedom and free everything. So the goal is to combine the interests of everyone, perhaps reducing the influence of the Big Four record labels and reinforcing independent labels, originally stifled by the first ones.
The Internet revolution is just beginning, but it is destined to bring other evolutions within the music industry, and only the future will tell us which ones.
– by Matthieu Saint-Wril, Consultant and Intern with Bionic Sisters Productions. Sciences Po Aix, France.