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If You Think Modern Music Sucks Blame Illegal Downloading

Updated on November 11, 2013

Many people complain about the decline of music. Every generation does this. Older people assume that the music they loved growing up was superior to what their kids and grandchildren listen to. I think a lot of good music is still being made. However, it does seem to be the case that today's artists take less risks musically. And there's a good reason for that.

Illegal downloading is making music a lot less profitable than it used to be. This makes it hard for artists to take risks musically. With likely lower sales they have to ensure a financial return on the music they do make. This may also explain why some indie or previously nonpop acts have moved toward a more commercial sound. The Black Keys, Tegan and Sara, and Sia are just some acts that started out with a less commercial sound and have moved closer to pop.

Another problem is that many people who do buy music don't buy full albums. They often buy only a few tracks. This is especially the case for younger people who have less disposable income.

Album sales are declining because illegal music can be downloaded with just a few mouse clicks
Album sales are declining because illegal music can be downloaded with just a few mouse clicks

Albums Sales Have Declined by 70%

According to numbers from Nielsen SoundScan, album sales between 2000 and 2012 have seen a whopping 70% decline. In the year 2000, the top 200 albums sold a total of 275 million in the United States. The number for 2012 was 82 million. In 2000, the top 10 albums sold 59,200,000 versus 17,400,000 for 2012. That's almost 6 million per top 10 album versus less than 2 million in 2012. Approximately 90% of all songs downloaded are illegal, which explains most of the drop.

In 2012, Adele's album 21 sold 4.41 million copies and Taylor Swift's Red sold 3.11 million. No other act came close to selling even 2 million albums. The 3rd biggest seller Up All Night by One Direction only sold 1.62 million. Adele is a big seller because she has a lot of appeal to the 45+ demographic that still mainly buys CD's. Many older people don't download often because they don't know how. Ten years from now an Adele won't be able to save the music industry because there will be far less web illiterate music consumers. The one bright spot seems to be country music, which likely explains Swift's strong sales.

The Dangers of Risk Taking

There's less room for risk taking with these declining numbers. Labels make big investments in their artists and expect to see financial returns. This is getting much more difficult as millions of people steal rather than buy music. This creates a situation where labels push their artists toward the mainstream to ensure a financial return. They have to make as much money as possible off the small percentage of people who do buy music.

Two big names in music show the financial benefits of aiming for the mainstream rather than taking risks. Both Katy Perry and Ke$ha had sales of 3 million with their debut albums. Perry started out with a less commercial pop rock sound on her debut album One of the Boys but switched to a largely commercial sound on her sophomore effort Teenage Dream. The album spawned 6 top 10 hits and went on to sell almost 6 million copies worldwide despite only a 52% rating on metacritic. Metacritic is a good measure of how critically acclaimed an album is.

Ke$ha started out more commercial on her debut Animal and companion EP Cannibal. However, she took a less commercial turn on her sophomore album Warrior. The album is about half dance and pop and half rock, country, folk and indie. It received 71% on metacritic, which is very good for a pop artist. But sales have been dismal. Four months after release, the album only has about 300K in worldwide sales although it is doing well in streaming. It's early days and the album could become a commercial success but for now putting music before commercial concerns seems to have been a bad financial move for Ke$ha. As someone said, they knew Warrior wouldn't do well when NPR gave it a good review.

Ke$ha took a less commercial turn on Warrior with songs like Past Lives

Will professionally recorded music disappear?
Will professionally recorded music disappear?

Can the Music Industry Be Saved?

Will illegal downloading be the end of professionally recorded music? It's actually possible. Streaming is one bright spot for the industry. Although, it's hard to know if streaming services like Spotify and Mog can become profitable enterprises. They have the same problems music sales have. People have to pay a monthly subscription fee to fully access their services (Spotify is currently free in the United States). The problem is many people will steal music rather than pay a monthly fee.

Another option is to make buying CDs more attractive. Some Asian countries bundle posters, apps, t-shirts and other goodies with CDs to give people an incentive to buy rather than steal music. It seems to be working.

Reducing the price of albums is another potential solution. Rather than making full albums, artists could release lower priced EPs with fewer songs. This may encourage more people to buy rather than steal albums. A solution has to be found because these kinds of continued sales declines could potentially be the end of professionally recorded music.

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    • profile image

      buddhaanalysis 4 years ago

      Agree that music is not coming like boyzone,BSB and ronan keating. Enrique is also not frequently realizing new songs.

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 4 years ago from The Garden State

      Nice work. I'm proud to say that I'm one of the few old farts who still buys CDs, haha.

      Remember back in '99 or 2000 when the members of Metallica took Napster and a whole mess of their users to court for illegally sharing Metallica's music? Everybody thought that the band were just being spoiled rich rock star dickheads, but history has proven that they were right about file sharing all along. They were the first band with the balls to stand up on the subject and tell the industry, "Look, once this genie's out of the bottle, you won't be able to get it back in," but the music industry sniffed "Pfft. That Internet thing? Music on computers? Get real. It's a passing fad. It'll never catch on."

      ...fast forward a dozen years and they're saying "Hey, where did everybody go?"

    • JoanCA profile image
      Author

      JoanCA 4 years ago

      FatFreddysCat,

      That's so true. Anyone who did fight file sharing was demonized. The labels were demonized when they did start suing illegal downloaders. It should have been obvious to the media and everyone doing the condemning that if everyone is stealing something, there is no incentive for the people who make it to continue doing so.

    • profile image

      Ardeedia Sapphire 4 years ago

      This explains why everyone is trying to make dance tracks. Voted up.

    • JoanCA profile image
      Author

      JoanCA 4 years ago

      Ardeedia Sapphire,

      That is the reason. If a particular style of music is big, lots of artists switch to that to make as much money as they can.

    • profile image

      patR 3 years ago

      professional recorded music shouldn't die ,the price of getting a professional recording done should. Maybe its time we all just share our music and not have to pay or get paid for it .

    • JoanCA profile image
      Author

      JoanCA 3 years ago

      patR,

      I think bringing the price down would be the best solution. But that would involve getting record labels out of the way and having artists sell their music independently. I think that's becoming easier to do.

    • profile image

      Shodan777 2 years ago

      "Metacritic is a good measure of how critically acclaimed an album is". lol where do you get this shit from , if i went by metacritc all the time i would have only commercial drivel to listen too , in fact i wouldn't have listened to so many good musicians out there most of which isn't even listed on metacritc , also this whole buy more records so we can make better music is like professional E-bagging, its like saying insert large sum of money into here and we will get creative again what a load of shit , the fact is every genre has been pimped out to its ugly point, the fact is the music industry has sold too many bad records , some people are starting to realize they don't need modern music to survive , and that maybe its time we stop feeding the greedy machine and btw mom and dads music is better the 90's scene testifys to that

    • JoanCA profile image
      Author

      JoanCA 2 years ago

      Metacritic definitely is a good measure of how acclaimed an album is because it uses the most respected publications. The most commercial albums tend to have lower scores. Indie and alternative albums tend to do better. Yes, the industry has sold many bad albums but things have become worse with people stealing rather than buying. Many singers are being forced toward more commercial sounds as the industry's revenues have fallen. Every generation believes the music of the past was better. Twenty years from now people will think the music their parents grew up on was better. That happens simply because the best songs from today will become classics and the mediocre songs will mostly be forgotten.

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