It’s been the end of the world as we know it for years and it’s still fine in terms of the music business.
The landscape has been in flux for years, it’s been known since Napster came about in 1999 and upset major labels that for years had been used to their model of an album being released and people buying it. It was further upended with Apple’s creation of the iPod and iTunes, where people could buy songs separately.
Now, digital sales have fallen, albeit minutely, for the first time since 2003, according to Billboard.
Billboard pointed out that in 2013, digital track sales have fallen from 1.34 billion units to 1.26 billion units — a decrease of 5.7 percent. Digital albums have fallen at a smaller pace, from 117.7 million to 117.6 million — a decrease of 0.1 percent.
Notably and most interestingly is the shift of music listening to digital streaming, arguably the most convenient way to listen to music. Digital music streams increased 32% and that’s not counting new streaming services like Google Play and the new Beats Music service launched earlier this year, according to Nielson Soundscan
This change represents a large shift in how people listen to music. Streaming services Spotify, RDIO, Beats and Google Play offer unlimited listening on different devices for 9.99 month. All of them aside from Beats offer a free version that have extensive libraries and unique algorithms to find the next song that should play after an album or song that was already chosen is done.
Steve Albini, the famed producer who recorded Nirvana’s In Utero among others said this is the way of the future and is here to stay, in an interview with Quartz.
““Record labels, which used to have complete control, are essentially irrelevant,” he said in the article, titled “‘The Problem With Music’ has been solved by the Internet.’
“The process of a band exposing itself to the world is extremely democratic and there are no barriers. Music is no longer a commodity, it’s an environment, or atmospheric element. Consumers have much more choice and you see people indulging in the specificity of their tastes dramatically more. They only bother with music they like.”
The beauty of Albini’s point is that people have more choice than ever before to who to listen to, because they’re constantly choosing who to listen to. Before, it would have been dictated by whatever artist a label backed.
Now, more than ever, choice is the way to go for music, and streaming, through the great depths of musical opportunity is the future.