But the music industry of today looks almost nothing like the music industry of 20 years ago. There are a ton of reasons, most of them having to do with digital technology. If you are a young journalist starting out today, you may still aspire to get a big publisher to give you an advance and widely publish your book; but if you are a young musician starting out today, do you want to get a big record advance or do you want to sell the music yourself, like these folks do, and like Jane Siberry does? If you are a record label, what do you do about illegal downloads, and do you keep putting out “albums” that nobody buys or do you instead try to release only individual songs, as many people seem to prefer?
It strikes me as ironic that a new technology (digital music) may have accidentally forced record labels to abandon the status quo (releasing albums) and return to the past (selling singles). I sometimes think that the biggest mistake the record industry ever made was abandoning the pop single in the first place. Customers were forced to buy albums to get the one or two songs they loved; how many albums can you say that you truly love, or love even 50% of the songs — 10? 20? But now the people have spoken: they want one song at a time, digitally please, maybe even free (yikes: big can of worms, which is addressed ably below).
So what really happened to the music industry, and what will it look like in five or ten years?